Monday, May 24, 2010

Barrie’s Blue Bottle, a Beneficial Book

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Barrie teacher's book proof of Living Green ")

Just about everyone has thought, at some point, “I could write a book about this”. Many dream of someday becoming a published author, and for some reason, children’s books hold a special allure.

Yet very few of us chase this dream and actually set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Our wit and wisdom remain unimparted.

But a friend of mine has broken the rule – she has actually begun writing, illustrating and publishing original primary-level children’s books. She is Barrie resident and retired teacher Gwen Petreman. I know her as a long-time colleague on the board of Barrie’s respected environmental charity, Living Green.

One of her driving concerns is the lack of trees around us. To be healthy, a community needs at least 30% tree canopy. Barrie (pre-annex) has about 25%, so we aren’t too bad, but still need to improve. Our many retail centres and new subdivisions are particularly under-treed. Gwen is spearheading a number of local initiatives aimed at fixing this by planting seedlings and mature native trees.

Her first book, The Blue Bottle, combines many of her passions – ecology, nature, education, and especially trees. The book features a monstrous genie, unwittingly released from an old bottle, who threatens to destroy all of the finder’s treasured trees, then uproot the Amazon rainforest. Does it succeed? Well, I don’t want to spoil the ending. But the book also includes an informative appendix about Amazon wildlife and beneficial trees from around the world.

Although Gwen feels the book is best appreciated by boys, my own two daughters, aged 5 and 3, are big fans. They love monsters, and stories that are (not too) scary.

As a teacher, she carefully designed her book to be ideal for classroom education. What’s more, she is happy to present it at schools, as a fundraiser for planting trees nearby. (The cost is very low, and she even has an early-bird discount for schools booking before Thanksgiving). The book can be used for teaching literacy, the science of trees and the Amazon, and the process of writing and illustrating your own book.

Gwen will be an active participant in Barrie’s first Eco-Fest this June 12th. At the Transition Barrie Oasis tent, she will be hosting multiple activities centered around the book and tree-planting. For parents there will be discount copies of The Blue Bottle, a silent auction of decorative plants and herb gardens, and white spruce seedlings to plant at home. The kids will enjoy a monster-drawing contest and making woodland critters from stones. And between now and Eco-Fest, Gwen is hoping to collect your old cell phones to recycle. Call her at 722-5377 to arrange pickup.

Since she is the author, I’ll let Gwen have the final words.

“I wrote the book to get the message across to young people about the critical role trees play in creating a balanced and healthy environment where people and animals can thrive. Hopefully, as parent and child read this book together, the parents will be inspired to plant as many trees as possible on their property,” Mrs. Petreman says. “What fascinates me most about the many benefits of trees is that the planting of mature trees is the cheapest, safest, and most beautiful method of mitigating (preventing) climate change,” she adds.

To book a school visit or find other information, visit

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Raising a party's profile is hard but rewarding work

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

People are most aware of politicians during elections, especially those challenging the incumbent. But for a dedicated politician, the time between elections is still very busy. There are supporters to identify, new contacts to make, and the constant need for visibility. Incumbents have many advantages, but even they need to keep in the limelight as much as possible.

As Barrie’s nominated Green Party candidate, it is my job between elections to raise the party’s profile and build our base. With a support team of volunteers, we put together a variety of events to help us integrate our values and members with the greater community. Some are designed to raise money, some to build visibility, some just to help us feel good by helping others. In planning activities, we often look to other parties to see what they have done.

Back in 2004 I noticed a great event hosted by the Barrie Women’s Liberal Association in support of Adopt-a-Minefield. Liberal supporters came together to dine, contribute, and learn about efforts around the world to clear mines and save lives. International cooperation minister Aileen Carroll spoke, along with local experts on politics and international aid. I really liked this idea of mobilizing political supporters to help a good cause, so we have since hosted several events in support of local charities. In 2007 we contributed to the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness at our fundraiser dinner, and in 2009 we cut a cheque to the Seasons Centre for Grieving Children.

While BBQs and pancake breakfasts are the mainstay of an elected MP, last spring we hosted “Cooking for Sustainability,” which demonstrated how to prepare local, in-season food for nutritious and delicious meals. MP Patrick Brown hosts passport clinics to help folks fill out forms; we modified that idea and hosted an e-waste and used clothing depot, allowing people to clear out their unused but still useable items and donate food to the Grocery Assistance Program.

This June 26 will see our 3rd annual community yard sale. Another chance to reduce waste and re-use items, we collect suitable merchandise from supporters and provide tax credit for whatever sells. Promotion costs eat up much of our sales revenue, but we enjoy partnering with other community groups, such as Barrie Fair Trade who provide coffee, or Mapleview Community Church’s Health Ministry who run a bake sale alongside us. Unsold items are donated to local charities.

About once a year we roll out our “big guns” and have our party leader speak in Barrie. Since she’s not in cabinet and can’t directly control government, we can’t charge too much to meet her. Not for us $5,000-a-plate dinners like MPP Carroll attended with Dalton McGuinty in Barrie!* Instead, we try more modestly-priced activities to maximize contact. Coming up on June 2 is our “Playing for Change” event at the MacLaren, featuring along with Ms. May a concert by Toronto swing-jazz-jump musician Big Rude Jake. $20 would be a fair cost for either attraction, but we’re selling a ticket to both for that price. This is our first time mixing music and politics, and it is looking to be a really exciting evening. For more information, you can visit Or if you have suggestions about how you’d like parties to connect with you between elections – please share them with us!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

*Originally this said "dinners like MPP Carroll hosted for Dalton McGuinty" but her assistant informs me that Aileen did not host this event in Barrie, she just attended it with the Premier as a key guest. I'm not sure what difference that makes but it seemed important to her. She was also worried that this somehow implied it was a local (riding) fundraiser rather than a party one, but since ridings and parties are free to transfer funds both ways at will, I am not sure what difference that would make, either. When we host a fundraiser with our leader, we split the funds raised between riding and party. I imagine other parties often do the same.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Barrie becoming a community that gardens together

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

As a long-time director on Living Green’s board, I regularly receive inquiries about starting community gardens. We’ve always supported the idea, but lacked the resources to create and manage one ourselves, while the City (who would need to be involved) never got very excited about our suggestions along these lines. Until now, that is.

Through a combination of changing attitudes and the persistence of some key players, Barrie has officially opened its first Community Garden. Located in a corner of Sunnidale Park, off Coulter Street, there are now 35 plots which have all been rented for the 2010 season for the amazingly affordable price of $20 each.

Community gardens provide many benefits. Urban families can grow their own food, with expert advice, and re-connect to the land and seasons. Team-building takes place; relationships are strengthened. The pure joy of eating what you’ve grown with your own efforts is available to more people.

Plot renters range widely in gardening skill, socio-economic background and age. Some are apartment dwellers, but many are not. Many novice gardeners are hoping to learn from the more experienced. Several groups have rented plots for educational purposes, including Athena's Counselling and Advocacy Centre, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Barrie's Native Friendship Centre and Simcoe Community Services.

How did we get here? The persistence of citizen Angela Bick and “urban harvester” Kyla Cotton helped keep things moving. Barrie City Council, under the recommendation and urging of Councillor Strachan and the Communities in Bloom committee, agreed to support the project, while the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit and the Barrie Community Health Centre also assisted with drafting policies. The City is providing land, compost & mulch (from the yard waste collection program), and fencing. Local businesses such as Home Depot, Botanix, and Urban Harvester have offered supplies and advice.

Living Green funded this year’s project coordination and sent volunteers to build the garden last fall and this spring. Even Fair Trade Barrie joined in, providing coffee & tea at the building sessions and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The garden was constructed using a method called sheet composting or “lasagna gardening,” which involves layering different materials on top of the existing grass, which does not need to be dug out or tilled.

One of the garden’s specialties will be heritage plants, varieties of vegetables a little different from the ones you find in the grocery store. Not so suitable for modern mass industrial farming, they respond well to personal attention and reward growers with produce which is far tastier and more nutritious.

For the first, trial year, water will be drawn from barrels, but we hope that next year the City will hook up water service. Another hope is that businesses or other organizations will donate one or more sheds for storing tools and supplies.

Although this year’s plots are all rented, you can get on next year’s waiting list now to show your support for expanding the gardens to more plots and parks. Just go to and enter “community gardens” in the search box (or click here). If this pilot project gets sufficient public support, it will be expanded and come to a neighbourhood near you. So sign up for the waiting list, and tell your representative you want to see Barrie growing in ways besides population or area!
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

Jaffer affair leaves me lobbying for a new dictionary

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Politics makes for some strange new definitions of words I thought I understood.

Many of us first witnessed this when former U.S. president Bill Clinton was taken to task for some Oval Office indiscretions. When is sex not sex? Apparently it depends what your definition of "is" is. But whether Clinton started or merely followed a grand tradition, certainly redefinition goes on, even right here in Simcoe County.

When is a letter not a letter? By now everyone knows office workers for Simcoe-Grey Conservative MP Helena Guergis were caught red-handed writing glowing letters to local papers (including the Examiner's sister paper the Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin), not mentioning they were her taxpayer-funded employees. One, sent to Macleans magazine, generated an odd response from the writer, Valerie Knight. Seeking to clarify the situation, she explained here that she did indeed send the letter, listing her home phone and address, but not her employer. Macleans called her to confirm and asked if she worked for Guergis; learning she did, they didn't publish it. So kudos to Macleans for doing their homework, but how does this absolve Ms. Knight's actions? The fact remains she sent the letter, hoping to see it in print.

Guergis herself has confused me by claiming to be unaware of said letters. Perhaps her Collingwood and Alliston staff hid those papers from her, but each cabinet minister receives a digest from her Ottawa staff containing any articles mentioning her or her ministry. Did she neglect to read her own daily briefing books? What else did she miss?

The chain of strange definitions continues. Helena's husband and former Alliance/Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, himself no stranger to staff shenanigans, testified to a House committee that he has never consumed illegal drugs. That seems only logical, given his 2008 radio ads attacking NDP support for legalization of cannabis - although actual NDP policy is decriminalization, something Jaffer himself has publicly supported since 2000. Yet that creates some very interesting questions about the bag of cocaine the OPP reportedly found in his vehicle. Although possession charges were dropped due, apparently, to technicalities, the drugs themselves remain. Did the OPP catch him just in time to prevent his first "experiment"?

However, that's of little direct political consequence. (Bill Clinton didn't inhale, either). More important are serious allegations of illegal lobbying, or perhaps even influence peddling.

On this point Jaffer is clear: he's not a lobbyist because he wasn't paid (yet) to lobby, and hasn't managed (yet) to secure any government funds for businesses. But that's like saying you're not a car salesman because you haven't managed to sell any cars, and haven't received any commissions. Just ignore the desk at the dealership with your name on it. Or in this case, ignore the confirmation from four other cabinet ministers that Jaffer met with their staff to discuss government programs.
A lobbyist seeks to influence political decisions by meeting with politicians on behalf of clients. If you succeed, your clients will hopefully share some of their gains with you. But if you fail, it doesn't mean you're not a lobbyist; it just means you're not a very good one. *

And in Canada, all lobbyists, good or bad, paid or not, must register with the Commissioner of Lobbying. But Jaffer did not, which (to his mind) means he's not a lobbyist. Time to get me a new dictionary.


* since writing this article, I have learned that the definition of a lobbyist specifies that a lobbyist must register if they do their work "for payment". So if Jaffer never received payment, and did not expect to ever recieve payment, then perhaps this loophole applies. However, it would appear from documents and evidence that he or his company were hoping to receive some form of payment if they were successful in lobbying for government funding. It just hadn't happened yet.

Another addition: in preparing this blog post, I learned that the Simcoe-Grey Conservative EDA vice-president publicly tut-tutted the Guergis letter-writing campaign, despite himself having written one of the offending letters! I've read that Barrie CPC MP Patrick Brown's staffer Bonnie Ainsworth also wrote one, but have not yet found it online. If you find it, please send me the link and I'll update the site.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

New paradigm necessary to save the ailing Earth

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Although I began my undergraduate career at Waterloo studying computer science in the Math faculty, I ended up earning my BA in Anthropology. That twisty path is a story for another day, but the contrast was very striking. Western logic, especially that of science, engineering, and computers, tells us there is but one “right” way, one “truth”, and other explanations are false or inferior. But in anthropology I learned the opposite: there are many different ways of seeing things, especially human behaviour and society, and each of them can be equally valid, even when they are mutually exclusive.

Through my studies of other cultures, I learned about some very powerful and useful alternative beliefs about human relationships with each other and our planet. Some of the most fascinating and compelling visions are those of the indigenous peoples (“Indians”) of the Americas.

One fascinating ongoing project to realize those values is the Pachamama Alliance, which has put together a program to “awaken the dreamer”. This phrase comes from what is being said by many indigenous groups in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. When asked by aid workers how those of the developed world could help them, a wise elder replied: “If you are coming to help us, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with ours… then let us work together.”

They recognize that their fate and ours are forever linked, and the harms to their culture and habitat are the consequence of our way of thinking. What they describe as our “dream”, our values system of consumption & acquisition, of “free market” corporate capitalism under perpetual economic growth, is behind much of their loss. So their response is to “change the dream of the North” – to help us adopt a new values system which respects the earth and our place in it.

We cannot halt the destruction of the rainforest, extinction of species, or runaway climate change merely by recycling, or donating to ecological charities. We must profoundly change our actions, but to do that we need a new guiding paradigm. Otherwise, we will just see our new lives as limits, rejection, or privation. And that’s no fun. Yet it need not be so depressing; there are wonderful things we can share and experience to improve our world and ourselves at the same time. We can have a life of less material waste but more spiritual satisfaction. That’s a dream worth dreaming.

How does one change a dream? Can we, the dreamers, choose a new dream to guide us? Certainly this is the Pachamama Alliance’s hope. To enable it, they run half-day symposia around North America where people are invited to think about their values and the effects of their actions and explore new dreams.

Intrigued? Then you should take advantage of this Saturday afternoon’s Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium at Barrie’s Grace United Church. Hosted by Transition Barrie, this stirring presentation will open you to a new perspective. You can see and hold the vision of an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet, as an achievable dream for our future.

For more information or to register for the event (cost is $10 or pay-what-you-can), visit or call 737-5768.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.