Friday, December 12, 2014

Perfect pairing of food and wine close to this locaholic's home

As a “locavore” who prefers locally-grown or produced foods, I often write of local food. But I am also a locaholic, preferring to imbibe locally-made beer, wine, or spirits, and recently discovered a wonderful addition to the Barrie locaholic’s wine rack: Georgian Hills Vineyards.
This young operation cultivates grapes and fruit halfway up the slope of the Niagara escarpment, not on the famous “bench” south of Lake Ontario, but rather where the escarpment passes near Collingwood and Thornbury. A microclimate moderated by nearby Georgian Bay means late blooms protected from the last spring frost and a later harvest in the fall. Despite the short growing season, it is ideal for cold climate wine production, similar to Alsace, Germany, northern Italy, Chile or New Zealand.
Unlike the big, full-bodied wines grown in warm climes, which stand up well on their own, more balanced cool climate wines shine best when paired with food. To emphasize this, Georgian Hills offers a wide variety of food pairings with their wine tastings. By learning firsthand which foods go well with which wines, you will be sure to bring home something that will complement your own table.
My wife and I recently toured Georgian Hills Vineyards with founding partner Robert Ketchin, who paired many of their wines with matching local foods. Some were Ontario and Quebec cheeses from Dags & Willow in Collingwood or The Cheese Gallery in Thornbury, but we went beyond those standards to pairings with charcuterie, local fruit & jelly, and even dark chocolate to complement their dessert wines, harvested or pressed after the winter freeze sets in.
Can we pour you a glass?
Robert’s decades of experience in wine, beer, and spirits marketing and sales found the ideal partnership with John Ardiel, a 5th-generation apple grower overseeing local orchards and viticulture, and Murray Puddicombe, a 6th generation Niagara farmer whose Niagara grapes help balance Georgian’s red wines, vinted by his daughter Lindsay.
After testing various sites in the region in the late 90s and early 2000s, John and Robert found ideal locations for grapes midway between the Beaver Valley floor and Niagara escarpment peak and planted 17 acres of vines, then 4 years ago presented their first vintage. So far they have produced 6 white wines, 3 reds, a rosé, sparkling apple and pear ciders (a dry treat!) and 4 dessert wines: a frozen-on-the-vine Vidal and three “frozen to the core” iced apple or pear wines.
Sitting by the warm fireplace in their tasting room, we saw people “simply sampling” 4 wines (free with purchase) but took our time with the “perfect pairings” 90-minute educational program about the whole range of wines paired with all 4 food groups.
As an even more intense localization of their product, Georgian Hills features an “après ski” package pairing appetizers with wine samples, concluding with roasted marshmallows and chocolate with dessert wines. Or if you prefer to snowshoe, you can bring your shoes (or rent a pair) for a free trek on the “Apple Pie Trail” around the vineyard and escarpment before warming up with samples by the fire.
What better experience than traversing the slopes where food and wine are grown, then sitting down to enjoy them in perfect pairings? If this sounds like heaven for the locavore or locaholic in you, visit www.GeorginaHillsVineyards.ca online or in person to learn more.

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Foreign money indeed warps our tar sands policy

Pipelines loom large in the news, in three main narratives: politicians deciding whether to approve, protesters arrested trying to stop construction, and old pipelines springing damaging leaks. The first two topics dominate editorial pages, although those discussions would be better informed if there was wider media coverage of the leak problem.
Free oil for all, bring your own bucket!
The primary debate should concern whether the risk of leaks, which poison huge areas of fresh water or wetlands and even lead to catastrophic fires or explosions, is worth the export dollars that new pipelines are designed to bring in, and how sustained or increased fossil fuel extraction can be reconciled with greenhouse gas reductions that even the Conservative governments of Canada and Alberta acknowledge are necessary to head off climate disaster (although they continue to choose delay over action). Is this the best future path, or should we invest in cleaner industries instead?
But instead, in the right-wing rants of oil-friendly pundits, we find an odd set of diversionary tactics, tangents, or outright illogical assertions.
One is the supposed benefit of “ethical oil” from Canada, pushed as an alternative to “conflict oil” from the Mid-east. Putting aside for later discussion of supposedly superior tar sands ethics, one can address the basic premise, that if we suck more oil-bearing bitumen from our tar sands, other countries will sell less of the oil pumped from their wells. This is economically facile, given the predictions for rising energy demand and the fact that conventional oil will always be cheaper than unconventional oil from sands or shale. The only result of more pipelines from the tar sands will be an overall reduction in global oil prices, leading to greater use from all sources. Our oil simply can’t displace anyone else’s, because ours will always cost more.
Another misleading argument is that our politics is somehow distorted by foreign money. Actually, this argument is very true, just in the opposite way than the conservapundits would have you believe! In their best Doctor Evil voices, they whine about the “millions of dollars” of support some Canadian environmental groups receive from American foundations, while ignoring the billions – that’s billion with a ‘b’ – of dollars in foreign investment flowing into tar sands development. If even one percent of that investment goes to lobbying or PR, then it’s ten million dollars per billion, larger by a factor of ten than the millions from the Tide Foundation or similar ethical environmental players. Canada’s top 10 oil companies have a combined market capitalization of about a third of a trillion dollars (that’s trillion with a ‘t’)! I can only assume the tarboosters either don’t know the difference between million, billion, and trillion, or hope their readers don’t.
The reality is not that foreign environmental interests and their millions have taken over Canada’s policy direction. Quite the contrary, all the evidence is that billions in foreign and domestic investment have achieved regulatory capture not only of the relevant ministries, such as Resources and Industry, but of entire governments. Omnibus bill after omnibus bill guts legislation across the board to take away any prudent obstacle or delay to reckless fossil development and export.
In this situation, a few pennies from foreign enviros are welcome, if small, respite from the avalanche of energy-extraction dollars.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the titles "Keep tabs on foreign and domestic investment" and "Omnibus bills gut legislation that can ward off reckless fossil development"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation and a trained Climate Reality presenter.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Will Harper break what ain't fixed?

One questions asked of Green Party leader Elizabeth May during last week’s Barrie visit was “when will the next federal election be?”
The answer, though, is unclear, despite amendments Prime Minister Stephen Harper made in 2007 to fix election federal dates. (His measures to fix elections will be the topic of another column.)
Traditionally, in a Westminster parliamentary system, government can sit a maximum of 5 years, unless it loses a confidence vote before then. But the Premier or Prime Minister also has the power to call an early election, a power often used to take advantage of favourable timing for re-election, or avoid potential pending embarrassment. This gives an unfair advantage over opposition parties, so many governments in Canada, starting with BC and now including Ontario and most other provinces or territories, have established fixed election dates and hold most elections every four years like clockwork.
But at the federal level, it’s a different story. Despite not losing a vote of confidence, Harper called an election in the fall of 2008, over a year before the date fixed in his law, basically because he felt the timing was good to gain a majority in Parliament. But that didn’t work; instead, he faced a united opposition only a few months later, who publicly declared in writing their intent to move non-confidence in his new government, the proper way to trigger an election before the end of a fixed term.
However, that timing wasn’t so auspicious for Harper, so he suspended Parliament in order to avoid the non-confidence vote, the first time this had every been done anywhere in the world under Westminster governance.
Through these two actions, he showed that despite his own introduction of fixed election dates with the stated intent to “prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage” and “level the playing field for all parties,” he has no interest in a level playing field or giving up short-term political advantage.
Now that he has his majority government, though, Prime Minister Harper has insisted he will not call the next election early, instead waiting until the legislated October 19 date. And I’ve been told the same by one of his Members of Parliament, and one of his nominated candidates. Should we believe them, over Harper’s own demonstrated habits?
Many speculated Harper would again break his own law and send us to the polls this coming spring, following a “good news” budget with a surplus to fund more tax cuts or new spending. But that already happened this fall; now predictions circulate of a writ drop as early as February, to wrap the election before the guaranteed-to-be-embarrassing Mike Duffy trial begins in April.
I guess the only recourse is to look at the indicators. Of all the federal parties, the Conservatives have the most candidates nominated, even though the election is supposedly almost a year away. More telling, to me, is what I got in my mailbox this week: a full-size full-colour election flyer from the Conservative nominee in my riding. Sure, it’s good to start campaigning early, but I’ve never before seen such an expensive mailer 11 months before an anticipated election! Could this signal an election call in the coming months? I guess we’ll find out together.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Signs of an impending election are popping up". 
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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