Rally 7 Remarks

February 22, 2021

 

Updated February 25, 2021 with correction

WATCH THE RALLY

I’m fond of an old Irish saying which goes something like this: ‘It’s a long road which knows no turning and it is a wrong toad that knows no learning.’ The saga of this glass factory may very well embrace both of those notions.

But before I get into all of that, I’d like to personally thank everyone – and I do mean everyone. You’ve all played a vital role in bringing about the results of last week. We’ve all been on a long and difficult journey together and we should take a moment of pride to relish what we’ve accomplished. It has truly been a team effort all the way around. In addition to the folks at Get Concerned Stratford, the vigil attendees and other involved citizens, I would like to thank my colleagues Mark and Errol for their tireless work in support of our goal.

I’ll also mention that our next rally will likely be when council votes on formally requesting that Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark revoke the MZO. Be sure to stay connected with Wise Communities and Get Concerned Stratford for updates.

And finally, for those who are interested my remarks today will be posted on the Wise Communities website.

Now I’d like to invite Mike Sullivan from Get Concerned Stratford to share a few words.

[Mike Sullivan speaks]

Thank you Mike. And thanks so much to all of your colleagues at Get Concerned Stratford.

As many of you will know, there were various property owners directly impacted by this proposed project and I’ve invited one of them here today. So, I’d like to ask Jamie Gibb to offer us his thoughts.

[Jamie Gibb speaks]

Thank you Jamie. And thank you for all the relentless hard work you’ve been doing behind the scenes since this all began.

Our rally today was launched to encourage our elected officials to finish the job of putting this glass factory to bed by asking the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to revoke the MZO. One would think it hardly needs mentioning, but as one supporter of mine from the U.S. observed:

“You haven't taken a hill when you get to the top.  You have taken a hill when you get to the top, have chased the enemy down the other side, established a perimeter at the base, and prepared for a possible counter-attack.”

Now I want to be clear, I’ve not seen anyone in this saga as the ‘enemy’ per se. The enemy in my view has truly been a lack of light and transparency and the accountability which comes with that. The enemy has been the darkness and a flawed process which could hardly be called democratic. The enemy has been the lack of respect shown by failing to bring citizens into the process to hear their voices. But thankfully, our response has been no. No. This is not what we wanted our elected officials to do on our behalf. This is not the kind of democracy we want to live in and our trust must not be broken again.

So how did this all happen? And who was responsible for it?

I’ll confess there’s still a lot more to learn, but like any jigsaw puzzle it takes a while to find enough of the right pieces to be able to put a picture together. This we’ve done by constructing a lengthy timeline of events which can be found on our website. This timeline tells many tales. It stretches as far back as November 2017 and reaches right up to the present day.

There’s a long version of things and a short version. I’ll offer the short version today.  In fact, it’s very short.

We were duped and there’s no other way to put it.

The journey of what I call ‘the Xinyi train to Stratford’ really began in September of 2018 when the mayor, a representative from investStratford, our MP [see correction at the bottom of this page], MPP and the deputy-minister convened to discuss this opportunity for a glass factory and to work out how to set it up. Sometime later, they’d bring the warden and reeve of the two counties on board. In other words, they all got on the Xinyi train in the fall of 2018 and one could say they’re still on it, but the destination is not the Xinyi station anymore, but a dead-end graveyard for MZOs and bad ideas.

The moment in time where it all becomes crystal clear occurs on the evening of January 16, 2020 at the time of the annexation process. Citizens were invited to attend a public consultation about the boundary adjustment – the annexation of the lands – to give their comments on a 30-page draft report made available by the city a mere 24 hours before that meeting.

The reason for this annexation, people were told over and over again, was the city just needed to gather up more land for future use, nothing more. This, even though the city hadn’t even come close to using up the land already being held in reserve.

A few suspicious souls piped up to ask whether or not this annexation had anything to do with the rumours of a glass factory, but they were patronizingly reassured the glass factory was only one of a number of options being considered. This left the impression it was far from certain what was going to be done with the land and whatever it was, it would be years down the road.

Well this answer could have given even Pinocchio stiff competition when one takes into account the 99-page report which was sent to the minister only a couple of weeks later. This 99-page report outlines many items of public interest, including the fact the entire purpose of the annexation was to support the advancement of a glass factory and that an MZO would be requested of the minister – things the public were completely kept in the dark about at the time.

When I first learned of this I was at a loss for words. How was it that this 99-page report was not made available to the public at the January 16th meeting, only a couple of weeks earlier?

How was it that the public was only given a 30-page draft ‘brochure’ that never mentions either a glass factory or an MZO.

How was the mayor going to honour the ‘extensive public consultation’ for an MZO application, which he promised the minister in his November 20, 2018 letter, when the 30-page document given to the public didn’t even mention one?

Was this the kind of public consultation the minister meant when he spoke to TVO about needing to see a public consultation, as well as a vote in public by council before issuing an MZO?

The only conclusion I could come to was this: They didn’t want us to see this document. They didn’t want us to know what they were really planning was a glass factory. And they certainly didn’t want us to know about an MZO. 

Indeed, the timeline was already telling this story. This timeline would show in great, busy detail just how long the city and GSP Group, Xinyi’s project manager, had been actively putting bricks into place with their activities and reports in preparation for Xinyi’s arrival.

This activity began as early as January 2019, an entire year before the annexation. It would go on to include the Service Area Amendment of December 2019, confirming it would be Festival Hydro and not Hydro One that would provide electricity to the factory. This was supported with a letter from Xinyi’s President Tommy Wong. This was one month before the annexation.

Now why would they be doing all of that work for an entire year in advance, yet still tell that suspicious soul at the January 16th meeting that the glass plant was only one of a handful of options, making it feel like decisions were months, if not years away.

My mind raced to identify who knew. Who really knew? In particular, who knew on that night of January 16th of the public boundary adjustment meeting when adjacent land-owners were riddled with anxiety and concern, striving anxiously to understand what this boundary adjustment was all about?

Most sadly, I could come to no other conclusion that at the very least the individuals who knew about this public deception all along, were those who got on board the Xinyi train in the fall of 2018. This cast of characters took part in a piece of theatre at that January 16th meeting – a performance which might be characterized as the best this city has ever seen. We knew all along there was something rotten in the State of Stratford.

Now this is but a portion of a sad and sorry saga, but I think it’s the most revealing one and we’ll be making a record of it to keep handy for the next election. I’ve since asked myself if this has been the playbook for other developments in the past?

We may never know what the real inspiration was for this plant, but one thing is certain. We must never see this kind of thing again in this City of Stratford and County of Perth.

We believe the annexation step was taken entirely under false pretenses and that the citizens of Stratford and Perth County deserve an unwinding of this flawed process.

These lands have not yet changed hands and it is most certainly not too late to reverse the course of events and put everything back the way it was. Deciding the ultimate use of this prime agricultural land should only have happened through an open and transparent public process and with meaningful public engagement.

So, from here on we must stay vigilant and ensure the MZO is fully revoked. We’re grateful to Councillor Sebben who has already launched this initiative.

Additionally, we must assist this council in changing some of the ways it has been doing business. That includes reviewing the abuse of in-camera meetings and non-disclosure agreements, with the goal of guiding council towards what public engagement really looks like. It would also put a limit on the terms of councillors and the mayor, and adopt specifications outlining the kind of industries and businesses that are compatible with this city.

And since we have not learned everything, our investigation will continue.

 

So, the last thing I’d like to speak to is the land. This land, like all land, was here before us and will be here when we’re gone. As we heard in December from Leslee White-Eye, former chief of the Chippewas on the Thames First Nation, this land is sacred and must be protected for all future generations. We believe, like many others, including those in the farming community, that we are only stewards of this land for a time. Depending on how we use it, future generations will either reap the fruit or see its devastation.

In this age of reckoning, when we’re talking about a climate emergency and food security, surely we have a duty to protect the land and ensure it is used for the highest purpose.

We also know both the Ontario and Perth Federations of Agriculture have come out strongly with their feelings on this. And I quote: “Ontario cannot sustain the current loss of agricultural land while continuing to produce food, fibre, and fuel with limited and declining resources.”

And finally, we’re invited to reconsider the merits of endless growth and to seek a new paradigm of living within our natural world’s budget. People no less than Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, and now the United Nations Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, are calling upon us to consume less – much less –  in order to reduce the strain on our rare and depleting natural resources, allowing them to heal and regenerate for future generations.

Yes we won, but by the skin of our teeth. We have taken the hill, but we still have to establish a perimeter at the base and be prepared for a possible counter-attack until such time that we can put this war to bed.

For we know that Canadians value democracy, human rights and the rule of law. And in the end, we defended it at home.

Thank you everyone for coming out and for all your hard work and support. Let’s make sure this saga comes to its proper end.

Loreena McKennitt

Correction - February 26, 2021

It was asserted that Perth-Wellington MP (John Nater) was present at a September 2018 meeting  (along with the mayor, a representative from investStratford, the MPP and the deputy-minister) when they convened to discuss the glass factory opportunity. We understood this to be true based on conversations with two independent parties. Mr. Nater’s office has triple checked and clarified that the MP was not present at a September 2018 meeting, but did attend 45 minutes of a 'brief session' held January 8, 2019 at the offices of investStratford with their staff, two representatives of Xinyi, the mayor and CAO (Horne). This meeting 'allowed [the MP] to be introduced to representatives of Xinyi'.