The Minority is Often Vocal, But it is Often Right

An Open Letter to Stratford City Council Re: Xinyi Glass Holdings

This is a copy of an open letter submitted to Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson and City Council on Dec. 12, 2020 regarding the egregious use of the Minister’s Zoning Order to make way for a Chinese float glass plant, effectively silencing citizens and stripping them of their democratic right to appeal.

Mayor Dan Mathieson and Members of Council:

I am writing today to add my voice to the growing cacophony of concern over Xinyi Glass Holding’s plan to establish a float glass plant in our city. I realize some of you may not have supported this initiative behind closed doors. My communication is largely directed at the majority who did.

As many of you know, I covered Stratford City Council for nearly 10 years as a local journalist. I have spent hundreds of hours in chambers and observed hundreds of planning decisions move through the process, some standard, some contentious. Several key local economic development initiatives I covered include the attraction of the University of Waterloo, Aisin Canada Inc, Hayashi Canada Inc., and the RBC Data Centre, along with Official Plan Amendment 10 and the subsequent battle with Walmart.

On a personal level, I may not have always agreed with the decisions made, but I have always respected the legislative constraints often faced by council and the democratic process itself.

Today, I am dumbfounded by your complicity to the Province of Ontario — specifically the current Conservative government — to foist a controversial industry upon the citizens of Stratford. Perhaps it was best said by my former colleague Scott Wishart in a recent letter to the editor: You seem to be hell-bent on ramming a controversial glass plant development down the throats of local residents in record time.

Frankly, you should be ashamed.

I am not a planner, nor do I claim to be one; however, I believe my experience gives me more insight into the process than the average Joe on the street. I am not here to lob accusations of “secret meetings” as I know economic development issues such as these are legally permitted and routinely discussed in camera. I am not foolish enough to think this decision was made by Mayor Mathieson alone. I will not outline the environmental concerns regarding emissions and groundwater supply already covered by others more educated than I. There will be no rehashing of the very real unease surrounding job creation and compliance with labour standards. I would hope by now all these issues are already firmly on your radar.

What I cannot comprehend is how — especially after what occurred in Guelph-Eramosa — you could have possibly thought supporting a duplicitous planning process for a controversial project would lead to a favourable outcome. In fact, knowing the citizens of Stratford and how vociferously we defend our rights, I would suggest it was downright foolish. Perhaps you did know that all along but were lacking the gumption to defend our city against the process dictated by the province in collusion with a Chinese entity. Maybe it was worth it for the sake of tax revenues and job creation. Maybe you genuinely thought it was the right decision. Maybe you cared. Maybe you did not.

The city has said the Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) was required due to construction timelines. Xinyi has said it was required as no municipality in Ontario is equipped to deal with its proposal due to its complexity. I do not believe either of those claims. After all, the city routinely handles its own zoning amendments, even with industry waiting in the wings. No MZO was required in Guelph-Eramosa; apparently, it seems the expertise of planning officials was not a concern back in 2017.

China is a world power experiencing a time of enormous change, with a new era of personal wealth intermingling with the country’s communist roots in peculiar ways. However, despite the cultural shift, we know the Chinese government does not embrace the public process as we know it, and its businesses traditionally echo the same beliefs. It is no secret the state continues to control business within its borders.

If you would humour me for a moment, I would like to share a theory. I suspect after the public outcry stalled its progress in Guelph-Eramosa, Xinyi was not keen to partake in that process again. The current Conservative government had a great solution, one the previous Liberal government was obviously more hesitant to use (or abuse, depending on who you ask): make the MZO a project requirement, forcing municipalities to agree to the condition or forfeit the opportunity. Why? We know public objection and subsequent appeals can make the planning process both lengthy and costly. The clock was ticking, and patience was running thin. It was a great solution to move the project forward quickly. After all, as Premier Doug Ford declared incredulously in Question Period, “Who refuses 400 jobs?”

It was also a great solution to silence the public and strip them of their democratic rights, which is what has been done in Stratford. And the way was paved by your decision to engage despite these terms.

Mayor Mathieson’s request on March 11, 2020 for a MZO for the entirety of the lands was denied by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing because this was never about the entire parcel — it was about the Xinyi project alone.

In the same correspondence to the ministry, Mayor Mathieson stated the annexation process would include “extensive public consultation”, which it did. Was Xinyi mentioned as a possibility during that process? Yes. Do I believe the majority of the public knew what was to come? No. Do I think more people would have spoken out at that point if they had known? Absolutely.

This was not a transparent process with sufficient public consultation.

I am not afraid to admit my assertions may be off-base and my thoughts to how this process unfolded may be downright incorrect. But I know one thing is absolutely, unfalteringly true — your actions have seriously undermined the public process. Even worse, it has obliterated public trust. You know that trust is often difficult to regain.

It is worth noting that, at the time of writing, over $21,000 has been raised by Get Concerned Stratford to fight this development and contributions continue to roll in.

Stratford may be “Dramatically Different”, but it should not be when it comes to the tenets of good governance. I implore you to reject the cost-sharing agreement with Xinyi that, as a result, may interrupt this process. I implore you to take responsibility for this misstep and bridge the chasm this has created in the community.

Most importantly, I implore you to listen to the public. The minority is often vocal, but it is often right.

This could be your legacy. Please choose wisely.

Sincerely,

Tori Sutton

Wife. Mom. Sidecar Passenger. Recovered Journo. Kicking it in Stratford, Ontario.