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.

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.

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/

Healthy clothing, happy customer

I’ve been doing the research for the clothing part of this blog, and it’s making my head hurt. There are so many variables in finding sustainably made clothing! Seems to me that the only way I can be ethically dressed is if I  go around naked, but that’s frowned upon here in Stratford. I’ll just have to do the best I can; I need to set up a list of criteria that will help me find clothing that is the least harmful to the environment as well as to the humans who make and wear it.

I decided to start out at Kinna Sohna, the new international clothing store on the corner of York and Erie. I chose Kinna Sohna because the owner, Sartaj Kaur, stocks clothing in natural organic fabrics, coloured with organic dyes. I’ve been reading a lot about the environmental damage caused by clothing dyes and the dangers of chemicals in clothing, and I want something different.

Sartaj
Sartaj Kaur, Kinna Sohna

Sartaj has been working with naturally dyed fabric for 17 years now; she had a well-known store in Toronto before moving here. Her supply of organics varies; she  told me she would love to stock only organics, but people take time getting used to the different look and drape of the fabric, and as a small shop, there’s only so much she can do.

Some of her things are just wonderful, like this hand-stitched quilt. It’s a museum-quality piece; I can’t imagine the hours of work that went into making it. The colours are deep and vibrant, and the patterns absorbing and intricate.  She also has scarves, tunics, and dresses in colours like this, and handcrafted bags that are works of art.

Kinna Sohna is dedicated to ethical sourcing. Sartaj works with master craftspeople, cooperatives, tailors, and family businesses in places like India, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico and South East Asia.  She understands her suppliers, she knows the regional styles, and she can tell you all about the textile, the stitching techniques, and the kind of dye used. That’s important to know when you are buying quality clothing.

Kinna Sohna
Fabric by the yard at Kinna Sohna

Working directly with producers has allowed Sartaj to build a varied inventory. Kinna Sohna sells hand printed fabric by the yard, and no fabric is wasted; scraps are made into hairbands, jewelry bags, and other small items. Craftspeople from the Stratford area also sell through Kinna Sohna, and she is looking  for more suppliers.

I had a really good time at this store. Not only was I completely entertained by Sartaj’s descriptions of her sourcing trips, I just fell in love with her inventory. Sartaj reminded me that carefully crafted articles are more expensive than polyester knock-offs, but if you choose well, an article of clothing can last you for years. Believe it or not, she still has shawls her mother wore when she was a baby!

I am really trying to think carefully before I buy another article of clothing. I want to push back against our throwaway philosophy of dress. A heavy wool, conservatively cut, can last a lifetime. Cotton fabric may wear, but with every use it gets softer and more interesting to look at, and you can mend it. A good silk can be really versatile, and it will glow with age. Silk is also light, so it’s easily hand washed, and you don’t need to send it to the cleaners.

Kinna 1The thing I liked the most about Kinna Sohna is that I saw things there that you will find nowhere else. I saw some wonderful rugs and wall hangings, beautiful jewelry, and many one-of-a-kind articles in really satisfying earth colours. I also saw upcycled articles, like the exquisitely embroidered scarves made from old saris. When she gets in more of her popular upcycled silk jackets, I’m going back. I think it’s time I made a splash on the Stratford scene.