Thursday, October 1, 2015

Canadian citizens: learn, vote!

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s an election happening right now, to determine our next federal government. Every Canadian who cares at all about the future needs to learn about their options and make an informed vote on October 19th (or sooner – you can vote in advance polls soon, or at your local Returning Office any day). Make sure you know what you’ll need to vote under new ID rules so you don’t have problems casting your ballot, having made your careful choice. At, right on the front page, you can check to see if you are on the voter’s list, find out when and where to vote, learn what ID you will need to bring, and what alternative voting processes are open to you, in case getting to your regular poll on October 19 will be an issue for you.
But on to making an informed vote. I have seen complaints, right here in the local paper, from people who don’t know what the parties stand for or how their candidates feel, and some even suggest that the parties should be doing more to inform them. Guess what? Parties are already doing everything they possibly and legally can (and in some cases, more) to get their message out to receptive voters. But a riding has tens of thousands of homes, knocking on every door is a challenge for any party, and if you aren’t there when they come by, they may not be by again. Even putting something in every mailbox, or ads in the media, is very expensive. Have you contributed lately to a political party, or volunteered on a campaign? If not, then you certainly can’t complain if they don’t have the money or manpower to push their message in front of your face!
Don't let this be you!
Luckily, each of the parties also puts information on the web, about their candidates, leader, and platform. A simple web search (or even just typing the party’s name into your browser address) will get you to the starting point, and from there you can read, or send an email or feedback question, or find a phone number to call a candidate or their office.  It costs thousands of dollars to have an office and staff the phones, so do your part to make that worthwhile by calling a candidate with your questions.
But if you prefer the face-to-face human touch, don’t wait for candidates to come to your door and hope you’re home and not busy when they do. Many civic-minded local community organizations set up all-candidates meetings where voters can interact with candidates directly, or see them all answer the same set of questions. CARP and the Chamber of Commerce have held local meetings already, with the latter being broadcast repeatedly on RogersTV. Next week will be two events for voters in Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte. On Tuesday October 6 at 7:30 pm, the Community Wholeness Centre is hosting a “meet the candidates” event at their downtown location (59 Maple Avenue). Then on Thursday October 8 at 7 pm, the Barrie chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness is running an all-candidates meeting hosted by Grace United Church at 350 Grove St. E. Although the overall theme of that debate will be poverty and homelessness issues, members of the public can forward suggested questions to Get informed, get out and vote!

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

Barrie makes some suite improvements to the housing picture

I’ve written before on the benefits of allowing second suites (basement or attic apartments) in Barrie homes. Something I’ve long advocated, I was very happy to see them finally legalized city-wide this year, and am confident they will at least partly address current local pressures of low rental housing availability and sprawl development.
However, myths persist about second suites, who lives in them, and their effect on the neighbourhood. Recently news reported a resident’s worries that second suites would cram 4 to 6 more people per home, which is not my experience at all.
That's one suite apartment
You see, on my street are many basement apartments, some registered, some not. And about 15 years ago, I (well, really, the bank) bought three other houses in Barrie, each with a second unit. One of them was already registered, the other two I was able to register under the grandfathering allowance, since they existed pre-1996. Over that period I have learned, firsthand, the reality of this housing type.
One myth is that adding a second suite suddenly doubles the number of people living in the house, and the number of cars parked in front. But that’s not the case, as studies and my own experience attest. The reality is that a large family will occupy a whole house themselves, while a house with two units will house two smaller families. A second suite does not add to the size of a house, it merely re-arranges the space within it from one large unit into two smaller ones. A 4- or 5-bedroom house is built for a family of 6 or more, while a house with 3- and 2-bedroom units will typically house one family of 3-4 and one family of 2-3. It’s the same number of people, just divided differently.
As to the parking concern, my neighbours are a professional couple, each with a car, and when we moved in, had two children in their late teens who also soon got their own cars. (If you’re keeping track, that’s four cars to cram in a 2-car driveway). This family of four expanded as the adult children each acquired a live-in spouse; at one point, there were essentially three families all living there together in this undivided single-family home, needing to park 5-6 cars.
By comparison, my other neighbour, a single woman, rents her basement to another single woman; for 16 years, that 2-unit home has housed only two people with two cars. In my own 2-unit houses, each family generally has only one car; sometimes one family has two and the other has none. Rarely do we need to accommodate a third vehicle, and of course tenants are made aware, when they rent, how many parking spaces they get.
So the idea that second suites double the number of people and cars at the house is a myth, and the concern that whole neighbourhoods will suddenly overflow ignores that only 10-15% of single-family houses ever add second units. Perhaps the strangest fear, espoused by some of our councillors, is that second suites are inappropriate near Georgian College, in areas already overpopulated with student-rented rooms. But if a landlord is maximizing the number of students in a house, adding a second suite actually reduces capacity, because the second kitchen and bathroom (and usually, living room) mean 2-3 extra rooms can’t be let as bedrooms. A 2-unit house thus holds fewer student renters than the same house undivided.
People naturally fear the worst-case scenario, but Barrie’s overall experience with second suites is that they allow our neighbourhoods to maintain population in the face of shrinking family size. The support this provides for transit and local business is key to keeping our communities sustainable and complete.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Second suites make sense in Barrie"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What would Jesus do about Syria?

The Syrian war and general unrest in the Middle East, and the related wave of refugees, has spawned debate here in Canada about how much help we can or should provide. Canada seems like a natural participant, given our rich history of welcoming huge waves of refugees from past conflicts. Yet some arguments I have seen on social media against providing that help strike me as deeply un-Canadian in their lack of compassion. I certainly hope I can debunk some of those ideas, so we can put them behind us and step up the way we can and should.
And it's time to go.
One line often spouted in recent weeks is that we should look after our own first, and if we can’t care for veterans or homeless here, then obviously we can’t accommodate refugees. Yet this is a false choice. As shown many times in the past, when we accepted tens of thousands of Ugandan or Vietnamese refugees in the early and late 70s, tough economic times is no barrier to helping those in dire need. We are, per capita, one of the richest nations on earth and in all of human history; if we can’t afford to provide help now, what was the point of years, decades, and centuries of economic growth at the expense of our planet? But if (or when) we fail our veterans or homeless, it’s not truly for lack of wealth, but lack of priorities. When compassion guides our hand, we find we can actually help our own as well as many from foreign lands.
Another silly argument is that this should all fall on Islamic nations to solve. This starts by ignoring that the majority of the Syrian refugees are so far being accommodated in Syria’s Islamic neighbours Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. But even if there are some rich Arab nations perhaps not doing their share, since when has the poor behaviour of other nations been an excuse for us not to act?
Some state, facetiously, that there are tens of millions of refugees and we can’t absorb them all. Of course we can’t; no-one has suggested we should. Rather, we are asked to be part of an international solution that settles some refugees in each host nation, while trying to get many of them back home, once peace permits.
A parable even an atheist can love
But the strangest argument is that we should only take in Christian, not Muslim, refugees to protect our “traditional culture”. Have these people not actually read their Bibles? Perhaps Christ’s most famous parable is of the Good Samaritan, told to demonstrate that God commands Christians to love and help other people, even those of a different, despised faith. The idea that Christians should only, or preferentially, aid other Christians contradicts basic compassion as Christ himself defined it.
But if you still believe we must “help our own first”, then you are in luck: Barrie’s Out of the Cold program is in need of volunteers to look after the homeless right here in our own community. So if accepting Syrian refugees is a bridge too far for you to cross, how about stepping up one shift each month this winter, to serve those most in need right here? You might even come to a new understanding of compassion. (To sign up for Barrie’s Out of the Cold program, visit
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "There are many ways to help Syrian refugees"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Your choices can improve the world market

Most of us realize our society has to make some serious adjustments to avoid chewing up what’s left of our planetary biosystem for the sake of convenience and a better lifestyle at a lower price. We can’t make it an all-or-nothing battle, because then too many will feel that total change is too hard and instead choose nothing. Instead, each of us, whether an individual, family, government or company, needs to start moving in the right direction of lowering our ecological impact. But where to start, and how do we afford these changes?
One simple choice for consumers is to seek out organic and free trade food products, like coffee. Years ago I switched to fair trade organic coffee, and so far it hasn’t been too hard to find. Even if I can only find one on the shelf that is certified organic or fair trade, but not both, I generally figure that’s good enough, because both approaches have enough significant overlap that if you achieve one, you pretty much do the other.
Trust the three-legged tree frog.
But occasionally when shopping, the store is short of our usual brands. On one such occasion, I found a major brand product sporting a frog-shaped seal declaring that 30% of their product was Rainforest Alliance certified. I decided to give it a try, and to look up the certification to see if it was real or just a greenwash.
It turned out to be a real, independent organization, not something Nabob had cooked up to put on their own label. It’s an NGO with a number of programs aimed at protection and conservation of rainforests, including certification of tourism and forest-grown foods that meet standards of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
Although some criticize Rainforest Alliance, since they don’t insist on 100% organic and don’t set a minimum price the way Fair Trade certifications do, or because they’ll allow their seal on a product that only contains 30% certified content, I believe there is a genuine role for this kind of program, particularly in helping large organizations gradually shift the market.
You see, although some call for places like Tim Horton’s or McDonalds to serve Fair Trade coffee, the problem is there simply isn’t enough supply in the world for them to do so. If they made such a commitment, they’d find that the world had run out of Fair Trade coffee just a few weeks into the year. What’s more, they would be buying up all the global fair trade supply to the effect that there would be none left on shelves for those of us who prefer to make our own cup of java. A direct jump from business-as-usual to fully sustainable simply isn’t possible.
However, a company like Tim's or the Arches can make a commitment to source a certain percentage of their supply from fair trade (or organic) sources, and then commit to increasing that amount over time, as supply increases in response to their demand. Any improvement beats doing nothing.
And in fact that is what has happened with Nabob’s Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, which now features 60% certified content, instead of the original 30%. As they near 100%, I hope it puts pressure on other brands to start including, and increasing, their own sustainable supply. Your choices at the grocery store can help this process.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Grocery store choices can help rainforest"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Living at a sustainable pace

Last week I became a moving speed bump. Perhaps some had already marked me in that category, but now it’s official.
Actually, I signed on as a “Neighbourhood Pace Car Driver.” This means I have a caution sign in the back window of my car, and have pledged to keep to the speed limit on all municipal roads. So if you’re behind me and want to speed, you’ll have to change lanes, or follow me at the limit until we part ways. The street receives the same traffic-calming benefit as a speed hump, without the unnecessary braking or wear on your suspension, and without cost to the taxpayer.
This program is sponsored by Parachute Canada, a national charity formed in 2012 through the amalgamation of four existing programs, each of which dealt with some aspect of injury prevention: Safe Communities Canada, Safe Kids Canada, ThinkFirst Canada and SMARTRISK. Realizing the similarity and overlap of their goals, they combined their experience and expertise as Parachute so they can achieve greater impact in awareness, advocacy, and action in the vital cause of injury prevention. Pace Cars are a program that combines all three elements by raising public awareness, advocating for safer road use, and acting directly to slow down speeders.
Nova Scotian Pace Car drivers start young,
according to the Truro Daily News
I recognize that my driving impacts the livability of other residents’ streets, just as theirs impacts mine. As a neighbourhood pace car driver, I agree to drive the posted speed limit, stop to let pedestrians cross, and generally be courteous to other road users, like cyclists. I also minimize my own car use by combining trips, using transit or car pooling, and walking or cycling (active transportation) whenever possible.
My Pace Car sticker on the back of the car lets other drivers know why I am not exceeding the posted limit, and hopefully helps them understand why I am setting a more leisurely pace on the streets where we and our families live, work, and play. More generally, it indicates that I care for others by keeping courtesy and safety in mind as I drive. In some ways it’s akin to neighbourhood watch or block parent programs, as I take part directly in helping improve the safety of those around me.
I assumed it would be simple, as I have never been a leadfoot on city streets. (We won’t speak of expressways here). Nevertheless, now more speed-conscious, I notice many roads where my natural or “comfortable” speed is 5-10 km above the posted limit, so I must actively ensure I dial it back a bit. Luckily, the cruise control function largely takes care of this for me.
One side benefit is that, through slower and more aware driving, I get even further on each battery charge (or litre of gas) in my Volt, so I’m also helping reduce energy demand, smog, and greenhouse gas emissions.
If you like the sound of this, and are interested in becoming a Neighbourhood Pace Car driver yourself, contact local community coordinator Sherrie Osmond ( ) to sign up in Barrie, or if you want to start up or connect with the program in another community, contact Julie Taylor ( at the national office. It’s time to rally around the safety of our families and our neighbourhoods as we walk, wheel, cycle or drive!
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Keeping pace can keep us all safer on the roads"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Nothing ethical about any oil

The “ethical oil” brand, dreamt up by Canadian fossil fuel apologists, promotes the concept that bitumen extracted from the tar sands is superior to all foreign oil. Although pitched as a matter of informed consumer choice, it really serves as an obstacle to efforts aimed at energy conservation and the transition to a sustainable, renewable energy paradigm.
The brand evokes the campaign to reduce the purchase of “conflict”or “blood” diamonds whose extraction or distribution supports violent warlords or repressive governments. The response was a system whereby diamonds are certified as “conflict-free”, coming from an upstream supply chain that doesn’t rest on or support massive human rights abuses.
There are movements in many other commodity markets for ethical or sustainable supply, whether organic or fair trade foods like coffee, chocolate, and bananas, or certified forest-friendly paper products, or sustainable fisheries. The key to each such initiative is that for suppliers to certify as ethical, sustainable, organic, or fair, they must continually act to improve their operations and reduce ancillary harms, and have those actions independently audited.
However, there is no such drive behind “ethical oil”. Tar sands companies have made no binding commitments to clean up their act and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, toxic waste or spills. Instead, their only claim to being “ethical” is to point to other oil-exporting nations, branding their product as “conflict oil” and saying “well, they’re worse than us!” They make much of the sexist, violent, terrorist-sponsoring governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran, or the socialist Chinese or Venezuelan regimes, and contrast them with how enlightened and ethical (and free-market) Canadians feel, in contrast. Besides the blatant xenophobia of such an approach, what should offend Canadians is how the tar sands are basically riding on our coat-tails in boasting of being “ethical” based not on their own record, but the virtue of the rest of Canada. But how does this industry fit within our own ethical system?
Filthy lucre
In all ways that matter, the bitumen industry is a drag on the rest of Canada’s ethical values. This industry has opposed environmental regulations and pushed to remove protections from the lakes, rivers, or species their operations threaten. Rather than create sustainable communities of workers, they separate men from their families and communities, mostly in the Maritimes, for weeks at a time, and pour money into their wallets. This is a recipe for domestic violence, prostitution, substance abuse, a widening rich-poor gap, and all kinds of other social ills. It is no coincidence that Edmonton, Calgary, and Saskatoon, the 3 major cities serving the oil patch, are among the 5 worst Canadian cities for women to live, according to a recent report. While demonizing a few million dollars from foreign environmental charities, “ethical oil” ignores the billions of foreign dollars whose investment in our tar sands leaves our governments captured by foreign interests.
If these are the ethics our oil offers, then this industry is a corrupting influence on Canada as a whole, and rather than pretend that propping it up is somehow the ethical choice, we should put aside such silly distractions and concentrate on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels entirely, regardless of the source. Because when it comes to destroying our planet, damage is damage, regardless of how hard a destructive industry tries to pass itself off as “ethical”.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as " ' Ethical oil' brand doesn't exist"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, July 3, 2015

March for Jobs, Justice and Climate this weekend

We seem to be at an impasse in the climate crisis. Rich nations like Canada, having already used fossil fuels to create a prosperous lifestyle but polluted our atmosphere in the process, are making unfair demands at international climate talks. We ask that other, poorer nations commit to matching cuts, even though they had little hand in creating our current overload of atmospheric carbon. Compounding the unfairness is that we can afford to sit back and dither, growing rich and spewing more waste while poorer nations are already suffering catastrophic effects of sea rise, drought, and violent storms.
Greens for Jobs, Justice and the Climate
Well, this Sunday, Canadians from all walks of life come together in Toronto to promote a different vision at the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate; a new partnership between environmentalists and labour, providing voice for First Nations, migrant workers, youth, faith communities, and other stakeholders struggling for justice and a sustainable future.
This event targets the myth that moving toward a sustainable environment will cost jobs. Quite the opposite: decarbonizing our economy is a huge economic opportunity. A better, stronger, fairer economy will create billions of jobs, but we must ensure those jobs include a fair wage and livable conditions, and that all will benefit from the prosperity of the green energy revolution.
Climate justice means a more inclusive conversation. This year, over 300,000 people in the global south will die from violent, chaotic climate weather-related events. Yet Canada is well-placed to show leadership. Millions of our first-generation citizens have direct experience with climate chaos, such as the Filipino and Caribbean communities and people with ties to India. They link us directly to both the problems and the global solutions.
Many demonstrations are about the “NO”: against tar sands, pipelines, fracking, or new nukes, but this march is about the “YES”, about building a fair, just, sustainable economy for the whole planet. We have the solutions: clean energy, better transit, localized agriculture, fair labour standards; we just need to come together and apply them. For one specific idea, Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte Green Party candidate Marty Lancaster proposes that Barrie become a hub for new research, technology and production of next-generation batteries and energy storage. The growing popularity of electric cars like my Chevy Volt, and the pairing of clean renewable energy with storage to create on-demand electric supply, means this is sure to be a growing and high-paying industry. (More on this in a future column).
For a healthy, sustainable, just world for our children, our grandchildren, and their children, we must stop digging a deeper carbon hole and start building a stairway to an economy that provides for us without robbing future generations or disadvantaging other nations. This march is all about building that “stairway to heaven”, if you will.
Marching Marty Lancaster
And Barrie will be there! You can join Marty Lancaster and local activists Climate Action Now at the Allandale GO station Sunday morning to catch the 9:40 train, arriving at Queen’s Park before the 1 PM rally and march to the Allan Gardens. Find more information and connect with Barrie’s contingent via or if you are coming from elsewhere, visit to find charter buses or ride-shares. Let’s set Canada on a just, sustainable path of climate leadership and prosperity!

A politically expurgated version of this was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation