refnzpz · 2021-11-29

Make a deal: Watson

The message from Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson is clear – either Innisfil and Barrie negotiate a boundary deal or the province will do it for them.

“He wants us at the table and he wants us to work this out,” Innisfil Mayor Brian Jackson said a few hours after meeting with Watson at Queen’s Park. “He said he’s not going to allow us to let this drag on for another year.”

Watson told the Innisfil contingent, which included Conservative MPP Julia Munro, that the province would step in if a settlement can’t be made that gives Barrie more land to develop.

Jackson’s meeting with Watson followed a similar meeting the Liberal Cabinet minister had with Barrie.

Jackson said he called Barrie Mayor Dave Aspden after his meeting with Watson to set up an initial meeting.

“This would be just to lay some ground work,” he said. “We have to see if there is a foundation we can build on.”

Talks were aborted last year after Innisfil left the table. A proposed deal brokered by a provincially-appointed facilitator short-changed Innisfil, Jackson said.

Innisfil wanted one-acre of its employment zone in Innisfil Heights on the Hwy. 400 corridor serviced by Barrie for every acre it gave the city through boundary adjustments. But the deal would have seen Innisfil give up three acres for every acre of serviced land. There have been no negotiations since.

Watson did not give the municipalities a firm deadline, although it was clear he wanted the long-standing issue resolved within the next few months, Jackson said.

“He gave us a couple of dates that just weren’t feasible,” Jackson said. “I think he may have been testing us.”

Watson did not suggest a provincially-appointed facilitator be used this time, Jackson said.

Jackson has suggested Barrie may be stalling the process, hoping for the province to invoke boundary adjustments that would benefit the city.

“I guess Barrie must decide if they’ll benefit more from a political solution than a negotiated one,” Jackson said.

Coun. Jeff Lehman, Barrie’s chairperson for boundary adjustments, has said the city remains serious about finding a local solution.

Watson met with the municipalities after Barrie MPP Aileen Carroll, a Liberal Cabinet minister, asked him to intervene.

Carroll complained that the stalemate was stifling Barrie’s ability to develop, especially since the province has designated it as a regional growth centre.