What municipal candidates say about protecting countryside in Waterloo region

All of the candidates who have responded to a survey by the group Hold the Line say they support the region's countryside boundary lines, but a few indicate there are situations where they'd vote to expand beyond existing urban boundaries.

A few candidates indicate there may be situations where they could change their minds

Hold the Line is a group that works to protect the urban-rural divide in Waterloo region. It has surveyed all the candidates running in the municipal election on Oct. 22 about their thoughts on protecting the countryside line. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

It wasn't much of a surprise to Sean Campbell of Hold the Line that all the municipal candidates responding to a survey his group sent out said they support the countryside boundary line.

Urban sprawl has been a concern in Waterloo region for years. There has even been a push to expand the Greenbelt to the region to further protect green spaces, farmland and the Waterloo moraine.

Hold the Line is a group that "celebrates countryside boundary line," Campbell said. For the municipal election on Oct. 22, the group sent every person running in the region for mayoral or council seats — including regional chair — a survey asking for their thoughts on defending the countryside line. Questions touched on keeping urban areas within certain boundaries, protecting agricultural lands and the Waterloo moraine, and how to handle new development.

As survey responses came back from candidates, what did surprise Campbell were the answers where candidates said "but..."

Yes, but...- Common response to questions about curtailing urban growth into the countryside

"A lot of the responses that we got that were not in complete support of the countryside line had questions," he said.

"And it was, 'Yes, but...' So, 'Yes we will maintain the countryside line, but, for example, not at the expense of affordable housing,'" Campbell said.

Discussion 'is the answer'

The Region of Waterloo's official plan calls for developers to build in existing urban areas rather than sprawling out into agricultural areas and green spaces.

In survey responses, which have been posted to the Hold the Line WR website, some candidates said they wouldn't give an absolute answer.

Tom Hiller is running for regional councillor in Kitchener. He supports the official plan and protecting farmland, but adds "development is integral to existence and how economic needs are met determines our standard of living — they must be addressed as they arise."

Jason House is also running for regional councillor in Kitchener. He says he would judge each proposal individually.

"Discussion for each proposal is the answer," House wrote.

Ryan Coles, running for a council seat in Ward 7 in Cambridge, says protecting the region's countryside is important but added, "I do feel there should be small allowances for sprawl under [certain] conditions and after expert review and much considerations."

The region's policy is developers need to build up in established urban areas rather than sprawl into agricultural lands and green space. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

New regional chair could mean new outlook

Four people are running for regional chair and for the first time since 1985, the region will have someone new in the position. That's also important to remember, Campbell says.

Current Regional Chair Ken Seiling "was one of the chief proponents of the regional growth management strategy and the countryside line," he said. "So we're at a point now where there could be a new vision brought forward."

Two of the four candidates for regional chair have responded. Both Jan D'Ailly and Rob Deutschmann indicated they would defend the countryside line.

Karen Redman and Jay Aissa have yet to respond.

'This is a policy that is working'

It's important to know where candidates stand because provincially, there's been a shift when it comes to development, Campbell says.

The previous Liberal government had announced plans to expand the Greenbelt.

"We do have a provincial government right now that has a difference stance on land-use planning and that type of conservation, so we'll have to wait and see what that looks like," Campbell said of Premier Doug Ford's government.

"This is a policy that is working, it's in place right now and it's having a positive impact," Campbell added.

He said he's happy to see the majority of those who have responded support "smart growth."

"We're seeing councillors really make that connection between protecting our drinking water, protecting our farmland, and what that means for our cities," he said.

"By encouraging this type of inward growth, we're able to make our cities more walkable, more bikeable, we're able to support our local businesses and have great community festivals as well."


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