The Province used a Minister's Zoning Order, normally used for emergencies, to approve a polluting manufacturing facility over the objections of local residents.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published December 21, 2020
Multinational corporation Xinyi Glass hopes to build its first Canadian float glass facility in Stratford Ontario with production beginning by 2023. However, not everyone in Stratford shares council's enthusiasm and many residents are feeling left out of the process [after the province invoked](https://www.stratford.ca/en/inside-city-hall/xinyi-canada-glass-limited-project.aspx) a Minister's Zoning Order (MZO) in July, 2020, eliminating the opportunity for public input before a decision is made with no possibility of an appeal afterward.
The proposed plant, to be built on farmland annexed from Perth County, will use millions of litres of water a day for the production of glass used in the construction industry. That is a problem for Stratford residents who draw their drinking water from private wells located next to Xinyi's proposed project.
According to Stratford resident Melissa Verspeeten, "This project would increase the CIty of Stratford's water usage by more than 20 percent. Guaranteeing one single business that kind of water consumption puts the entire city's water security at risk."
In addition to the concerns about the impact of water taking, the plant has a smokestack that will disperse sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide into the air.
Verpeeten says, "I am very concerned about air quality, and not just for my family, but again for the entire community. With a 300 feet emission stack, Xinyi Glass threatens to rain nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter down over the whole city and its residents."
Still others are concerned about the environmental impact the plant's construction and production will have, as well as the ongoing human rights abuses sanctioned by the Chinese government. Xinyi Glass Holdings, founded in 1988 and located in Hong Kong, is the parent company of Xinyi Canada Glass.
Information about the proposed development, estimated to cost $400 million and bring 320 jobs to the city, was made available to the public on November 14, 2020. However, during negotiations with Guelph Eramosa Township (GET) in 2018, Xinyi kept changing the number of jobs that would be made available to local residents because it intended to bring temporary workers to be housed in permanent dormitories on site.
If successful, Xinyi and Stratford would enter into a cost-sharing agreement that would see the city responsible for 45 percent of costs for infrastructure upgrades to roads, watermain and sewer systems. Total infrastructure improvements are estimated to be $13.4 million with Stratford's share amounting to $6 million.
Projected tax revenue for 2020 to 2027 would be about $4.5 million per year with 24 percent of those taxes being handed over to Perth county as reciprocity for 130 hectares of farmland annexed by Stratford to create Wright Industrial Park, which will house the factory.
On November 16, 2020, town council hosted a one-hour online public meeting. On November 17, council debated the proposed project before summarily deferring its decision.
This is not the first time Xinyi Glass and a local council have faced steep public opposition from a concerned community.
In 2018, Xinyi tried to have the same project approved by GET. According to Arlene Slocombe, Executive Director of Wellington Water Watchers (WWW):
"Xinyi tried to get this same project approved by the Guelph Eramosa Township (GET) in 2018 - but local residents, supported by the Wellington Water Watchers stopped it. The circumstances are very familiar. The GET Council supported the project and hurried it through the approvals process without looking at the environmental impact. The community organized and the Xinyi project failed to pass the test of public scrutiny."
At that time, Doug Ford criticized the GET community for choosing environmental protection over jobs - so this time he used the MZO to try and prevent the community from demanding the Stratford Council oppose this project.
Donnelly Law has been retained by WWW to complete a review of the situation so community members can strategize how best to successfully oppose the project that still requires additional municipal and provincial approvals.
It is the 'unequivocal opinion' of environmental lawyer David Donnelly that "Stratford Council has the complete authority without legal liability to deny Xinyi's proposal for a $6 million cost sharing agreement". Donnelly, one of Canada's leading environmental lawyers, stated this in a letter to Mayor Dan Mathieson and Stratford Council on behalf of Wellington Water Watchers, and a number of citizens of the City of Stratford.
Donnelly reinforced the demand of his community client stating "the City of Stratford must request that the Minister of Municipal Affairs revoke the Minister's Zoning Order ("MZO") permitting the Xinyi facility while the MZO's integrity is in question, and reject Xinyi's demand for an extraordinary taxpayers' subsidy of $6 million at a time when residents are losing their jobs".
Verspeeten believes, "Local democracy means public participation, not MZOs. The way in which this has been thrust upon the residents of the local community reveals the anti-democratic agenda of Mayor Mathieson & Premier Ford. Xinyi's track record raises many questions that need to be answered and require public examination and debate."
Concerned Stratford residents have formed Get Concerned Stratford and are demanding the City of Stratford refuse to participate in the process of converting prime agricultural land into industrial land and that the city demand the province revoke the MZO.
Xinyi Canada has been operating for 20 years. It has three Canadian business operations that employ 80 people. Currently, there are no float glass manufacturers in Canada although 30 are located in the US and six in Mexico.
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