Friday, June 11, 2010

In need of class, politicians go back to school

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

One of the more rewarding duties of a party representative is visiting schools. This week I was invited to discuss sustainability with Mr. McGill’s grade 9 geography students at Barrie North. (Apparently they asked other parties, but only myself and Barrie MP Patrick Brown accepted.) This is part of what MPs do to earn their salary, while for me it’s 100% volunteer, like all my other political activity.

Certainly students today are much more aware than when I was their age. In advance, they studied a number of topics and watched the documentary “The End of the Line”, about worldwide overfishing. They prepared various questions about sustainable fishing, logging, farming, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and other aspects of sustainability.

For most of their questions, I was able to suggest a number of policy approaches that our government could take, if it chose. Just about any goal can be reached if we put our minds to it and pull in the same direction. Yet in Canada’s case, we seem to be taking two steps back for each step forward.

The kids wanted to know what Canada is doing about suggested international treaties to ban bottom-dragging trawlers, and reduce overfishing of the bluefin tuna. Sadly, in both cases, Canada has lobbied against those sensible actions. Meanwhile, our badly mismanaged Pacific salmon fishery may soon go the way of the north Atlantic cod.

One thing the kids had learned about, and support, are industry-NGO partnership initiatives like the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies sustainable fisheries. If you only eat fish with the MSC logo, then you avoid contributing to ocean life destruction. But MSC is a voluntary initiative, and for everyone who chooses it, there are many more ignoring the looming extirpation of edible fish. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seems to be more successful, perhaps because forests on land are much easier to monitor than fish swimming in international waters.

They wondered how Canada could reduce GHG emissions, especially from the tar sands. A moratorium on new tar sands operations would be a good start. But rather than exhibit prudence, our government hopes to strip-mine even more. Every time a new, official GHG reduction target is announced, it’s weaker than the last. Of course, none of them mean much anyhow, since none come with a realistic implementation plan.

For 90 minutes, we discussed how Canada can reduce emissions from the tar sands, protect our fisheries, and preserve our forests. Not being in government, my suggestions were mainly about what we could or should do. On Friday, MP Brown will be meeting the same class to tell them what the government is already doing, or plans to do, for sustainability. (What he’ll talk about for the other 85 minutes, I can’t guess). I know he’ll enjoy meeting this class of bright and concerned students, and I’m sure they’ll have good questions for him.


(Follow-up from January) Some good news finally came from Haiti this week: my foster child Valdrist has survived the earthquake and ensuing chaos and is fine. Nine other foster children weren’t so lucky, and my heart goes out to their families. My thanks to for all their hard work in Haiti and around the world. If you have room in your heart, please consider adopting a foster child.

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

1 comment:

  1. Patrick Brown dropped by our Green Party booth at Ecofest this past Saturday and was fine with my friendly little joke at his expense. In fact, it cracked up his staffer when he read it.
    Mr. McGill came by, too, and confirmed that his class really appreciated our visits and reading about them in this column.