You Bet Your Glass – Xinyi Canada: And There They Were – Gone
By Frank Fulton
The Guelph-Eramosa Township councilors were clearly content to remain small fish in a small pond.
By Frank Fulton
It was not that long ago, November 2017, that our then-Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, called a press conference in China to announce business agreements exceeding $1 billion between Ontario corporations and Chinese organizations. One of those was $450 million for the building of a float glass production plant in the province.
The Chinese company doing the investing was Xinyi Glass Holdings, a huge glass manufacturing company headquartered in Hong Kong and listed on the Hang Seng Composite Index. They employ over 12,000 people, do more than $2 billion in annual sales and have factories throughout China as well as Indonesia. After researching locations throughout North America, they chose Guelph Eramosa Township (GET) in Ontario as the place to launch their foray into our continent. GET is primarily a farming community with a few small villages with a total population of about 13,000 that surrounds the City of Guelph, population 130,000.
The plan was to build a two-million-square-foot, seven-storey tall manufacturing plant with two float glass lines that would employ 400 people. This would be the only glass manufacturing facility in Canada. The last one closed about 10 years ago. There are 20 float glass factories in the U.S.
The GET municipal council was ecstatic with the prospect of creating 400 jobs in their community and the $4 million tax revenue this industry would provide. Township planning consultant, Don Currie, said, “The industrial use is exactly what’s permitted, what’s planned for on this land and the proposal or requests for zoning bylaw amendments will be reviewed in light of that policy framework.” Councillor Mark Bouwmeester gushed “This is what we’re dreaming for, this type of application, these types of developments. It’s a rarity really to see a plant this size; it’s rare that you hear about these things in Canada, let alone in Ontario. The fact that it’s in Guelph-Eramosa, that’s fantastic.”
And then the fear mongering began. NIMBYists got involved and formed a group called GET Concerned, whose sole reason for being was to oppose the plant’s development. They cited traffic problems. They argued that train traffic may block an ambulance from reaching their parents. They feared that an on-site residence would house slave-like migrants. But at the top of the list was one legitimate concern: that the facility would use 1.6 million litres of water per day in its cooling process, although two thirds of that would evaporate into the atmosphere and one third would be returned into the ground.
Opponents to the project dug through the archives of the often-contradictory county and township bylaws to discover that one of them mandated the proposed factory site must be “dry industrial use.” This caveat was obviously not known by anybody previously as all the other businesses in the area use water. Xinyi argued correctly that the facility actually qualifies as “dry industrial” under Ontario law. According to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) definition, “dry industrial use” is considered as less than 9.84 litres of water per minute, per acre. Xinyi’s usage of 1.6 million litres translates to nine litres per minute per acre.
So, the real question should be, “Is the taking of 1.6 million litres a day a cause for concern and a risk to the population?” By comparison, the City of Guelph has permits issued by the MOECC to take up to 122 million litres per day but uses only 45 million litres. Nestle Waters Canada located in nearby Aberfoyle takes about 2.1 million of the 3.6 million litres allocated for its use. The average recharge rate for the Upper Speed River sub-watershed, one of Guelph’s water sources, is about 315 million litres per day.
The Guelph Eramosa Township councilors, clearly content to remain small fish in a small pond and fearful of the backlash that may come their way in this fall’s municipal elections, chose to ignore the facts presented by Xinyi in their application, didn’t research the impact existing plants have on the environment, didn’t consider amending their bylaws and instead succumbed to the vocal minority obstructionists and turned down the application to build. Xinyi expressed their disappointment, purposefully allowed the appeal deadline to lapse, and there they were – gone.
Frank Fulton is a former principal of Fulton Windows and former president of the OGMA.