Thou shalt not steal

May 9, 2024 | Jackie Rombouts, Member Relations Coordinator for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario

Thou shalt not steal

There are many times in life when we are conflicted. When the line between right and wrong becomes blurry and actions that, in the past seemed unthinkable, suddenly begin to look a bit more reasonable. Where greed or the quest for the “greater good” can tempt us into doing something that we know in our hearts is just plain wrong. It is for that reason that I am grateful that we can turn to biblical wisdom, gifted to us by God, to set us on the right path.

Take the Wilmot Township land assembly for example. I am sure that when these public servants were elected to public office, they did not set their sites on taking private property from hardworking farm families. When they took their oath to “truly, faithfully and impartially exercise the office to the best of their knowledge and ability,” they did not believe that they would be asked to make a decision that would potentially destroy a family’s livelihood, thrust Ontario down a path of corruption and potentially the fabric of our democratic system, but here we are.

Many might ask themselves, why? Why would a municipal government even consider this as a viable option? As a former municipal elected official, I can see both sides of this issue. Let’s face it, municipal governments in Ontario are struggling. For years now the provincial government has been downloading assets onto them with big promises of funding from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF), but with every passing year the envelope grows smaller and smaller, and the assets get older and older. Costs continue to rise and as townships struggle to maintain the existing infrastructure, residents continue to ask for more. More roads, improved infrastructure, new recreation facilities, all while demanding that their taxes stay low. Asset management becomes a pipe dream as councils find it impossible to balance their budgets.

And, just when they are at their lowest point, having to make tough decisions that no one will be happy with, along comes what appears to be the perfect solution; acquire and assemble a large parcel of shovel-ready land at a low price. Expropriate it if you must. Rezone it to commercial/industrial use, sell it to the highest bidder and reap the profits. Profits you can now put into new roads, bridges, and infrastructure. Add to this the potential for higher taxes from the newly rezoned lands along with the increase to your population, jobs and housing and you have what appears to be the ideal solution.

Oh, it seems almost too good to be true. Land developers are powerful and influential and have billions of dollars backing them. They hire paid lobbyists, trained and skilled in the power of persuasion, to wine and dine elected officials, make them feel important, and convince them that what they are doing is for the greater good. They use words like growth, sustainability, and economic development to woo them into thinking that this solution is not only the most profitable route forward, but it is the right and just thing to do. Everyone benefits. Everyone wins.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The fact is that no matter how you look at it, no matter how good you are at dressing it up, expropriation is stealing and stealing is wrong. Full stop. Through scripture we understand that when you sin, bad things happen. Public trust in our elected officials and the democratic system will be lost. Landowners’ rights degraded. Communities torn apart. Productive farmland paved over. Food production decreased and people going hungry.

The laws and regulations we had in place to stop the expropriation of land for private profit were there to prevent greed and corruption from taking over our system and they need to remain.

This is only the beginning and just because it is not happening to you does not mean that you are safe and that it won’t be coming to a region near you. Municipalities across Ontario are watching the situation in Wilmot very closely and if this deal goes through, the flood gates are sure to open, leaving no property, except perhaps those owned by the elected officials themselves, safe.

So, if you care at all about the value of our farmland, if you care about the private land rights and the democratic process in Ontario, heck even if you just enjoy eating, please join me in praying that these elected officials see the light and choose to obey the Commandment - Thou shalt not steal.

Jackie Rombouts is the Member Relations Coordinator for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy.