November 20, 2023 -
Waterloo Region - Five community groups (Keep the Greenbelt Promise, Grand River Environmental Network, Hold the Line Waterloo Region, Waterloo Region Yes In My Backyard, 50X30 Waterloo Region) are taking the unprecedented step of filing freedom of information (FOI) requests with the Region of Waterloo, City of Kitchener, and the Township of Wilmot to identify if undue pressure on municipal leaders from developers and speculators could result in the breaching of the Countryside Line urban growth boundary and unnecessary consumption of land reserves intended to last for generations. The FOI requests seek to uncover evidence of lobbying by developers and speculators, communications of officials and staff with developers and speculators, and unpublished plans and impact reports that relate to proposed Regional Official Plan (ROP) amendments.
The five community groups have filed the FOI requests in municipalities where Mayors received over 50% of their election campaign donations from the development sector and/or where Mayors received donations from developers and speculators who now stand to gain financially if the Mayors support the ROP amendments.
On October 23, 2023, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), Paul Calandra, made the unexpected announcement that he would reverse his predecessor’s decision to force the expansion of Waterloo Region’s Countryside Line and urban growth areas, saying the decision failed to meet the test of supporting the Province’s goal of building at least 1.5 million homes in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust. On November 2, 2023, the MMAH sent a private letter that provided mayors with 35 days (deadline of December 7th) to identify changes to the Regional Official Plan (ROP) that establishes the Countryside Line and urban growth areas – all without public consultation or coordination with the Region or other area municipalities.
The MMAH has downloaded the decision of whether to amend the ROP to area mayors. This has put both Mayors and Councils under considerable pressure from developers whose land banked properties increased in value by hundreds of millions of dollars when changed from undevelopable farmland on April 10th to potential sprawling suburbs on April 11th.
This back door process undermines good planning in Waterloo Region and comes amid widespread concerns that the Province’s process for selecting specific parcels for inclusion in the urban boundaries was politically motivated. These land use decisions by the provincial government, as well as those impacting the Greenbelt, are currently the subject of ongoing investigations by the RCMP, Auditor General, and Integrity Commissioner. Freedom of Information Act requests by the environmental law charity Ecojustice have revealed that it was the MMAH’s Office staff — not civil servant experts — who directed changes to municipal official plans. Only a portion of the files requested by Ecojustice have been released, and additional files about the process to amend Waterloo Region’s ROP are expected.
In August of 2022, Waterloo Regional Council approved the Regional Official Plan, with all city and township mayors voting in favour of its approval. The plan was created following four years of extensive consultations and public engagement. Staff and technical experts undertook detailed studies to ensure that each municipality had enough land to exceed future housing needs. City and Township staff and council each also provided feedback to inform the process — such as the August 9, 2021 City of Kitchener Committee resolution moved by Mayor Vrbanovic that reaffirmed the CIty’s commitment to the Countryside Line and supported the Region of Waterloo in approving the ROP. It is not possible to re-create such comprehensive engagement and expert input within the 35 days provided to area mayors by the MMAH.
Our community requires housing development to provide quality homes and liveable communities for current and future residents - but land use decisions are too important to be made behind closed doors, without due process and expert staff input, without public consultation, and in direct conflict to the decisions of our heads of council just one year ago.
In accordance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the municipalities have 30 days to respond to the requests. Please see attached for a copy of the FOI requests filed. Additional FOI requests may be filed with other area municipalities as new information is discovered.
Community groups include: