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Activists rally as pandemic lockdown suspends plans for Stratford glass plant

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Bridge over Avon River, Stratford, Ontario. Image credit: Ken Lund/Flickr

Stratford city council hit pause on Xinyi Canada Glass Limited's proposed $400-million float glass manufacturing facility in Stratford, Ontario. However, the respite only lasts as long as the current province-wide stay-at-home order.

Multinational Xinyi Glass wants to build its first Canadian float glass facility by 2023. Originally, Xinyi set its sights on Guelph Eramosa Township, but residents voiced such strong opposition to the plan that the Hong Kong-based company withdrew its proposal.

While Guelph Eramosa Township residents were celebrating, Xinyi representatives looked for a new location and found welcoming arms in Stratford city council. In an attempt to avert backlash from Stratford residents opposed to the plant, Mayor Dan Mathieson petitioned the provincial government for a Minister's Zoning Order (MZO). An MZO allows local councils to bypass public input while eliminating any possibility of appealing the final decision. The province issued the MZO in July 2020.

Xinyi's plant will drain millions of litres of water a day increasing demand by more than 20 per cent and putting at risk the city's water security. The factory will be fitted with a 300-foot emission stack capable of dispersing sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and particulate matter indiscriminately over Stratford.

Residents have also voiced concern over the loss of valuable farmland as well as the adverse environmental impacts related to the plant's construction and day-to-day production.

While local residents opposed to the Xinyi Glass plant welcome the pandemic-imposed break, Melissa Verspeeten of Get Concerned Stratford (GCS) emphasizes, "There are many unanswered questions and issues that demand public scrutiny. The commitment to a thorough public consultation is an important first step in restoring public confidence in the mayor and council. During this pause [the] mayor and council should also write to Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs and housing and ask him to revoke the Ministerial Zoning Order." The MZO became redundant once council agreed to restore public consultations.

A public opinion poll commissioned by GCS found that 66 per cent of residents oppose the Xinyi Glass plan to build the factory in Stratford. Fewer than 14 per cent support the proposed plan, while 20 per cent of residents are either unaware of the plan or don't have an opinion.

"The community showed visible, persistent and principled opposition to the Xinyi proposal," said Mike Sullivan of Get Concerned Stratford. "Residents rallied for several consecutive weeks at city hall, put up lawn signs and hundreds attended weekly community information meetings online."

GCS remains active during the lockdown delivering leaflets throughout the city's urban and rural communities highlighting examples where Stratford council failed to exercise adequate due diligence.

"Council has taken a prudent and necessary step but the issue is not resolved," said Sharon Collingwood of Get Concerned Stratford, adding that, "in eight short weeks we have stopped what many thought was a 'done deal' and created the conditions that may restore democratic public decision-making in Stratford. We aren't stopping, but we can catch our breath as we continue to make the case for why council must say no to Xinyi."

Xinyi representatives have also been busy trying to divide and conquer the Stratford community. In an interview with CBC News, Chris Pidgeon, president of GSP Group - Planning, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Xinyi Canada's project manager for the factory proposal, expressed shock and disappointment over what he referred to as elitist and prejudiced attitudes by those opposing the project.

To counter these statements, Get Concerned Stratford is asking supporters from across the province and country to show their diversity. If you live, work, socialize, picnic, dine, attend Stratford Theatre, or visit the swans along the Avon River, then let your voice heard.

GCS is encouraging rural and urban residents, visitors, tourists, business owners, environmentalists and water protectors to make a video voicing your opposition to the proposed Xinyi development. The clips will be edited into a reel that will be presented to city council and used online during the campaign.

For more information about the video project click on the "We need your help" link here.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image credit: Ken Lund/Flickr

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