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As angry protests continue over Chinese glass factory, Stratford's mayor voices his regrets

Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson says if he could do it over again, he wouldn't have asked Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark for a special order, paving the way for a Chinese company to build a proposed factory on his community's rim.

Dan Mathieson said if he could do it over again, he wouldn't have asked the province for a MZO

Protesters in Stratford chant slogans and wave placards in opposition to a proposed Chinese-owned glass factory that would be built on the city's boundary. (Mark MacCauley/Wise Communities)

As angry protests continue outside city hall, Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson is expressing his regret over the decision to ask the province for a special order, clearing legal hurdles for a proposed Chinese-owned glass factory to be built on the community's border. 

"Absolutely. Seeing the challenge it has brought to the community, there's some concern around it ... I think it's safe to say we would probably love to rewind and work at this again."

While he regrets the decision, Mathieson told CBC News Monday that he cannot discuss the reasons why it was made, citing confidentiality. 

"I'm not at liberty to disclose them because they're covered under a confidentiality agreement, but I can say that council, we're looking at this," he said.

"I'm sure everyone would have like to have this done differently."  

Mathieson formally asked the province for what's known as a minister's zoning order, or MZO; three times since 2018. The power allows the minister to issue a decree on a piece of land that can't be appealed by community groups or Ontario's Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

'I appreciate that people are angry'

This plot of land on Perth Line 29 west of Highway 7 where a 1 million square foot glass plant has been proposed is privately owned and would be sold to Xinyi Canada if the deal for the proposed factory is approved by Stratford city council. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Opposition groups have called the tactic "anti-democratic," saying it unfairly circumvents the local decision-making process and was used in an effort to quash opposition to a factory critics worry would potentially pollute the community's air and waterways. 

The simmering public anger could be seen on display outside city hall each Monday for the past few weeks, with dozens of demonstrators waving placards to express their frustration and opposition to the proposed factory. 

On Monday, Mathieson acknowledged their frustration but also appealed to their civility, asking those who oppose the project to take on a more respectful tone in disagreeing with the decisions he's made. 

"I appreciate that people are angry. I would ask them if they're frustrated to clearly articulate their opinion in a thoughtful way and be respectful. Making accusations, raising insults never helps a process move forward."

Get Concerned Stratford, one of two opposition groups formed to oppose the factory coming to town, has retained the services of David Donnelly, the Toronto environmental lawyer who helped a similar group stop Xinyi Canada from bringing a similar proposal to the township of Guelph-Eramosa. 

Factory could quadruple city's carbon emissions

Xinyi Glass Holdings provides glass products to the Canadian and northern U.S. markets. (Submitted photo)

"Once the citizens [of Guelph-Eramosa] had their say and all the evidence had put before council, council voted to reject the project and that's what I hope will happen here."

"Stratford is world-renown for its theatre, its art and its beautiful setting. Stratford is not world renown for its heavy manufacturing and probably never should be."

Donnelly said what really vexes people is the lack of clear information about the factory, not only from public officials, but from Xinyi Canada itself. 

He argues the company has been deliberately vague about the amount of pollution the factory would produce, saying his best guess based on what's available from the company is the facility would quadruple the city's green house gas (GHG) emissions.

"This is information that we've had to glean off the Xinyi website based on a similar sized plant located elsewhere," he said.

"To make float glass, you have to heat it up to an incredible temperature and basically float it on molten steel. So the energy required to heat up the thing that actually tempers the glass."

"So that's our estimate, four times Stratford's emissions, but Xinyi has not actually come out and told anyone what those GHG emissions will be."

"That, to me, in relation to Stratford's declaration of a climate emergency, that's disqualifying on its face." 

Donnelly wrote a letter to Stratford city council on December 3, outlining his clients' reasons why council should vote down the proposal.

While questions over the proposed factory mount, the public may be able to get a chance to have some of those questions answered in a public forum soon. 

A representative from Xinyi Canada is scheduled to answer questions in an open forum with Stratford city council on December 14. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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