Under Construction

With the publication on Monday, Aug 9 of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I have decided to update and improve this site. It will take me about a week.

Welcome to Glasstown

As we take time for family and the Holidays, we know we are under the shadow of something that could permanently change our town.

I hope this will not come to pass, and I think we need to consider the root cause of this threat. It’s not a mayor with political aspirations, and it’s not a weak and easily bullied council. It’s not even a predatory and reckless provincial government who will sell anything to be open for business.

No. The real cause, the root cause of the whole thing, is the lack of a local news infrastructure. No one saw this coming. No one understood the issues. No one was prepared.

How else could there be two years of negotiations on an environmentally dirty deal while Council watched our youth organize and ultimately succeed in their demand for a municipal declaration of climate emergency? Only when people are able to avoid uncomfortable questions can such a thing happen.

This is not new. We saw it when the RNG treatment plant was approved, despite the protests of hundreds of angry citizens, many of whom, I might add, were treated very poorly by the City. Here’s how it works:

Keep them in the dark.
Surprise them.
Tell them it’s a “done deal.”
Shame them for not acting earlier.

Fair and functioning municipal government requires an informed citizenry. One local newspaper, owned by an American media conglomerate and with a skeleton staff stretched to cover a wide variety of issues, cannot provide this.

Democracy really begins here at the local level. Local passivity fuels provincial rapacity, and the double-dealing works its way up to the top. We need to be vigilant, proactive, and we need to be informed.

But for now, it’s the holidays, and I hope everyone has a peaceful and restful time. I hope everyone is near someone they love. Let’s forget about it for just a little while. In New Year, let’s work to find out everything we can about this “done deal,” and make sure that our information is correct and well resourced. Then, let’s share what we know as widely as we can, because it looks like we’re going to have to be our own news infrastructure.

Oh Stratford…

Never doubt that a small group of pyjama-clad citizens with
really terrible haircuts can triumph over the forces of evil
in a time of quarantine; indeed, it’s the only thing that
appears to be working.

Stratfordians may be isolated in this time of Covid, but we’re sure hearing from each other. If you don’t know about the protests over the Ford Government’s imposition of a Minister’s Zoning Order on our city, you must have superhuman social distancing powers.

Everyone I know has been writing letters and calling their councillors. If you’d like to join in, there’s a list of addresses and telephone numbers at the end of this post. There are lots of other ways to show your opposition, as well.

There is a socially-distanced rally set for Monday, November 30, at noon. This rally will precede a meeting at 3:45 between Mayor Dan Mathieson and representatives of the group Get Concerned Stratford, Melissa Verspeeten and Mike Sullivan. Only 100 may attend this socially-distanced rally , and to attend you must get tickets through Eventbrite. If you can’t get a ticket, you can listen from your car. More information at the Eventbrite link.

Get Concerned Stratford is also organizing an online meeting for December 8 at 7 pm. There will be speakers, and a chance to learn more about the issues. Find more information here.

I’m hearing that some people are holding protests in front of City Hall, from noon – 2pm, Monday to Friday. If this group has an organizer, please let me know, and I will post your information here.

There may be a socially-distanced march coming as well, I’m not sure. If you know more, please pass it on to me, and I will also post it here.

Dan Mathieson – DMathieson@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5234
Bonnie Henderson – BHenderson@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5420
Brad Beatty – BBeatty@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5425
Cody Sebben – CSebben@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5426
Danielle Ingram – DIngram@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5424
Dave Gaffney – DGaffney@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5427
Graham Bunting – GBunting@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5363
Jo-Dee Burbach – JBurbach@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5428
Kathy Vassilakos – KVassilakos@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5423
Martin Ritsma – MRitsma@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5422
Tom Clifford – TClifford@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 5421
City Clerk’s Office – clerks@stratford.ca (519) 271-0250, ext. 237

Mailing addresses for all councillors:
City Hall, P.O. Box 818, Stratford, On N5A 6W1
City Office fax: 519-271-2783

A happy surprise from Randy Pettapiece

It’s always heartwarming to get a message from someone you haven’t heard from in a very long time.

I’ve been asking people I know around Stratford what our MPP thinks of the Xinyi Glass situation. There seems to be little indication of this in the news coverage. Apparently, many citizens have been writing letters, and some have sent me copies of his responses. I thought you might be interested, too. It’s fairly easy to post them here, because all of Randy’s replies seem to be the same.

It was a bit naughty of Randy to send identical replies to all the carefully-written letters he received, but remember that he is a very busy man. I thought I would save him a little time by reprinting his letter here.

Randy does write a good letter, though.

I chuckled over his witticism on City Council: “The City of Stratford was very persistent in their goal of attracting the Xinyi facility to our area.” The subtle irony of this statement is evident to anyone who has called or written a city councillor. Randy is winking at us, and reminding us that although some councillors were in favour of the acquisition of new industrial land, all councillors were unaware that the provincial government would invoke a Ministers’ Zoning Order requiring the land to be zoned for ONLY a glass manufacturer.

I roared over Randy’s comments on using the Minister’s Zoning Order in Ontario: “In fact, every single MZO the government has issued concerning non-provincially owned land has been at the request of the local municipalities.” Now, that one actually brought tears to my eyes. I imagined all those Ontario citizens, dusting off their pitchforks and lighting their torches as they face off against the grinning developers. There go the wetlands. Here come the cookie-cutter subdivisions.

But best of all is Randy’s statement on his duty as an MPP: “it is my role to bring (the City’s) requests to the provincial government—just as I have done on behalf of others who oppose the project.” Is this just another of Randy’s clever jibes? As if the provincial government hasn’t been watching over this whole thing like the Eye of Sauron.

People have had a lot to say about Randy lately. I think that the term “breach of trust” is too strong to describe his performance for the town of Stratford. I think the word “puppet” is impolite, and should not be used in our discussions. I certainly hope people aren’t accusing him of underhandedness. I would never believe that. He looks like such a nice man.

If you would like to renew your relationship with Randy Pettapiece, I’ve put his contact information below. Say hello for me.

Constituency Office
55 Lorne Avenue East, Unit 2
Stratford, ON N5A 6S4
Phone: 519-272-0660
Toll free: 1-800-461-9701 Fax: 519-272-1064Email: randy.pettapiececo@pc.ola.org

RANDY PETTAPIECE’S LETTER TO CITIZENS OF STRATFORD:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the proposed float glass manufacturing plant by Xinyi Canada Glass Limited.

At the end of October, the City of Stratford’s economic development corporation, investStratford, announced this proposal for the south end of Stratford. Since their announcement, many have written to me to express concerns.

Such concerns have included the limited time dedicated to public consultation; the potential environmental impacts, especially with respect to water usage; the need to maintain area farmland for agricultural production; the need for strong labour standards; the need to prioritize employment for local residents.

I understand these concerns. People are raising valid questions, and it is up to Xinyi Canada and supporters of the project to answer them to the community’s satisfaction. We should expect nothing less.

Since I first learned about this proposal, one thing has been clear: The City of Stratford, the County of Perth, and the Township of Perth South have been very strongly in favour of it. Understandably, they pointed to the significant tax revenues that such a project would produce. They also pointed to the prospect of creating hundreds of new local jobs and the resulting economic activity.

The City of Stratford was very persistent in their goal of attracting the Xinyi facility to our area. Given the company’s decision to locate in Stratford, their efforts have paid off.

Some have asked me about the role of the provincial government in this matter.

Through the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the province has long had the power to issue a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO). In effect, this allows the government to advance requests for rezoning in order to facilitate development.

In this case, the minister did grant an MZO—at the strong and repeated requests of the City of Stratford, supported by the County of Perth and the Township of Perth South.

In fact, every single MZO the government has issued concerning non-provincially owned land has been at the request of the local municipalities.

I respect the role of our democratically elected municipal councils. I will not second-guess their priorities. However, it is my role to bring their requests to the provincial government—just as I have done on behalf of others who oppose the project.

If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to write to your mayor and councillor to express your views on this project. I am hopeful that everyone will be heard and their concerns will be addressed.

What we know about the Xinyi glass plant

We’ve been hearing about this project for a while. The 100-metre smokestack, the 1.6 million litre per day water usage, the dormitory for foreign workers, the possible contamination of our air and water, the destruction of farmland. But it seemed to have gone away, and anyway, everyone is just trying to keep their heads above water with Covid.

The Xinyi project is the the same one that was successfully run out of town by a citizens’ coalition in Guelph-Eramosa. It was a pretty fierce battle, with both city officials and the multinational company facing accusations of deceit and manipulation.

In Stratford, we didn’t see any of this. In fact, most of us didn’t see anything at all, until the announcement hit us with all the subtlety of a speeding 18-wheeler. No Council hearings, no consultation with citizens. Nothing. There may be nothing we can do about it either, except attend an information meeting set up by the company.

How did this happen?

Well, we should have been watching when Council acquired that land to the south of the city. Perth County was keen to expand their tax base, and participated in the transfer of lands. This was approved by all members of Council except Ingram, Vassilakos and Sebben. That’s what opened the door for the project.

But that’s not why we’re stuck with Xinyi Glass. There were no public hearings on approving zoning for the project, because the Ford government have imposed a Ministerial Zoning Order, a mechanism by which the provincial government can override municipalities. There is no need for consultation with this mechanism, and there is no possibility of an appeal.

We’re not the only community to get a Ford surprise. There are people all over the province waking up to unpleasant realities. The town of Stoufville is getting a subdivision of 1,967 homes. Two highways through environmentally sensitive land are being fast-tracked. Pickering is losing a 54-acre wetland, which was supposedly protected by the Greenbelt.

There was a conversation to be had about whether the citizens of Stratford wanted this plant. It would have been good to see for ourselves whether this project could damage our air or water supply or cause damage to farmland. I think people would want to know if there are possible labour issues and transportation problems, and whether there are health concerns. It would have been good to really investigate how many jobs will actually be coming to Stratford, and how long they will stay, given the speed with which automation is taking over the industry. It would also be good to find out beforehand what commitments the company will make for cleaning up toxins on the site when it closes fifteen to thirty years from now.

Looks like we’re not going to have that conversation.

Ontario is open for business. Unfortunately, it seems to be closed for democracy. If you are concerned about this, you should let your local councillors know.

Here is the latest statement from the City regarding the Xinyi project.

Below are the e-mail addresses of City Council:

Mayor Dan Mathieson: DMathieson@stratford.ca
Councillor Bonnie Henderson: BHenderson@stratford.ca
Councillor Brad Beatty: BBeatty@stratford.ca
Councillor Cody Sebben: CSebben@stratford.ca
Councillor Danielle Ingram: DIngram@stratford.ca
Councillor Dave Gaffney: DGaffney@stratford.ca
Councillor Graham Bunting: GBunting@stratford.ca
Councillor Jo-Dee Burbach: JBurbach@stratford.ca
Councillor Kathy Vassilakos: KVassilakos@stratford.ca
Councillor Martin Ritsma: MRitsma@stratford.ca
Councillor Tom Clifford: TClifford@stratford.ca

Proposed RNG Project for Stratford

The public meeting of the City’s Infrastructure, Transportation and Safety Committee met on Friday, December 17, 2019 to discuss the proposed Renewable Natural Gas Project. This blog post is an attempt to bring out some of the main points of that meeting, in the hope of furthering informed discussion. A much more detailed description of the meeting is available in the minutes of December 17. The Beacon Herald has published their own analysis of Friday’s meeting. as well as a letter to the editor that was heavily critical of the project.

While few question the value of removing 49,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases yearly from our atmosphere, there have been arguments against the project from the beginning, and at the December meeting Councillor Sebben proposed a halt to the project, citing problems with the location, as well as concerns over financial risks (Will we be able to maintain a profitable level of green waste input from other communities? Can we rely on governmental support past the election cycle? What will be the role of private enterprise?) Councillor Sebben’s proposal was referred to the next meeting of council on January 13.

It was a long and fairly contentious meeting, and my notes get scrambled here and there, but I thought Councillor Burbach’s statement supporting the proposed project was the most comprehensive, and I am using it here to outline the arguments of Council, balanced with comments from citizens who spoke at the meeting (in italics).

  • PRO: Removal of greenhouse gases will have local and global benefit. We would be protecting our children’s future.
    Ann Carbert: we must reduce emissions to 45% and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
    Donna Sobura: What is included in the carbon reduction footprint? (fuel, oil, expelled gases, deteriorated concrete)
    Louise McColl: supports the project, time is running out. This is not new technology, it’s in use in Europe.
    .
  • PRO: Project fits in with Council’s strategic plan of last year, commitment to move to zero waste.
    Bob Verdun: pollution issues are not addressed
    .
  • PRO: We would be upgrading infrastructure. We have a city asset that will need to be upgraded in the near future. This project allows us to do that now.
    Louise McColl: cost is concerning, but will be quickly recouped
    .
  • PRO: This will be a revenue-generating project that in the end will pay for itself, by taking in waste from other municipalities. When we move away from natural gas technology in 10-15 years, we’ve paid for the project and probably generated revenue as well.
    Bob Verdun: has concerns about the reliability of the waste disposal industry. Why the rush on this project?
    Dorothy Van Esbroeck: questions the economics of the project.
    Kirk Roberts: concerned that he has not seen the business plan, claims he has been denied access under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy act as a third party is involved.
    .
  • PRO: We will extend the life of our landfill, and save on the cost of exporting green waste elsewhere.
    Bob Verdun: unwise to import green waste. City has not seriously considered garburators, which could feed green waste into the system.
    Donna Sobura: what are the measures used to recognize whether the project is working?

  • CON: Location in a flood plain, next to a river. This was poor planning 70 years ago, but the costs of moving the plant would be astronomical. Councillor Burbach stated that experts have assured Council that the level of risk at the facility would remain the same whether the project goes ahead or not. She recommends upgrades to infrastructure (upgrade of West Gore).
    Blaize Monostory: the sewage plant emits toxic substances into the Avon River and has caused medical problems
    COUNCIL RESPONSE: Our treatment plant does not emit toxins.
    .
  • CON: Truck traffic. As someone who lives less than 50 meters from Huron Street, Councillor Burbach is very aware of the pressing traffic and safety issues. She proposed some remedies that should be implemented whether the project goes ahead or not. (Traffic buffers, section of 3-lane road, short-term parking lane, landscaping.)
    Donna Sobura: the number of trucks will rise as the processing escalates.
    Lloyd Lichti: increased traffic and the project itself will devalue property. Should relocate the facility.

The discussion will be continued at the regular Council meeting on January 13, including:

  • whether a 20-year agreement with FortisBC can be guaranteed;
    (The city has had preliminary discussions with FortisBC, and could enter into an agreement to be a supplier.)
  • whether Ontario Clean Water Agency is willing to invest more than $1.5 million due to the increase in capital cost for this project;
    (Capital costs will be approximately $22.7 million.)
  • confirmation that additional capital costs do not impact the City or any future Municipal Service Corporation;
  • a cost estimate for the construction of a private access road to the back of the plant for trucks to exit;
  • confirmation that there will be available organics for the project for at least 10 years.

All in all, it was pretty inspiring to see so many people turn up to participate in local democracy. The meeting was very well run, although some of the citizen questions remained unanswered. Perhaps this would be a good time to update the FAQ on the city website, which was written in July. Hopefully we will have a good turnout on the 13th.


EDIT: The original version of this post credited the Council statement to Councillor Ingram, when it was actually Councillor Burbach who spoke. My apologies to both councillors for the error.

Beginnings

Just as I came into the Stratford Goodwill last week, I saw a young woman buying a bridal dress. She was a pretty woman, with a nice smile, and seemed delighted to have found the right dress. It made me feel just extraordinarily happy to see a young person who understands what’s important in life. No hype—not the label, not the fancy store, just a nice dress to mark the beginning of a life together. I hope they have a great party. I hope she recycles the dress.

Screen Shot 2019-12-18 at 12.12.14 PMWe are afraid of the future these days. At the mildest level, this shows up as a general crankiness, and a tendency to call people names on Facebook. As we become more aware, our fears manifest as anxiety and grief. At the most extreme level, there’s a large chunk of people actively planning for the collapse of society.

But here’s this young woman, cheerfully and resolutely buying her wedding dress. At Goodwill. Some people just won’t give up on life.

Here’s what I think:

Whatever your state of life, if you’re forming a couple, it’s important to have a ceremony. And a party. Because that’s the way we create social bonds, that’s how we cement our communities. It’s only through community that we’re going to find the will to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in. Be resolute. Be cheerful. Be together.

And keep building your community. If you live in Stratford, there’s a group that regularly meets to talk about climate change, ecological loss, and ways of dealing with it. The name of the group is Climate Momentum, and they have regular gatherings at The Parlour, downtown. It’s not exactly a party, but you can get a beer or a nice glass of wine, and the people are interesting. The next meeting will be January 26, a Saturday, from 2:30 – 4:30 pm (The Parlour is at 101 Wellington Street, Stratford).

Mazel tov.

What Maude Barlow Told Me

On Wednesday I drove into Guelph for the Maude Barlow talk, and it was certainly worth the trip. There were over 300 people there, and all of them were energized: they hooted, they stomped, and they sang encouraging songs. I felt like a real little country mouse in the middle of all that enthusiasm.

The reason they were all so happy is that Guelph just had a major battle over corporate control of local water this spring. With help from the Council of Canadians, citizens of Guelph Eramosa Township opposed a floating glass plant that would have used a minimum of 560 million litres of water each year from the aquifer. And in spite of the fact that citizens didn’t have adequate notice of the plan, in spite of the fact that, as they were told, it was already a “done deal,” they fought it and won.

Now, maybe you had heard about this, but I hadn’t, and it made me think about how important it is that we share the good news as well as the bad. Bad news can make people angry; unfortunately, most of the time it makes us want to curl up with a carton of Rocky Road ice cream until it all goes away. But it doesn’t go away. It won’t go away unless somebody does something about it.

Maude Barlow is the living definition of the term “small but mighty.” When she got up to talk, she did speak of many sad things that are happening to the Canadian environment. She talked about what we have lost, but she also talked about how to win. She said that the way you know you’re winning is that things look downright impossible. People are throwing bricks at you, and the road ahead looks too steep to climb. All you can do is just keep walking, she said, and that’s when you win.

One of the things I took away from this meeting was a new understanding of the word “aquifer.” If you’re like me, you probably learned in school that water is limitless: you use it up, or it goes through the rivers and oceans, it evaporates, and more rains down. The excess goes underground, to the aquifer, and it will never run out. As we’re now learning every day in the news, that’s wrong. Not only can an aquifer be drained (look at India for the most terrifying example) it can also be contaminated, as it has been in many places, due to fracking and other polluting activities. Politicians often try to scare us, telling is that if we want jobs we have to consent to this pollution. Don’t believe it.

I got to talk to Maude after the meeting. I wanted to thank her for all her hard work. She’s been at this for over thirty years, and that’s a long time to be walking up a road that’s too steep to climb. I was surprised when she thanked me instead. She said that it is sometimes very tempting to say that you’ve had enough, that you’d rather just sit and watch the grandchildren, but when you learn how much you’ve made a difference in people’s lives, you just can’t stop.

I guess that’s a good lesson about saying thank you.

If you want to learn more about Maude Barlow and Canada’s water crisis, I recommend her books. They are a plain-spoken explanation of the causes of the Canadian water crisis, and a roadmap on how to deal with it. Here are the two most recent:

Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis

In Boiling Point, bestselling author and activist Maude Barlow lays bare the issues facing Canada’s water reserves, including long-outdated water laws, unmapped and unprotected groundwater reserves, agricultural pollution, industrial-waste dumping, boil-water advisories, and the effects of deforestation and climate change

Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever

The final book in Maude Barlow’s Blue trilogy, Blue Future is a powerful, penetrating, and timely look at the global water crisis — and what we can do to prevent it.

The Restore is My Happy Place

The Restore moved a little over a month ago. It used to be a little hard to find, but now it has a big storefront at 598 Lorne Avenue. I’ll bet you pass it all the time. If you haven’t been there, this month is a good time to make a visit, because on Saturday, September 15 they are celebrating their move with a big barbecue from 11am – 3pm.

Many people think that The Restore just carries boring stuff, like old bags of nails and leftover paint. Leaving aside the point that nails are far more expensive than you would think, and old paint is perfectly good if you are not too picky about shade, there are also many surprises there. I thought I would show a few of these in this post, just to give you a general idea.

IMG_1287
Art Deco lamp, $15

The first thing I liked about the new location is the lighting area. Its bigger, brighter, and much better organized. I saw a really cool lamp–well, it would have been cool, with a different lampshade. You need imagination at The Restore. The shape of this shade is just not right, and it’s too low.

The best thing about The Restore is that it is a charity. You feel good about making a purchase, because your money is going to help other people. It sells things that would otherwise go to the landfill. And if you don’t like it, you can just take it back. You might be out a few bucks, but they will be able to sell it again!

Antique oak sideboard, $350

They occasionally have antiques, too, like this oak sideboard. It was a solid looking piece, refinished, not much damage. You could get a whole set of dishes and silverware in there, or maybe use it as an entertainment centre. I like old wood, it’s warm and friendly. If you have something like this to donate, just let them know, and they will come pick it up.

I was talking with Florance Daniels, who is the Assistant Manager of the Stratford Restore. She is the whirlwind organizer of all the many different things that wind up on display. Florence says that business has really picked up since the move, so hopefully there will be higher turnover.

IMG_1280
Metal chest, $60

The Restore is a great place to exercise your creativity. Take the metal chest on the right, for example. It would make a good low coffee table, and would really pop if you spray painted it a strong colour. You might even set it on a stand to give it more height. And you would be absolutely certain that you were the only person in the world who had a coffee table like this.

On the other hand, if you just wanted a small low table, you could try one of the cheese boxes. At $5, you don’t have much to lose, and you could really go nuts with paint or wallpaper, or you could even just leave them as is. Like the metal chest, this kind of low table is double purpose; it holds a cup of coffee, and can store an entire set of Lego. And they don’t smell of cheese. Not at all.

The Restore is best known for its architectural salvage. If you are a home remodeler, or if you like interesting things to hold up vines in your garden, this is definitely your place. The aluminum columns I saw were in really good shape, and as far as I can see were less than half the retail price. They were pretty tall, too, maybe 12 -16 feet (not certain about the height).

If you keep checking back, you can often find entire sets of kitchen cupboards for ridiculously low prices. You need to do research on refinishing, but some of these sets are in really good condition, and just need a little elbow grease to get them in shape.

And don’t forget to consider alternate uses for things. You may think this is weird, but I love toilet cisterns (the backs of toilets). They are very pretty, they’re ceramic, and they have a drainage hole at the bottom. They make wonderful plant pots, especially when you mix them with coloured or terra cotta ones. People never notice that it’s part of a toilet. Well, at least, they’ve never mentioned it…

What I like best about The Restore is the thrill of the hunt.  It’s very well organized, but you still have to really look around to find something that is of value to you. It’s an especially good trip when you are broke, and need a pick-me-up for less than ten bucks. You can usually find something. If you’re renovating, the best way to shop at The Restore is to drop by frequently. If you see something you like, make the decision immediately, because it won’t be there when you come back.

Or talk to Florance. Florance knows everything. Florance is a recycling goddess.

The Restore
598 Lorne Avenue East
Stratford, ON N5A 6S5
(519)273-7155
fdaniels@habitat4home.ca
https://www.facebook.com/StratfordReStore/