by Jamie Gibb and Mike Sullivan
Our stash of uncovered correspondence between the city, township, and county and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing increased when the Beacon Herald uncovered the Mayor’s letters of Nov 20, 2018, March 11, 2020 and April 16, 2020. As a result of a local citizen’s Freedom of Information Request, we now have letters back from the Ministry of Nov 27, 2018, and March 9, 2020, and a further letter to the ministry from Mayor Mathieson on March 12, 2020, as well a letter from the leaders of the county, city and township on March 23.
There were two separate issues being discussed. One was the ‘restructuring’ proposal which was the annexation of farmland by the city of Stratford from the Township of Perth South, which needed the approval of the Minister. The other was the request for a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) to rezone the lands from agricultural to industrial. This request apparently came from Xinyi or its consultant, GSP Group, apparently to prevent the rejection or later appeal of the proposal by the community. The original request from the Mayor of Stratford on Nov 20, 2018 referred to a phase two of the Xinyi plans, but those plans have never been revealed to the public.
It was a tale of barnyard woe that began in secret in the summer of 2018. The powers that be didn’t want you to know of planned changes to your community, but with the passage of time the truth slowly came out. Our first glimpse came in the form of documentation from November 2018. The province was working with Xinyi to find a suitable site, but appears to have been advised that the company itself had found its preferred location outside of Stratford. At this time the MZO was still a tool rarely used and applied only for unique circumstances. Stratford began petitioning the province to convince them this was one of those circumstances. In conjunction with requesting the MZO, Stratford indicated they were busy preparing a communications plan along with Perth South and Perth County and gave reassurance that the annexation process would include extensive public consultation. In hindsight, few, if any citizens would see this consultation as robust, as it lasted only a few days, and was justified by documents that are still hidden from view. The city requested that an MZO decision be reached by November 30, 2018, a full two years before InvestStratford would announce, on October 29, 2020, Xinyi’s decision to locate here. If the City had signed a Letter of Intent with Xinyi prior to November 20, 2018, it would seem there was a full two years in which Planning Act consultation process could have occurred without an MZO in place. The MZO saga now disappears behind closed doors until March of 2020.
The March 9, 2020 letter from the Ministry advised that the restructuring was being considered, but the request for an MZO was turned down. Interestingly, the deputy minister suggested that the local planning process be used for the rezoning. The Mayor of Stratford wrote Minister Clark twice on this issue, on March 11 and again on March 12, 2020, reiterating his demand for an MZO. A subsequent letter from Mayor Mathieson, the Mayor of Perth South, and the Warden of the County of Perth on March 23 appears to accept the denial of the MZO and focuses instead on ensuring that the minister grants the restructuring proposal (annexation).
Finally, on April 16, 2020, the Mayor of Stratford, having seen yet another denial of the MZO, this time on April 9, writes to the Deputy Minister, again requesting an MZO, this time scoping the request to just the lands south of line 29 and west of Hwy 7. He asks for a meeting to discuss it further, and notes that 1685 direct jobs will be created by year 5, with 4212 indirect jobs created. At the end of this letter, he warns that if no MZO is issued Xinyi will move its investment out of Ontario and perhaps out of Canada.
We now know that both the Minister and the Premier were lobbied by Xinyi and/or The GSP Group. without either registering as lobbyists. We know that the Minister granted the MZO to the township of Perth South in July of 2020, and restricted it to the lands Xinyi intended to buy, restricting the zoning to only a glass factory and a dormitory (called an emergency preparedness centre). We now know that in August of 2020 the Minister granted the annexation of the land. And we now know that the city had signed agreements with Xinyi as far back as November of 2018, though those agreements remain secret. We also know that the city plans to expand its water and sewer services to connect to the land in question, and to provide city drinking water for Xinyi’s cooling processes. The proposed cost of providing services is $6 million
We have asked to see other documents, and to know when and how council approved seeking the MZO, and signing the deals with Xinyi, but still have no answers. And no councillor can tell us, as they are all bound by a Non-Disclosure-Agreement, which we also have not seen.