Thursday, June 24, 2010

Alliance to End Homelessness working together

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

After settling in Barrie more than a decade ago, one of the first groups I volunteered alongside was the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, also known as SCATEH or “the Alliance”. Serving on the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, I worked closely with the Alliance’s founder Mandy Hillyard, who also co-chaired the Task Force.

Over the ensuing three years I learned a lot about housing and poverty issues in Barrie, and when the Task Force was disbanded, I became a member of SCATEH myself. Mandy has moved on to other responsibilities, but the Alliance continues to expand and advocate.

The Alliance has chapters in the main cities in Simcoe County, including Barrie, Bradford, Collingwood, Orillia, and Midland/Penetang. Each chapter is made up of like-minded individuals representing agencies that deal with homelessness, such as shelters, soup kitchens, food banks, drop-in centres, and housing agencies or providers. Groups whose clients are at risk of poverty or homelessness also take part, such as mental health, addictions, or agencies serving those in trouble with the law. In Barrie, the chapter’s members include the Elizabeth Fry Society, Grocery Assistance Program, Barrie Housing, the Salvation Army, Youth Haven, the Women and Children’s Shelter, the David Busby Street Centre, Samaritan House, Ontario Works, the Green Party, Canadian Mental Health, etc.

These partners meet monthly to collaborate, because their portfolios often overlap. They share information about programs or opportunities, as well as needs they may have or what they can offer. They also work together on joint events, such as last fall’s Day of Compassion, which offered food, winter clothing, health services and information free to the impoverished or homeless to help them prepare for winter.

Another traditional event is the “Night Out in the Cold” each fall at Fred Grant Square, which in recent years has included a peaceful march from the Armories to the Memorial to raise the profile of the Chapter and poverty-related issues. After a free meal for 200-250 people, an outdoor debate is held (during election years) where candidates take questions about poverty and family budget issues from members of the public. This year will be no exception, so watch for an announcement of the event in October. As a candidate myself at three of those debates (06, 07 and 08, at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels) I can vouch that they offer the toughest questions and one of the most genuine audiences. An easy gauge of how much a candidate cares for the most vulnerable is whether they even show up for this event, and how sincerely they can address the issues.

The Alliance’s next activity is an Open House tomorrow (Friday June 25), from 9 – 10 am at Trinity Anglican Church, 24 Collier St. This “first annual” event is designed to educate potential new members who can help expand and carry the Alliance forward. After refreshments, Barrie chapter chairperson Paula King will introduce the Alliance’s activities and goals, and then attendees will be able to ask questions, network with each other, and see if there is a role for them as an Alliance member.

The Alliance’s motto is “Working together to end homlessness”. If you are concerned about poverty and homelessness in our community, and would like to play a role in addressing them, then you should definitely attend.

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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Renters don't deserve to be denigrated

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Stereotyping is a common but harmful practise. Too often, we pre-judge someone based on some grouping they fall into, blaming them for offenses committed by other group members. Done by race we call it racism; by ethnic group, bigotry; by gender, sexism. Most of us realize the harms of these “isms” and try to avoid them, yet still fall into other traps of prejudice.

Debates in Barrie reveal harmful stereotypes about renters, whenever there is a proposal for apartments or townhouses near single-family homes. Every proposed high- or even medium-density development faces the same basic objections: that it will be filled with odious tenants who will cause the buildings to degrade, lowering nearby property values and destroying quality of life. Stereotype alert!

Periodic discussions about allowing “second suites” (dividing a larger house into two separate living units) drag out the same misconceptions. A recent article in the Barrie Examiner stated matter-of-factly that Ward 1 is “plagued by second suites”. I don’t know if that is a quote, a paraphrase, or an editorial insertion, but in any case it’s wrong in several ways.

First, second suites are a form of accommodation, not a disease. Any bad effect must be caused by the occupant, not the unit itself. To say that these apartments “plague” an area implies that any and all occupants are problematic, which is untrue and unfair.

But more importantly, the well-known problems of “party houses” in the city’s north-east are NOT due to second suites. In fact, registering second suites could help reduce the problem.

A “party house” is a home rented out bedroom-by-bedroom to too many people, often students, all sharing one household. In many cases the basement or even living rooms are converted into more bedrooms to rent. The people sharing the home generally share the same attitude towards noise or mess, which can be a big problem if that attitude is lax.

In contrast, a registered second suite requires that each unit has its own kitchen, bath, and living room, and meet fire code. This actually reduces the number of rooms available to rent, so fewer people can fit in the house. It also means two different tenants, one for each unit, so they end up keeping an eye on each other. Neither wants trouble with their upstairs/downstairs neighbour.

But the root issue is that owners and renters are both just people. The common perception that owners treat their homes and neighbours well while renters abuse both is just a stereotype. There are homeowners with run-down properties and tenants whose yards almost sparkle. You can’t tell just by looking at a house whether the occupants own or rent. And renters live in single-family neighbourhoods for precisely the same reasons as people who own there: because they enjoy that lifestyle.

If more existing houses could be legally converted into two-units, it would create more housing of a safe, affordable nature. Discouraging it leaves potential renters with little choice besides inappropriate housing. The only thing accomplished by banning second suites is a worsening of the housing crisis, and the creation of more “party houses”.

Most of us start our adult lives as renters, and most of us will end our lives renting, too, even if we own a home in between. When we denigrate renters, we denigrate ourselves.

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

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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

If I had a billion dollars...

I love this so much - a great parody of one of my favourite songs - that I can't settle for posting just a link, I gotta put the whole thing right here. Then I changed a few words and added news links.

(with apologies to the Barenaked Ladies)

If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd build you a lake (I would build you a lake)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you furniture for your lake (maybe a nice Muskoka chair, or a hammock)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a steamboat (a nice reliant paddley-wheel)
If I had a billion dollars, I'd buy your vo-o-o-o-o-o-ote

If I had a billion dollars
I'd build a gazebo in your town
If I had a billion dollars
I'd install solar lights, then move them around
If I had a billion dollars
Maybe we could put a 10 metre jumbotron in there
(You know, we could just take the steamboat there and hang out,
even though it's nowhere near the summit
Maybe we'll see Tony Clement! or unlicensed security!
I love unlicensed security!)

If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you rubber bullets (but not real rubber bullets, that's cruel)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you an exotic meal (like a cattail salad, or shiitakes)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy Mackenzie King's remains (all them crazy Prime Ministerial bones)
If I had a billion dollars, I'd buy your vo-o-o-o-o-o-ote

If I had a billion dollars
We wouldn't have to walk to the shore
If I had a billion dollars
We'd build it in Toronto cause it costs more
If I had a billion dollars
We wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner
(but we would eat Kraft dinner because we're trying to showcase Canada to the world here and Kraft Dinner is Canadian, right?)

If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a canoe (but not a real canoe, that's cruel)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a fence (maybe concrete, or razor wire)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a sound cannon (haven't you always wanted a sound cannon?)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)
If I had a billion dollars...

I'd be Steve.

Original by Jennifer Smith, a.k.a. Runesmith, who seems to be a Liberal - but I'll forgive her.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Secretary, take a letter

A while back, as part of my "Ministers Against Portfolio" series, I wrote an article about the anti-farmer policies of our Minister against Agriculture Gerry Ritz. One of the things I noted was that Minister Ritz carries a long-time enmity toward the Canadian Wheat Board and wishes to dismantle it, despite the valuable market power it provides to farmers.

Over a month later, a letter to the editor of the Barrie Examiner was published from David Anderson, a Saskatchewan Conservative MP. I've copied his letter below.

All farmers should have same rights

(Re: 'Agriculture minister out of touch with area farmers,' in the March 25 edition of the Examiner)

I would like to respond to Erich Jacoby-Hawkins' column. It is important that Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins have a better understanding of Western Canadian agriculture issues.

Our government has good reason to work towards giving Western Canadian farmers marketing freedom.

The Canadian Wheat Board is ineffective at marketing grain, and is just too expensive for Western Canadian grain farmers. Perhaps he does not realize that the CWB failed to market almost half of the durum grown in Western Canada last year.

As a producer, I am forced to leave that inventory in my bin until the CWB decides to sell it. I have no option -- in fact I cannot sell it and the CWB refuses to give me the permits to do it on my own, even if I find buyers for it.

Unbelievable? I'm afraid not. We live with this disastrous situation year after year.

Even worse, the organic growers are charged 25 cents per bushel just so they can market their own grain. The CWB takes its cut but does nothing. Again, while it may seem bizarre, this is the reality under the CWB.

Eastern farmers have complete control over their grain, can strategize and have flexibility in managing their own sales and cash flow.

Western Canadian grain farmers should have the same rights that all other Canadian farmers enjoy. They want to be able to choose who they sell their grain to and when.

It is our responsibility to see that they are given that opportunity.

David Anderson
Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP
Parliamentary Secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board

Well, it did actually sound pretty unbelievable to me. First, that someone who is so opposed to the CWB is the Parliamentary Secretary in charge of it - sounds like a clear conflict of interest to me. Likewise, because as a wester wheat farmer, he has direct financial dealings with them. Most chilling, that a sub-cabinet member would make such a disparaging public statement about the organization of his own portfolio. (I hereby dub him "Parliamentary Secretary Against the Canadian Wheat Board").

But I also found it hard to believe his lament about not being allowed to sell his wheat. Could Canada really have a system that forces farmers to watch their own crops rot, with no alternative? Never having been a western wheat farmer myself, I asked Kate Storey, former agriculture critic for the Green Party and herself a western grain farmer, for advice. She confirmed that Anderson was lying, although in gentler language; her letter is below.

Wheat farmers need MP's support

(Re: 'All farmers should have the same rights' in the May 18 edition of the Examiner)

I am replying to Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP David Anderson's letter to this paper attacking the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). As western wheat farmer, I object to the misinformation being spread by those who want to take the CWB away from western wheat farmers.

Mr. Anderson offers the farmer "marketing freedom", which means the freedom to be exploited by grain-buying oligopolies. In case ya'll don't know what that means, there are only a few major grain buyers in Canada, and they are driving the price down. The CWB was created by farmers for just this situation. The CWB protects the farmer by bringing the price back up. The CWB is strong enough to stand up to the grain buyers, while individual farmers are not.

The fact that David Anderson still has durum wheat in the bin is a red herring. The world market is oversupplied on wheat this year and all grains are a tough sell.

This has nothing to do with the CWB. In fact, the marketing power of the CWB has probably moved more of the Canadian wheat crop than would have otherwise been sold this crop year.

David Anderson does have options. He can market his grain privately anytime he wants. Yes, he does have to pay a fee to do that, but consider it a toll levied by the rest of western wheat growers onto farmers like David Anderson, who want to undercut our co-operative marketing efforts.

Western Canadian farmers fought hard to get the Canadian Wheat Board. We understand it's advantages and we want to keep it. David Anderson should be working with us, not against us.

Kate Storey
Grandview, Man.

Thank you to Kate for setting the record straight. And poo-poo to the "honourable" representative for Cypress Hills-Grassland for spreading falsehoods.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

BP leak does not take the stain off the tar sands

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "BP leak drawing attention, but so should tar sands")

There’s been a strange reaction in parts of Canada to BP’s Gulf disaster. Our oiliest premier Alberta’s Ed Stelmach, on tour in the US, has been touting the “cleanliness” of the Athabasca tar sands in comparison to the big spill down south and deepwater drilling in general.

It’s a misleading comparison. BP’s blowout is releasing perhaps a million gallons of crude daily into the ocean. Sound pretty scary? It is. But realize that tar sands tailing ponds leak almost three million gallons of oil-polluted wastewater each day – three times the rate of the BP disaster – and that’s when things are going normally! Speaking of which, the term “tailings pond” is a bit misleading: these lakes of waste are so huge they can be seen from space, their total area already greater than Lake Couchiching.

As a high school student in the 80s, I toured the Syncrude operation near Fort McMurray. I walked on and touched the tarry, sandy soil and they even sent us home with samples (which I still have). I climbed the massive machinery required to scrape away forests and dig up sand to be fed into huge, stinky processors. I watched clean water turned into polluted steam, smelled nasty chemicals clouding the air. I will never forget it.

Back then, the whole thing was essentially a long-term experiment, as the procedure was just too expensive to turn a profit. But with rising prices the economics have changed, and the “trial” facilities now produce the largest share of America’s oil.

If the BP spill is a shocking disaster, then even more shocking is our indifference to the ongoing disaster out west. It continues, day after day and year after year and most of us seem to just shrug. If we had live web-cams showing the amount of pollution being created, the birds and animals dying in the waste lakes, would we be so callous? Would we send our premiers south with their deceptive message of “clean, safe energy

Just as the Gulf spill will destroy fisheries, coastland, and tourism, the extraction of tar sands bitumen and other fossil fuels comes at the expense of the farmland and forests of Alberta (and now Saskatchewan). And the money spent developing tar sands crowds out investment in what should be an amazing Prairie solar and wind energy resource.

Some might accuse me of being a hypocrite. Do I not use gas to drive around, so aren’t I part of the problem? Yes – and no. My wife and I both walk to work, and we enrolled my daughter in a school 2 blocks away. Our family uses a fuel-efficient diesel bug for necessary errands, running on bio-diesel when available. We installed solar water heating, bringing our gas use so low they can’t even bill us right half the time. We have worked hard to reduce or minimize our consumption, and our society could do the same, so as not to need new sources of dirty fossil fuels.

But that’s not the plan. Premier Ed Stelmach and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are united in a dream, not of curtailing tar sands destruction, but expanding the operation 500%. So instead of 3 BPs per day, we’d be 15. Is that progress? If you ask me, it’s heading in the wrong direction, with a heavy foot on the gas pedal.

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

Update: Somehow the source article for this got re-posted at "Save the Sacred Sites".