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

Ethical Threads

In clothing, as in everything else, I believe in shopping locally, and it’s not just because when you shop locally you are helping everybody out, including yourself. Nope. I shop locally because I want to look that clerk in the eye. I want to see what she does when I ask the touchstone question: “Does my ass look big in these pants?” When you find a store you can trust, you stick with them.

On the other hand, if I want to become a Greener and Completely Better Person I need to identify  clothing that does the least harm to the environment and to people. My visit to Kinna Sohna was just the first trip out, and that one was easy, because Sartaj, the owner, has a face-to-face relationship with her suppliers. Not all Stratford retailers can say that. It’s not their fault, it’s just the nature of retail these days.

goodonyou
Good on You: https://goodonyou.eco/app/

I want to set up a list of local merchants who stock ethical merchandise, but I need a tool to help me be sure a label is really what it represents itself to be. So I looked around for something portable and reasonably comprehensive. I chose Good on You, an app for iOS and Android. There are others, but I like the philosophy of this app; it applauds companies that are doing well, and encourages others to do better. Really, there’s no point in being nasty about it. We’re all in this together.

 

Jennifer Fukushima Fashion
https://www.jenniferfukushima.com/

 

The app, as the name implies, is from Australia, established by the nonprofit Ethical Consumers Australia.  It rates labels for their treatment of their workers, for their attention to the environment, and for their transparency. They seem to be expanding fast, and although they don’t have some of the Canadian suppliers I looked for, they do have Canadian content, like this article on Canadian designer Jennifer Fukushima (You can find Fukushima clothing and accessories at Resonance, 23 Downie Street).

So that’s it for a start. I’ll be trying out my ideas next week with a shopping trip to downtown Stratford. There are a lot of labels, and a lot of research to do. If you use the Good on You app, let me know how it’s working for you. If you know of a better one, let me know that too. Happy shopping!

 

 

 

 

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.