Trenton farmer Frank Meyers made the news last week with his seven-year fight to stop the Department of National Defence plan to expropriate his farm, which has been in his family since 1798.
DND wants Meyers’ farm to build a new training and administrative campus for the Canadian Special Forces Command and the situation is a good example of how difficult it is to fight when the Government wants your land.
Each level of government has the power to expropriate land. The general principle is that it must be for the greater public good and it also must be finally approved by someone that we, the people, elect.
In Ontario, the process is governed by the Ontario Expropriations Act. The land owner is entitled to a hearing where the government agency lays out its argument about why the forced sale is necessary. The owner can challenge this with his own evidence and the hearing takes place in front of an Inquiry Officer, who is an independent third party appointed by the Province of Ontario.
The Inquiry Officer’s recommendation is sent to an approving authority, who is the elected official who will make the final decision. In Meyers’ case it is the Canadian Minister of Public Works, Diane Finley.
Here’s the problem: Even if the Inquiry Officer had recommended against the expropriation, the Government does not have to follow the recommendation. They can take your land anyways. In addition, the Government does not compensate you if you hire lawyers for the hearing, so you would have to pay these costs yourself.
Myers farm is close to the existing Canadian Forces Base at 8 Wing Trenton, so it does make sense as a site. You can make the argument that all Canadians will benefit from this land.
In my opinion, the only way to effectively stop an expropriation is to make it political. In the late 1960s, the city wanted to build the Spadina (Allen) Expressway, which would have provided an alternate route from the 401 to downtown.
The City of Toronto expropriated most of the land to do it. But a “Stop Spadina” group of activists emerged who gathered hundreds of thousands of names and launched protests to stop the expressway from happening. The activists included Alan Powell, a University of Toronto professor, Jane Jacobs, who wrote “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” and who had won the battle to stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York City, and John Sewell, who was elected to Toronto Council on his promise to fight to stop Spadina.
The result was that on June 6, 1971, Bill Davis, the Premier at the time, got up and cancelled the expressway. It is now known as the Allen Rd., and ends at Eglinton Ave. In Toronto. Bill Davis later used this during his own campaign for re-election in 1972, which he won. The issue had become very political.
Meyers’ case has now hit social media, and online petitions and protesters have come forward to try and still stop the expropriation from happening. I do not see this as a potential election issue in 2015, but who knows.
A consoling point for Meyers is that the Government must still pay fair market value for his land. Both the Government and the land owner who is affected will obtain separate appraisals and hopefully come to a settlement. If an agreement cannot be reached as to price, it will be determined at the Ontario Municipal Board.
For a lot of Canadians, it is difficult to accept the notion that any government should have the right to take away your land. However, in my opinion, if it is demonstrated that it is for the greater public good and fair value is paid, move on and find another property.