Stratford city hall found itself host to a 100-strong protest on Monday as members of the ‘GetConcerned Stratford’ citizens group rallied in opposition to a proposed one-million square foot float glass factory in the city’s south end. Owned by Xinyi Canada Glass, the factory represents a $400 million-dollar investment, anticipated to bring 380 general labour, skilled labour and engineering jobs to the community as well as millions in property tax revenue, to be shared with Perth South.
Made possible in part due to a Minister’s Zoning Order issued in July, some residents have taken issue with the development’s potential environmental impacts and water usage, the perceived circumventing of democratic processes and a cost-sharing agreement which could see Stratford paying millions to develop a portion of the facility’s required sewage and road infrastructure. Many of these arguments have been heard before – as a similar development proposed by Xinyi Canada Glass was rejected by Guelph-Eramosa council in 2018 after community backlash.
Melissa Verspeeten is the spokesperson for GetConcerned Stratford, and spoke to what she called a 'laundry list' of concerns surrounding the plant. On top of issues of air quality impact and the draw on Stratford's water reserves, Verspeeten said the millions of dollars to be potentially invested in this venture could be better directed in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
"There's a whole lot of local businesses already struggling... and the city doesn't really seem to have much of a COVID plan with relation to any kind of aid for those businesses..." said Verspeeten. "So we're spending six-million dollars to bring in a foreign investment - whereas we've got local people here that own businesses that are already hurting... and we're currently on the brink of lockdowns all around us so there's sure to be more business suffering before the end of the year..."
Verspeeten also pointed to differences in Xinyi's proposal for the float glass factory between it's 2018 attempt and the current proposed development in Stratford - specifically, differences in measurement units for the factory's smoke stack, and a change in title for the staff expected to stay on site. Verspeeten said an area labelled as an "emergency preparedness centre" was listed as "residence building A & B" in the 2018 plan.
"When this was brought to Guelph-Eramosa, the emission stack was 300 feet - whereas when they presented it to Stratford it became 100 metres (...) the optics changed - it's the same length and the same distance but they've made it sound a bit smaller."
Dan Mathieson is the Mayor of Stratford, and recently took the time to speak to 570 NEWS regarding the proposed development agreement, the concern from residents, and the potential benefits that a development like this could bring to the city. When asked about the Minister’s Zoning Order, Mathieson said that the city of Stratford advertised it’d be annexing land in the city of industrial purposes last year. After conducting public meetings, as well as joint public meetings with Perth South and Perth County, he said Stratford had asked for a general industrial designation for the land in question – receiving a site-specific float glass designation for a portion of the land.
Mathieson said he understands the concerns he’s heard from citizens regarding the environmental impact of the factory, as the facility is expected to use more than one million litres of water per day. That volume would raise Stratford’s allowable daily water taking permit by nearly eight percent – a measure licensed and controlled by the Ministry of Environment.
“I completely understand everyone’s concerns with regards to the environment – they have to meet all Canadian, specifically Ontario environmental regulations with regards to this facility…” said Mathieson. “That also means they have to meet the labour code and of course immigration standards.
Mathieson admits, though, that some of the specific issues he’s heard raised may be based in misinformation. The Stratford mayor said he had heard concerns that the factory’s staff would be primarily foreign workers, though that would not be permitted by the federal government.
Xinyi’s proposed development would be creating float glass – a specialized form of sheet glass with uniform thickness and very flat surfaces. That product is currently not manufactured in Canada, with the last manufacturing facility ceasing production in Canada in 2008. As such, Canada relies completely on the importation of float glass products, using the product in energy saving residential windows and doors, impact resistant settings like hockey arenas and sport centres and bullet resistant security panels.
While some residents have raised issues with the proposed cost sharing agreement between the city and Xinyi, Mathieson said council will make its decision regarding that agreement on their own timetable. That agreement could see the city pay up to $5.8 million dollars worth of the development’s $12 million-dollar cost for infrastructure, though Mathieson said there’s still further conversations that need to be had before that decision can be made.
“We have a very engaged citizenry here – you will see us conduct additional public meetings (…) so the public can be provided answers to their earlier questions, and provided updated information,” said Mathieson. “You’re also going to see a further opportunity for council to sit with Xinyi and have them make a presentation directly to council (…) before a decision on the cost sharing agreement will be made.”
Mathieson said that there have been volumes of correspondence received that are both in favour and opposed to the Xinyi float glass facility, as he said those comments will be weighed in council’s decision-making process.
As for next steps, Mathieson said there will likely be a decision made on the cost sharing agreement in the next two to three weeks, though council will take the time that’s necessary to make an informed decision.
Verpeeten said she commends council for making the decision for futher consultation, though she said she feels it's taken a large amount of public outcry to sway their direction. She added that she's been hearing from members of GetConcerned Stratford that they feel their voice does not make a difference based on past performance from Stratford council.
"I hope that council is listening; I really do hope that they're hearing what's going on (...) I hope that they're asking questions themselves and researching things themselves because this is a huge, huge undertaking for this city - and I think that more thought needs to go into how this is going to affect us... not just tomorrow but decades into the future."
GetConcerned Stratford will be hosting their own community ZOOM meeting on December 8th where residents can bring their concerns and raise questions about the proposed Xinyi development. Verspeeten said she's hopeful that members of council will take the time to attend the meeting to hear from their community.