Xinyi calls opposition 'prejudiced' as Stratford city hall suspends factory decision
As the virus rages, Stratford city hall halts debate, but not heated rhetoric over plant
A Chinese glassmaker called opposition groups looking to stop its proposed $400-million plant "elitist" and "prejudiced," adding fuel to an increasingly fiery debate that city hall officials have now put on hold amid the worsening coronavirus crisis.
On Thursday, Stratford city hall announced it would temporarily shelve making a decision on the controversial project, citing the sweeping stay-at-home order made on Wednesday by the provincial government. The order was declared to keep new cases of the virus from overwhelming the provincial health system.
"The focus on the health and safety of our citizens is our top priority," the written statement said. "The City will provide appropriate notice to the public when the matter is being brought forward."
Xinyi Canada is proposing a $400-million float glass plant on Stratford's southern rim, promising to bring 380 jobs to the community in order to make it the heart of its Canadian glass manufacturing operations to supply commercial float glass demand for cars, homes, bus shelters and skyscrapers from Halifax to Vancouver.
Opposition groups have criticized the proposal saying the factory would magnify the city's carbon footprint by leaps and bounds, that Xinyi represents a national security threat and that it has worked with provincial and municipal politicians to circumvent local the decision-making process to quash debate.
Debate on hold as virus rages
With the virus raging, an in-person debate is now out of the question, but it hasn't stopped the rhetoric from either side.
Chris Pidgeon, the president of the Kitchener, Ont.,-based land use planning firm GSP Group and Xinyi Canada's project manager for the factory proposal, said he and his business partners have been shocked and disappointed by some of the comments made by grassroots opposition members.
"We've been really shocked at the elitist and I guess, quite frankly, prejudiced attitudes that has underpinned the opposition to the project," he told CBC News before the decision at city hall was shelved.
Pidgeon said many of the comments equate Xinyi Canada, the Canadian arm of Hong Kong-based Xinyi Glass Holdings Limited, a publicly-traded company, with the agendas of the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party.
"These comments are just unfounded and really uncalled for," said Pidgeon. "The groups are equating this company with the Chinese government and I just want to be very clear in saying the two are not the same.
"If this was a company from Germany, for example, or the UK, I don't think we would be getting the same commentary that we're getting from those opposition parties."
Xinyi Canada has even been awarded a $4-million grant from Environment Canada on April 22, 2020 for an energy-efficient heat recycling system, if its proposed Stratford, Ont. plant goes ahead.
Opposition group calls accusations 'extremely offensive'
Get Concerned Canada said it is still waiting on its local Conservative MP John Nater, who has promised to question the Liberal government about the grant and whether the government will agree to take a closer look at Xinyi's potential links to the Chinese government.
"We are still waiting on responses from some of those things. There seems to be a lot of finger-pointing going on in all directions right now, so we don't have a lot of answers," Melissa Verspeeten with Get Concerned Stratford told CBC News Thursday.
She also called Xinyi Canada's accusations of elitism and prejudice "extremely offensive," noting that if some people in the community harbour anti-China views, they do not represent Get Concerned Stratford.
"Nothing that we have said has been racial in any way, shape or form," she said. "I think they're being quite offensive to anyone who has been opposed to the plant at this point.
"They've made some terrible accusations. They're trying to divide the community. I think it's going to backfire."
With a sweeping stay-at-home order from the province in place that has suspended not just the debate over the project, but business-as-usual, it's hard for either side to forecast what will come of the controversy.
Verspeeten said on the one hand, she's thankful for the break, but on the other, she's wary of the fact the issue has yet to be resolved.
"I want to be cautiously optimistic," she said. "We need to be very aware this is not a 'no,' this is a pause. We need to stay vigilant.
"It's not the end of anything."
Verspeeten said the stay-at-home order means opposition groups, who have been holding regular protests every Monday on the steps of Stratford city hall, will have to suspend their in-person activity, but will continue to meet online.
"There won't be protests down there," she said. "Obviously, we have to abide by the guidelines."
CBC News also reached out to Xinyi project manager Chris Pidgeon for additional comment Thursday after Stratford city hall announced it had halted the decision-making process on the plant, but he declined.
"The company is making no further statements at this time," he said.
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