Friday, November 21, 2014

Let's learn to work together like Canadians

Can you imagine the sitting leader of a political party writing a book endorsed by prime ministers from two other parties? I didn’t, until I picked up Elizabeth May’s latest work, “Who We Are: Reflections on My Life andCanada” and turned it over to find that both Progressive Conservative Joe Clark’s (the first PM whose election I recall) and Liberal Paul Martin’s (the first PM whose candidate I ran against) glowing recommendations on the back.
Last week I introduced some of May’s fascinating background in politics, environment, and government, from the unlikely start of a semi-employed waitress. But most of her new book documents the current ills of our democratic system and suggests remedies. Learn more from Maclean’s Best Orator of 2014 when she visits Barrie’s Southshore Centre this Saturday at 7 PM (tickets at www.BarrieGreenParty.ca). In the meantime, I share some of those insights here.
Perhaps our greatest weakness is short memories, letting us believe politics was always as dysfunctional as now. Yet Canadian politics used to be more inclusive and respectful, as recently as the late 1980s when May worked for a cabinet minister and interacted regularly in committee with MPs on both sides of the House.
Let the colour of this room be a subtle political hint.
Back then, queries in Question Period were answered by the actual minister for the file, and the answer had something to do with the question, instead of being a scripted attack on the opposition with no regard to what was asked, delivered by an MP with little connection to the relevant ministry.
Under majority governments like Brian Mulroney’s, opposition leaders were consulted on major legislation, to see if consensus could be reached; opposition MPs attended international conferences. Nowadays, the government introduces legislation its own MPs or even ministers haven’t seen, and bars opposition MPs from important multinational negotiations.
In the good old days, the PM served at the pleasure of the MPs, persuading backbenchers to vote for legislation on its merits. Nowadays, MPs are told how to vote on each motion, saving them the trouble of having to read or think about the actual text.
How did this change? One major switch, which seemed a good idea at the time, was shifting approval of candidates from local riding associations to the party leader. With the leader able to authorize or withhold each MP’s candidacy, they risk losing their job if they don’t follow in lockstep. So toe the line they do, on all sides of the House. A private member’s bill by Conservative MP Michael Chong, which has Liberal and Green support, would reverse this mistake.
Another change is committee work, where MPs from all parties meet behind the scenes to revise pending legislation. In recent years, this process has been poisoned by seekers of partisan advantage, with committees now reduced to rubber-stamping legislation instead of improving it. To get around this problem, May has joined or even helped found a number of issue-based all-party caucuses whose unofficial status allows MPs to put partisanship aside and interact based on science, evidence, and public need, then bring those ideas back to their own parties. May sits on the executive of 5 such caucuses, addressing the issues of women, climate, oceans, population/development and HIV/AIDS.
A true Canadian value is putting aside differences to work together. May continues to prove it can be done, as the Right Honourables Paul Martin and Joe Clark affirm.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Political parties can sometimes work together"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This MAY be your best chance to meet one of Canada's best

Countless accomplished Canadians, including three Prime Ministers, many scientific pioneers, artists, writers, and performers, were born abroad, chose to live here, and in doing so made Canada better.
One such person is Elizabeth May. From New England stock, counting three ancestors’ signatures on the Declaration of Independence, her family uprooted themselves and resettled in beautiful Cape Breton, a move that wiped them out financially but was a boon for Canada. You can now read about her early life and how she came to know and love our country with the intensity often found in new Canadians in her latest book “Who We Are: Reflections on my Life and Canada.
Luckily, French studies in elementary school put her in good stead upon arriving in Canada, inhabiting a one-room log cabin with gaps the snow blew in and a TV that only got CBC and its sister French station, Radio-Canada. While friends went off to university, she spent her twenties waitressing and cooking for tourists in the family restaurant, campaigning to protect Cape Breton’s forests from toxic spraying in the off season.
Under a special admissions program and armed with a recommendation from the governor of Arkansas (an old activist friend destined to be United States president), this waitress/cook/activist from the Cape directly entered law school and went on to an environmental career so successful she was elevated to Officer of the Order of Canada with a teaching chair at Dalhousie University named after her.
Between founding several major environmental organizations (Canadian Environmental Defense Fund, Canadian chapters of Cultural Survival and Sierra Club) she also spent two years as senior policy advisor to Tory Environment Minister Tom McMillan, an extremely productive and successful period that led to Brian Mulroney being honoured as Canada’s “greenest” prime minister. During this time she also learned how Canada’s parliament worked: MPs from all parties rolled up their sleeves in committee and made legislation better. The Prime Minister showed respect for opposition leaders, consulting with or notifying them of major policy initiatives; international delegations included members from both sides of the House.
How much things change! Now an MP in her own right, she sits in a House more sharply divided and subject to more top-down control than ever before in our history. Much of her book deals with how unhealthy government is failing to serve the public interest, how we have strayed from the democratic ideals enshrined in our founding documents and instead fallen under the power of a dictatorial Prime Minister’s Office and party leaders, leading to policy failure on many key issues, particularly climate change.
But this topic, which takes up most of her book (with some common-sense prescriptions for how to fix it), goes beyond the capacity of a short column. Luckily, we have a chance to hear Elizabeth speak directly about these topics when she visits Barrie next Saturday (November 22) on her book tour. At 7 pm at the Southshore Centre, May will read from her book and take questions from the audience – unique among elected party leaders, with no pre-screening of attendees or questions! This is your chance to hear from the amazing source in person. For information, to book a ticket or attend the VIP reception, please visit www.BarrieGreenParty.ca.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Elizabeth May shares her insight in new book"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Healthy walk a good way to start off the school day

School is a place of learning many things, including values. And I think we all agree the best way to learn values is by example, rather than just by instruction. But there are subtle lessons being taught by parents which go in the wrong direction.
These lessons are embodied in how children get to school. In an urban environment, it should be trivial to locate schools in the neighbourhood, within walking distance. But with our publicly-funded school system split into two mutually-exclusive boards, the result is often that kids are bused past the nearest school to attend one in the other system. While I believe this could easily be resolved, there seems to be too much inertia for government to even talk about addressing this now, so I’ll let that pass for today.
I sourced this apropos gag here.
Yet there are still many children living near enough to walk to school. The school my daughters attend has no busing at all, drawing only from the local neighbourhood. So that means all the students walk to and from school, right? Sadly, wrong; instead, many are driven to and from by parents, losing the opportunity for a healthy walk. And those parents seem unable to follow simple rules and guidelines the school sends home several times a year: don’t park in the fire lane, don’t double-park, don’t leave your car idling. By putting convenience before basic safety health, and rules, parents are teaching selfishness by example, while failing to build up the healthy habit of walking or cycling.
Much of this is a perception issue: that our streets are unsafe for children, yet safe for cars. Statistics don’t support this. And even if the work schedule requires driving the kids to school instead of walking them, it is very easy, not to mention healthier, to park a block away and walk a little bit, instead of adding to the traffic chaos surrounding the school.
Children, to be healthy in body and mind, need physical activity. This should be a mix of organized sports, free play, and active transportation: getting to and from places on foot or by bike. 58% percent of parents walked to school when they were young, yet only 28% of students do now. This shows that our kids are in serious danger of not getting sufficient daily physical activity, leaving them at greater risk of poor health, poor school performance, and building poor life habits.
In Barrie, a number of caring community members and stakeholders have formed the Active Transportation Working Group to help foster more use of feet and pedals and less use of the automobile. One important and exciting initiative is the School Travel Planning Pilot Project for which three Barrie schools have been selected. What is learned from this pilot will be used to determine how best to move forward and engage more local schools in promoting active transportation within their communities.
A mix of approaches is needed, some relating to infrastructure, like traffic calming and bike lanes, while others relate to education and culture. Simply learning that it takes less time to get door-to-door by bike than by car for distances under 5 km might help people re-think their transportation choices. If you currently drive your kids to school, see if you can find opportunities to turn some (or all) of that daily trip into a healthy walk, instead.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Making our roads work for everyone

Everyone benefits from a healthier diet: less fat & sugar, more fruit & vegetables. But did you ever wonder what a better “diet” for our roads would be? Given what we know about physical activity and human health, and the pollution from cars & trucks, a healthier “road diet” would include a greater proportion of pedestrians and cyclists sharing the road with motor vehicles.
But just like eating better, healthier road use has obstacles. Drivers often aren’t that good at sharing roads with cyclists or pedestrians, and when the two collide, generally it’s the person on bike or foot who suffers worse. As an occasional cyclist on Barrie’s streets, I notice many motorists don’t understand the road rights of cyclists or how to safely share, and when I drive, I even find myself unsure how much space to leave a cyclist when I pass.
The simple answer is bike lanes: a clear definition of where bikes and motor vehicles do or do not belong, a way to keep them safely separate. They can share the road, without the more difficult feat of sharing the same lane.
Yet city budgets have limited funds to widen roads to add lanes, a process taking many years for planning, studies, approvals, funding and finally, construction. Luckily, a much faster and more affordable approach exists. Many of our roads are already wider than necessary for the smooth flow of vehicular traffic, resembling speedways! By simply re-painting and redefining lanes, we can create a better way for all road users to share and maximize their benefit.
We can all share a road that's the right size.
Called “rightsizing”, the most common example is when a street with 4 car lanes (2 each way) is re-painted to 1 car lane in each direction and a double-left turn lane in the middle. This leaves space to add a bike lane to each side. Cities across North America are finding this an effective way to reallocate street space to better serve the full range of users.
Is this a “war on the car”? Far from it! With a 2-lane road, you often have obstacles in one lane or the other – a person turning left, a car parked in the right - which drivers weave back and forth to get around, creating risk. By moving left-turners to their own lane and parking off the main street, the remaining single lane allows smooth traffic flow, taking away the weaving or “racing” between drivers in 2 parallel lanes. In this way, 3 lanes more safely handle nearly the same traffic volume as 4. Average speed goes down a little while excessive speeding drops dramatically. This is the traffic calming every neighbourhood needs, and it comes without the annoying speed bumps or unnecessary stop signs between which hurried drivers “floor it”.
As a bonus, bikes can now travel, and be passed by cars, much more safely. “Rightsized” roads also experience a dramatic drop in collisions, good news for all road users.
And by making our roads more friendly and balanced, bicycle and pedestrian traffic can gradually increase and our “road diet” improves. It’s a win-win-win for driver, cyclist, and pedestrian with very little cost: just some paint and new signage.
Longer-term transit plans include expensive rebuilding or widening of many existing roads and new bike lanes will be part of that process, but for now, “rightsizing” lets us get a head-start on expanding our networks of active transportation without unduly penalizing the safe, steady flow of car traffic.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Healthier road diet includes more walkers and cyclists"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don’t be shy about participating in Tampon Tuesday

Did the title of this article give you pause? That just proves the need for a very important program called “Tampon Tuesday”. Started by CTV London and expanded to Barrie by Kris Hughston, co-organized by Stephanie Lampron, this monthly event in support of the Barrie Food Bank is meant to coordinate with another monthly event most women face.
Although featured in a lot of upbeat TV ads these days, it’s not discussed in polite society, which is part of the problem. When we think of a food bank, we picture families who cannot afford basic groceries, and envision filling shelves with canned and packaged food to distribute among the hungry. Or, more recently, we may recall programs like FruitShare which add fresh local food to supplement a diet that would otherwise be too high on salty, sugary, starch-and-fat-based processed foods.
Groceries are more than just food
Yet rarely do we think about other things we get on our regular grocery shops, things that those with financial difficulties may also struggle with: toiletries and, as the Barrie Food Bank puts it, “monthly supplies.” When your grocery budget falls short, food may not be the only basic need you can’t bring home. And it’s not something that’s easy to include in the traditional food donation asks at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or for public school or special event food drives.
Luckily, Kris and Stephanie are on the case, partnering with the Barrie Food Bank and local sponsors to put on the monthly “Tampon Tuesday” event, targeted to this specific need. Although it’s a collection specific to these items, it’s also a networking event. Hosted by a local restaurant, currently Moxie’s Classic Grill on Bayfield St. who provides free hors d’oeuvres and drink specials, attendees drop off their feminine product donations in the bins at the door before meeting other local businesspeople or non-profit members, making new contacts, and learning all that’s new in the Barrie business community.
Fun activities include finding another guest based on half their business card, or draws for door prizes donated by various generous sponsors. Chay Today 93.1 FM attends to offer draws and radio coverage of the event.
Barrie’s Tampon Tuesday event has moved a few times, having started at Moxies and visited Michael & Marion’s, Lone Star Texas Grill and Il Fornello before returning to Moxies. It starts at 5 PM and runs for a couple of hours, on the last Tuesday of each month – which this month is October 28th. Although a majority of the attendees are businesswomen, men are also welcomed and a brave few of us get past the title to attend this fun and supportive event.
Local businesses or individuals are also welcome to provide door prizes to liven things up and thank attendees for filling several large bins with feminine products each month, so the Food Bank can continue to support the holistic grocery requirements of needy families. Contact Kris at 705-790-8123 if you need information or want to give. And if you can attend, we’ll see you one of these Tuesdays. Don’t be shy!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Green leaders keep Barrie clean

Have you ever sprung into clean? Every April on a weekend near Earth Day, Barrie residents “Spring Into Clean” through community litter clean-ups, tidying parks, schoolyards, parking lots, roadsides, and other areas where litter accumulates. Living Green pioneered this activity in 2003 when the Georgian College student group Responsible Adventure Travel Society (R.A.T.S.) contacted us about doing a waterfront clean-up right around the same time that Tim Horton’s contacted us about sponsoring one, so we brought them together and got the City’s permission to coordinate a clean-up along Centennial Beach. The event grew by leaps & bounds, more sponsors came on board, and Living Green handed over coordination to the City of Barrie and moved on to start more new initiatives (the latest being FruitShare Barrie).
But litter doesn’t wait for spring, so the City also has the Adopt-a-Park or Trail program, which allows individuals or groups to take on spring and fall clean-ups of any city-owned park or trail. Your group can adopt here, or you can join in with an existing adoption, for example, Living Green has adopted Queen’s Park and the Barrie Green Party has adopted Kidd’s Creek Trail at Sunnidale Park.
Barrie Greens are crazy about collecting litter!
In fact, this Sunday, October 19th, marks a special anniversary for the Barrie Greens’ adoption of Kidd’s Creek: this will be the 10th year we tidy it up, having started the adoption process way back in the spring of 2005. To help us celebrate, Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner will take a break from trying to clean up politics and instead join us to clean up this wonderful green space in Barrie.
This is the first of two Green Party leader visits to Barrie; the second will be when federal leader Elizabeth May presents her new book at the Southshore Centre on November 22nd. (Watch this space for more info about this exciting visit.) Green leaders like to visit Barrie because of our enthusiastic support: in the past 11 years, the Barrie riding has consistently shown about 50% higher Green support than the provincial or national average and been in the top 10% of Green vote results.
This clean-up is now a long-term tradition with us; photogenic Barrie Greens at work are even featured prominently in the City’s official Adopt-a-Park/Trail brochure. We’ve found some pretty startling things alongside the normal litter: bikes and shopping carts (both functional and junked), waterlogged down comforters, wheel rims, tires, and clothing, to name a few. Getting this garbage out of the stream and forest is an important way to help nature thrive in our urban surroundings.
You can be a part of this, too! Our clean-ups are always open to the public, and are great fun for the whole family. Meet us at the Dorian Parker Centre at Sunnidale Park this Sunday morning at 10 and join us for 2 hours of tidying, then we’ll treat you to lunch! You also get to roll up your sleeves and get down & dirty with a provincial party leader; how cool is that? Dress for the weather and wear something tough and waterproof on your feet; we’ll provide gloves and trash bags. See you there!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "A variety of community clean-ups to choose from"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rosie's dinners build community

I’ve written before about Rose “Rosie” Romita’s holiday dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, which she puts on with volunteer assistance and donated food. But it’s time to update the story, because her dinners are evolving from charity to community, becoming something even more than just feeding the hungry.
Regularly serving as many as 800 meals to people who otherwise might not have a chance at a good holiday feed is pretty special, but sharing a meal together is a bonus. And that’s why more people are being invited this year: not just to get food, but to share community.
Although our city and our houses are getting bigger, our families seem to be shrinking. Many people either don’t have much or any family to spend the holiday with, or have family who are too far away. Eating alone or as a small family is fine, but on traditional holidays it can seem lonelier, somehow.
So if you find yourself in that situation this year, please come to Rosie’s Thanksgiving dinner! Students, seniors, or anyone who doesn’t have a big group of family or friends to spend the day with, please join us at the Community Wholeness Centre (CWC) at 59 Maple on Monday from noon to 6. You can bring kids or friends, too. All ages, all incomes, all kinds of people; the more, the merrier!
The event is also open to local musicians if you’d like to have a welcoming audience, and even if you aren’t so musically skilled, the karaoke machine will be set up for your singing pleasure.
This is the only turkey - please donate more turkeys!
Photo credit: J.T. McVeigh
Of course, none of this can happen without the support of the community. There are always plenty of volunteers willing to lend a helping hand, so many that it’s not worth leaving your family behind just to come down and help out. But other donations are always needed. The CWC is getting the ball rolling by donating the kitchen and dining space, but there is still a great need for turkeys to be the main course. Beverages, desserts, and other treats are always appreciated, or care items like new socks or toiletries that can make life a little easier for those getting by with less.
So again, one and all are welcome this Monday from noon to six at the Community Wholeness Centre at 59 Maple street. If you are able to donate a turkey or any other kind of food or supplies (or grocery money or gift cards), please email CateringbyRose@gmail.com or call 705-722-7763. Your donation and your company are appreciated by all as this dinner grows into a tradition for the whole community, a chance for us all to come together and give thanks for our blessings many or few, most of all our thanks for having each other.

A version of this - with Rosie's name censored out (!) - was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Thankgiving dinner truly a community event"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Comment on Root Issues at www.ErichtheGreen.ca.