Get Concerned Stratford was organized in 2020. This is our story.
It was a surprise.
On October 29, 2020, a report in the Stratford Beacon Heraled alerted the town to the news of a collaboration between the City and provinial governments to issue a Minister’s Zoning Order for Stratford. An MZO allows no citizen oversight, no consultation, and no appeal. We were apparently committed to allow a giant multinational to build a huge glass factory at the south of town, complete with a 330-foot emissions stack. The water consumption for this factory would be nearly one million cubic meters of water per year. A dormitory would be built on site for foreign workers.
In Stratford, population 33,000.
Within a week, we had a team, a website, and a mailing list. Our first mail went out to the list on November 13.
Our second rally was even better
On the following Monday we had another rally, this one in support of representatives of Get Concerned Stratford who were meeting with Mayor Mathieson later that day. Learn more about the rally by clicking the photo on the left.
Melissa Verspeeten and Mike Sullivan had a good, civil exchange with the Mayor, and we were hoping to continue a dialogue with City Hall.
We learned many
We learned that the proposed factory would nearly triple Stratford’s greenhouse gas emissions.
We learned that secret negotiations with Xinyi were being held at the same time that Stratford Council listened to student protestors and voted to declare a climate emergency.
We learned that the Opposition Critic for Municipal Affairs wrote a letter to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner alerting them that Xinyi may not have complied with the Lobbyist’s Registration Act.
We learned that Xinyi believes our labour unions are weaker than those in the U.S. (and they think that’s a good thing). We learned that Xinyi believes the work culture in Canada is closer to China’s own work culture than that of the US. They think that’s a good thing, too.
AND…. our environmentalist lawyer, David Donnelly, sent a legal advisement to the Mayor and Council, telling them there could be no legal consequences for voting against the upcoming Cost-Sharing Plan.
Fortunately the issue came to a head when Xinyi, intimidated by the bad publicity, decided to back out on the deal. In other words, Xinyi left on their own accord, not through any action of Council.
We did more digging.
We learned that Stratford’s mayor sent at least three letters to the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing asking for provincial help in declaring a Minister’s Zoning order. The three letters we know about were written on
The Mayor’s final letter was successful, and Stratford became the first of many Ontario communities to protest the imposition of this measure.
GCS requested an investigation of inappropriately closed council meetings discussing the Xinyi deal, and Council was rebuked by the closed meetings investigator and told to change their protocol for such meetings in the future. However, the City argues that it would be inappropriate to make public the minutes of discussions held under the old (illegal) protocol. We continue with freedom of information requests.
We’re still looking
If you have information that will help our research, or suggestions for other subjects to research, please let us know through the form below. All submissions will be kept strictly confidential.
We think there are lessons to be learned from the Xinyi protest. If we fully understand what happened, we may be able to prevent similar errors from happening again. Future councillors will learn about the pitfalls of municipal government. Citizens will learn how to assess council’s actions. All of this can only be good for democracy, and we will wind up with a better-run city.
But there are things we still don’t know.
We want to find out whether councillors were aware of the letters requesting a Minister’s Zoning Order on Council stationery.
We’d like to learn whether Council signed a non-disclosure agreement. This would be controversial, at best.
We want to understand what happened during the annexation of the Xinyi lands. Were the rules correctly followed?
All of these topics may have been discussed in secret council meetings, and the inappropriateness of such secrecy is discussed above. The City has refused us most information requested through freedom of information requests. All are under appeal to the Province.
The City refuses to make public the ‘general nature of the business’ being discussed in camera (behind closed doors) meetings during the Xinyi period, summer 2018 to summer 2021. We have requested access to these records through over 150 closed meeting investigations.