Thursday, December 22, 2011

Participatory democracy works on many levels


A recent study indicates that the main reason for the dropping voter turnout is a feeling, from non-voters, that the political process is unresponsive and doesn’t engage them.
One of the solutions I strongly support is electoral reform to a proportional system, where all votes count, instead of creating a class of “losing” votes. But another reform, one which takes place between elections, is participatory democracy. It’s something that is already happening effectively in some cases, and should be expanded.
The example I am most familiar with is the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan. Both the Act and Plan were created through a fantastic process of public consultation and feedback, one I’ve enjoyed being a part of.
In each case, only the barest outline was established before public consultations were held. Under the supervision of outside moderators, various civic organizations came together and brainstormed what the contents should be. Those ideas were then codified into a draft, which went to another series of sessions for revision before finalizing the Act or Plan.
Sometimes public consultation is really just a show, a way to pretend the public is involved while the lawmakers just do whatever they had in mind in the first place. But in this case, the regulations truly followed the public input. At the reviews of the drafts, the civil servants who had written the text heard firsthand feedback from the public, and worked with them to achieve clarity or fine-tune the wording to better suit the intent. It was really an amazing part of the experience to sit face-to-face with the person who had written the phrasing in the draft text, and have that person accept suggested revisions to incorporate into the next version.
At the end of this process, the resulting regulations became law. As a participant, I saw firsthand how the final laws reflected a consensus, where possible, or else a balance of interests. The goals of conservation and sustainable development were aligned as much as possible, and the regulatory and enforcement mechanisms were based on what the public & experts felt would be most effective.
This whole process was government at its finest. Rather than clashing ideologies coming to a head with an ultimate winner and loser, the process was open to all and everyone who took part could claim some victory.
My only complaint is that this process isn’t used for all of our legislation. Too many bills or regulations are one-sided and top-down. I look forward to a day when every major set of laws or regulations, even our annual budgets, are established through this kind of public consultation, with ideological politics left in the dark past.

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Earthsharing Canada and the Ontario School of Economic Science.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Give the gift of time this holiday season


As my young daughters learn the Christmas story, I am reminded of local parallels. A clear part of the story deals with transient homelessness, and the kindness of strangers to those in need. A young couple, forced into travel by government bureaucracy and taxation, find themselves without a place to stay and resort to sleeping in a stable, even as they give birth to their first child. In some ways this story seems quaint to us now, but in others it is all too real.
Like most cities, Barrie lacks sufficient affordable housing, and many people find themselves without a place to stay. Some are long-time residents who have lost a job or home, while others have recently come to Barrie seeking a better life. They enter our shelter system, but that system is also overburdened. Literally, there is no room at the inn. Yet just like in the season’s tale, there is an alternative. Rather than a barn, it is a church basement. Several Barrie churches donate their facilities for overnight emergency shelter in the winter, and many other partner churches provide meals or volunteers.
But more volunteers are still needed, there remain spots unfilled. The most difficult spots to fill (although not to work) are the overnight shifts and the days around Christmas. It takes no money to provide this most basic assistance, just the gift of a few hours of your time. In particular, if you are a woman and can do an evening or overnight shift once a month, or a man available first thing in the morning, the program really needs you. There is also a continuing need for spare or back-up volunteers to be on call, especially during the busy holiday season when plans may suddenly change. Some families invite a needy person to share Christmas with them; perhaps someone in your family can support this program on that day, instead.
When we hear the Christmas story, we like to believe we would have treated this young couple kindly. Well, you still have that chance, for as that baby, full grown later said“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” I find this an inspiring idea regardless of one’s personal beliefs. If we are to judge a society by how they treat the least among them, then you can play a role in redeeming our Canadian society and our Barrie community, right here and now. 
To volunteering with Barrie’s Out of the Cold program, or donate, visit www.BarrieOutoftheCold.org or call 705-331-1396. I wish you a holiday of family, friends, food, and a place to share them.

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Have yourself a merry local Christmas


Paroxysms of gift-buying mean holiday season has truly arrived.
It’s the thought that counts, which is true in many ways. Obviously it means thinking about the recipient: choosing the perfect gift for their personality or needs, or simply remembering to think of them at all! But when gift-shopping this year, try also to reflect on the economics of your purchase.
If you shop local, your money circulates within the local economy, becoming a gift to everyone around you.
Yet shopping local doesn’t simply mean not shopping in a bigger city or online. Even from a nearby store, if you just buy another gadget off the shelf, much of your money leaves our regional, or Canada altogether. So this year, try to focus on gifts that are actually locally produced, so all the money stays here.
So what does that mean? Well, not a lot of durable goods are made in this area, under the decline of manufacturing. (A new Napoleon grill would be a notable exception – if it fits your gifting budget!) But many consumables are made locally, and make wonderful gifts.
Sigrid’sBakery, for example, comes personally recommended by Vice-regal Consort John Ralston Saul. And did you know there’s a Barrie bakery specializing just in butter tarts? (The SweetOven). How much more Christmasy can you get?
Or if liquid libations are more the style to warm your loved-one’s heart, fresh brews from Muskoka, Creemore, or Flying Monkeys are well within the 100-km range, as are vintages from the new Holland Marsh Wineries. (Old Man Winter will even chill them for you, for free). Or even make your own, like we do at winexpert.
A major local gift category is services. Massages, spa visits, hairstyling, housecleaning, even car detailing are great certificates to receive. In today’s hurried world, someone looking after (or cleaning for) you is a blessed relief. And these services have all taken a hit from the HST raising their prices, so they need your support.
Entertainment is another good choice. Instead of buying another CD or DVD off the shelf, how about tickets or vouchers for local performances? There are several worthy theatre companies in the area.
At any age, lessons can be a fun gift. My daughters loved their trial month at Lewis Karate School. Fitness membership or dance, music, or other lessons can expand a person’s happiness and wellbeing, while supporting local business. And all of these gifts tend to be low-footprint, when it comes to the Earth. Plus, myriad Group-Jag-Deal coupon programs make them very affordable.
Among our greatest gifts are this Earth and our local community. Share those gifts with others: give back by giving locally this year.

Written for my Root Issues column, published in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Give back by giving locally this holiday season"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No honours for violent classic rock


Today marks the middle of this year’s White Ribbon Campaign working to end violence against women, which brings to mind something that’s bothered me for some time.
In Canada we like to believe we’ve made great strides in equality and reduction of gender violence. We’re particularly horrified by the concept, in other nations or cultures, of “honour killing,” where women are murdered by their own families for supposed moral transgressions. Such acts are disparaged as barbaric, whether they happen elsewhere or are imported here.
Yet vestiges of similar ideas lurk in our own popular culture, even in classic rock music.
One song is Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “Hey Joe”. This folk standard describes a man shooting his wife for infidelity, in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental fashion, as if this were the normal response to that situation.
I can see how perhaps in a live show this song could be put in some kind of educational context by the singer, but played on its own in “classic rock” circulation, all it does is condone spousal murder. Jimi Hendrix was an amazing guitar player, and the song showcases his talents well. But so do dozens of his other great recordings – why does this particular one get so much airplay today?
A song I find even more disturbing is Hendrix-inspired Canadian rocker Pat Travers’ version of “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)”. It is the song of a man combing the town for his ex-girlfriend so he can beat her unconscious for dumping him. And it’s not enough to tell this tale – Travers has the audience, men and women together, enthusiastically sing back the chorus response. By taking part, the crowd internalizes their own acceptance of this violence.
Now, I’ve never favoured censoring music, and I’m not demanding these songs be banned. But I am asking why program directors choose to spin them, when there are so many thousands of other great rock songs to choose from that don’t glorify gender violence?
Luckily this last song is redeemed, in a way, in a new version by the Brothers Dubé, the teen & tween trio from Ottawa featured on this year’s CP Holiday Train. They have re-worked “Boom Boom” to protest rock-em sock-em hockey violence and the resulting concussions. In doing so, they give me hope for our future generation.
If only the previous generation of “classic rockers” running our radio stations could be as enlightened as our youth. Is that too much to ask?
Learn more about the White Ribbon Campaign at www.WhiteRibbon.ca, and about local Dec 6 events at www.BarrieShelter.com
Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Play songs that don't glorify gender violence"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the son of a wonderful woman, husband to another, and the father of two wonderful daughters, and urges all men to stand up against violence against women.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Information sessions to help landlords and tenants


In ‘99 my wife & I arrived in Barrie having just spent ten years as tenants, living somewhere different each year. We were thrilled to settle down and buy our first home. In fact, we liked Barrie so much, we bought two houses – one to live in, one to rent out. (Okay, really it was the bank that bought the other house, but we get to look after it until it’s paid off.)
In one giant leap we went from tenants to landlords. Overall it’s been a good experience, although not a lucrative one. Taxes, hydro, gas, water, insurance, maintenance and two mortgages eat up pretty much all the rent. Some years it’s profitable, some years it actually loses money. But after 25 long years of looking after it and paying the bills, we’ll have that second house to finance our retirement.
Something I’ve learned from being a landlord is the extreme rental shortage in Barrie. As a provider of affordable rents, I always have several good applicants for a vacancy, but can only rent to one, which leaves the others still looking for affordable and appropriate housing.
Public or non-profit housing can never address all the needs in our community. Private landlords must be part of the solution, too. Yet too often conflicts between landlord and tenant lead to grief, causing landlords to stop renting, or scaring potential landlords from starting out. But it need not be that way; conflicts can often be prevented or solved with better understanding.
That’s why the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (Barrie chapter) will host some landlord & tenant information sessions in the new year. Guest speakers can share expertise on various topics like legal issues, dealing with tenant mental health problems, or bedbug prevention and removal. Experts will help dispel myths, provide updates on new landlord-tenant regulations, or answer your other questions.
But we need to know what landlords, or prospective landlords, most want to learn. What kind of questions are you hoping to have answered? What are problems you’ve faced and need advice with, what worries might be preventing you from renting? What supports do you need? There exist community resources for landlords to access; we’d love to help connect you to them.
So if you are a landlord, or are thinking about renting out a spare room, apartment, condo or house, please tell us what you’d like to learn from these sessions. Contact Kelly Bell at 705-739-9909 or kbell@simcoecommunityservices.ca with your wish list. We’ll try to get you the information you need, and tell you when and where the sessions will be.
Good landlord-tenant relationships are key to improving the affordable housing situation.
p.s. There will also be information sessions specifically for tenants as part of this series. More on that as plans firm up.
A version of this Root Issues was published in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Good landlord-tenant relationships are key"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Secretive CETA threatens corporate enslavement


If you care about your elected municipal government reflecting community values, then pay attention – because CETA threatens to take those rights away.
CETA stands for Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, currently being negotiated between Canada and the European Union. Hidden behind closed doors, indications are that its terms will weaken our democracy by putting corporate rights first, restricting the ability of municipalities to control their own procurement policies, or provide public services.
CETA could do away with our city’s right to use any criterion besides lowest price when tendering supply contracts. Barrie is a Fair Trade City, a commitment to fairly source coffee and tea. Under CETA, that could be gone. Barrie is considering alocal food policy – again, CETA could kill that.
There has been much discussion lately about mandating an in-town provider for towingservices. Some suggest the city adopt a “buy local” policy, to create local jobs. To support better jobs, Barrie could require contractors and suppliers to use union labour. CETA could trump all of these initiatives.
Another scary thought is the possibility that CETA would force municipalities to privatize basic services like water. I support municipalities’ right to decide whether to provide services in-house, or contract out to private companies. But I object to a treaty that forces us either way. Our locally-elected representatives must have the right to follow voter priorities and community values.
Don’t get me wrong – I support trade, and the prosperity it brings. But only true free trade, where each side of the deal is free to say yes or no, and has equal powers and rights. I’m against so-called “free trade” which actually takes away either side’s rights to set their own terms and choose trade partners based on them. Any trade deal which forces one party to accept the terms of the other, or forces them into unwanted trade, is the opposite of free. Deals like these make us, and our representative governments, slaves to narrow corporate interests.
I applaud our City Council for recently passing a motion of caution on CETA, and the work of provincial and federal municipal associations and groups like the Council of Canadians in shining light on these issues. To protect our rights to choose community values over lowest price, and prevent corporate enslavement of our public sector, we must be vigilant and refuse to knuckle under to deals misrepresented as “free trade”.
One way to keep abreast of this issue is to attend meetings of the local chapter of the Council of Canadians, who meet at 7 pm at the Barrie Public Library (Georgian Room), on the second Wednesday of each month. Find out more at www.Canadians.org.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "CETA deals are misrepresented as 'free trade' "
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and founding member of Earthsharing Canada.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hitting the streets


This is a set of three "streeters" that I made for the spring 2011 federal election. Each one is under a minute long, and I made them all the same afternoon (wearing 3 different shirts) with the help of Shawn Conroy.

This was my first time making election-related videos.

I'd love any feedback on their style or content.

Smart Economy




Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our freedoms cost lives, pay them respect


Update: The Barrie Examiner yesterday ran an editorial agreeing with the main point of my column: that the Harper government is closing debate too often. 

On Remembrance Day as we show our respect for our veterans, we owe it to them to reflect upon what they won for us, and what they defeated.
Ceremonial speeches from high officials (a big "thank you" to MP Brown for providing today a perfect and timely example of what I mean) remind us our vets fought and died for freedom and democracy, opposing the spread of single-party fascist state corporatism. Our cherished democratic freedoms include free speech, exemplified in the famous dictum “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Unlike our enemies, we are free to vote for any political choice, and diverse parties represent Canadians in our Parliament.
Unfortunately, our current government denigrates these ideals. Our parliamentary system gives majority government the right to outvote the opposition, but only after each motion has been properly discussed and debated. The Loyal Opposition, actually representing the majority of Canadian voters, can’t stop the government agenda or mandate. Their duty is to examine it, in the hopes of improving legislation being passed. Sadly, even this is becoming less possible.
The governing party can ask the Speaker to limit debate on urgent issues, to act in a timely manner. Debates were only limited 10 times in the 43 years between 1913 and 1956, a time of many urgencies including the Great War, the Great Depression, WW2, and the Korean conflict. But not they have been limited 7 times in the last 43 days! The current government is rapidly setting new records for stifling democratic debate – has there truly been that much urgent business in the past 2 months, eclipsing three major world wars and Canada's time of greatest prolonged deprivation?
What do they fear in allowing our elected MPs to speak, to question, to suggest amendments? In particular, time limits keep smaller parties out of debate altogether. House precedence gives Government and Opposition leaders the first chances to speak. The other parties are further down the line – so under limited debate time, they fall below the cutoff. Yet each MP is equal to each other in representing a riding, and even the smaller parties each represent hundreds of thousands of votes.
Perhaps the greatest irony was the unwillingness of Conservatives last week to allow the Bloc and Green Party leaders a chance to speak on the topic of Remembrance Day. The Minister of Veterans Affairs spoke for 10 minutes, followed by 10 minutes each from the NDP and Liberal VA critics. Yet two days of Liberal and NDP motions to allow the Bloc and Greens a mere 5 minutes each were blocked by Conservative MPs.
In this way, the very freedoms our veterans died to protect, Democracy and Free Speech, are being pushed aside by the Conservative government in the House our proud nation built. One would think that, for the day we honour those freedoms paid for with blood and treasure, we’d respect these hard-won prizes. Sadly, one would be wrong.

A version of this was published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
For more on this topic from an outsider MP inside the House, read Silencing debate: a government in a hurry
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Helping families and the planet in Guatemala


Have you ever sat too close to the campfire and gotten a faceful of smoke? It stings your eyes and makes you cough.
Now imagine that happening to you all day, every day. For millions, this is their daily experience. People throughout the developing world commonly cook over what’s known as a “three stone fire”, basically an open firepit inside their hut or shack. Toxic wood smoke fills the inside of their home, and the eyes and lungs of the mother cooking, and of her young children. Constantly breathing smoke takes 10 to 15 years off the lifespan of all the family members; this indoor air pollution kills 1.6 million people each year and blinds many.
Yet there are simple remedies. Tom Clarke, from Perth, Ontario, offers one. During travels in Central America in the 1990s, he witnessed grinding poverty and wondered how he could help. Learning of the stove solution, in 1999 he founded the Guatemala Stove Project, a registered charity that changes peoples’ lives for the better through an affordable, sustainable model.
The Project builds masonry stoves for poor indigenous families in the Guatemalan highlands. These Mayan-speaking families’ needs seem invisible to the post-colonial Spanish-speaking elite who govern from the lowlands.
The installation of a masonry stove makes a huge difference in their lives. A sheet-metal chimney directs hearth smoke outside the home; sparks are contained. By storing the heat, the stove cuts wood fuel use almost in half. This saves hard time spent collecting firewood, or scarce money spent buying it. It also preserves fragile mountain slopes, which suffer soil erosion from deforestation. It even significantly reduces carbon emissions.
And the cost of all this is only $225. Each donated stove adds years of life and health to every member of the family. The donated money is used to buy local supplies (concrete blocks, bricks, cement, metal fittings and chimney) and pay local masons, supporting the local economy. Canadian volunteers assist and take photos of the recipient families, who are selected by Mayan community organizations.
While there, Project volunteers bring medical supplies and treatment to villages that otherwise never see a doctor. All the Canadian participants, including the founder and doctors, are volunteers, so 100% of your donation goes to help a poor Guatemalan family. In thanks you receive a frameable photo of the happyfamily and your newly-built stove, listing their names and ages.
If you care to help a family in need, or to offset your heating carbon footprint this winter, visit www.GuatemalaStoveProject.org. For a small cost to a Canadian family, you can share the gifts of life and health with a family in Guatemala.
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Donate a stove and help improve some lives
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer and politician. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The mid-term growth path leads through Midhurst


Ontario must carefully balance provincial plans for growth with minimal impact, while respecting local decision-making.
The province wisely wants to direct growth to existing settlement areas, avoiding boundary expansions through putting higher density housing in areas where local growth plans have already been approved, such as Midhurst.  
Growth in Midhurst, which is outside the Lake Simcoe watershed, is good news for the Lake Simcoe Act and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, both of which aim to minimize the impacts of growth on the Lake. Development of the large greenfield areas of Innisfil the province annexed to Barrie will put pressure on Lake Simcoe.
Barrie is, with good reason, taking its time to carefully plan the development of the annexed lands so they don’t end up as more sprawl. However, this is a slow process, with new residences in that area not expected for another decade. Meanwhile, growth pressures are heavy now, and exceed what is being offered through infill growth in existing developed areas. The approved Midhurst plan provides a handy middle-ground; offering hundreds of integrated new residences on modern services in place within 2-3 years.
Barrie’s own stated intent is to increase the number of jobs in (or near) Barrie as a proportion of population, thus reducing the pressure for commuting, yet development south of Barrie cannot help but encourage commuting to the GTA.
Georgian College, Royal Victoria Hospital, and Napoleon Furnace expansions promise over 1,600 new jobs in the north end of Barrie, which means hundreds of new families needing places to live. If new residents are to be oriented to jobs within Barrie, then housing them to the north makes as much, if not more, sense than placing them to the south.
Barrie and Midhurst are part of the same regional market and already have a high degree of social and economic integration. Midhurst development thus encourages local community-building and live-work solutions, integrating them into and balancing existing communities.
As the staff report recently approved by the County of Simcoe Council notes: “The [Midhurst] Official Plan Amendment has been reviewed and considered in accordance with the current, in effect County of Simcoe Official Plan (office consolidation 2007), the Provincial Policy Statement (2005) and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006),” and it, “…is consistent with the PPS [Provincial Policy Statement] and County Official Plan and in conformity with the Growth Plan”.
Although varying somewhat from the distribution the province proposes, the Midhurst plan meets all of the goals called for by the Provincial Growth Plan, including density levels, has had extensive public input earning local support, and makes good sense for our region. Hopefully the province will perceive this, and not delay it through an appeal to the OMB.

A version of this was published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Growth should bolster existing communities
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer and politician. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bigger Lowfoot means smaller footprint

The Ontario election is over, and neither of the parties promising a lower electricity price won. Now the news reports rates will increase a little on Nov 1, and a lot over the next 20 years. But you can still lower your own electricity costs right now. Back in the spring I told you about Lowfoot.com, a company that pays you to save electricity. Since then they have grown by leaps and bounds, and moved on to their second phase of operations – selling negawatts.
You have probably heard of megawatts, a unit of energy. “Negawatts” are a unit of energy saved – a negative watt. The cheapest electricity, with the least ecological harm, is what you never produce, because it’s not needed. Economic studies continue to show negawatts (conservation or efficiency) cost less than any new electricity supply: renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear.

But since governments and utilities have been slow to adopt this concept, private companies are starting to fill the niche. Toronto’s Lowfoot, launched in 2010, is a pioneer. They access your smart meter records to see how much electricity you normally use. Then, if you meet monthly conservation targets below this baseline, they pay you! You win when you use less electricity overall or shift your use from peak times to off-peak. Either way, you’re saving the province the cost of building new generation, lowering your own bill, and pocketing a tip.

But who’s paying? That’s the new part. Since this summer, they have been selling these “negawatts”, or saved electricity, to sponsors concerned about their own footprint. After reducing their own energy demand, sponsors offset remaining use by paying you to use less. Your diligent efforts to shrink your footprint earn you cash rewards. It’s like saving money twice by saving electricity once.

Sponsors so far have included software outfit Bluenotion, marketing company Hypenotic, law firm Baker & McKenzie, and enviro-job service WorkCabin. Each has bought negawatt savings from Lowfoot members like me.

There’s nothing to lose by signing up – no cost to join, and no penalty if you don’t make your target. But when you do save, you profit.

Another Toronto outfit called the Climate Shop has a similar program, except you earn either Aeroplan miles or donations to the United Way in your name. Myself, I’ll take the cash.

Lowfoot has rapidly expanded their market, from the initial 2.4 million eligible households in Ontario to over 5 million in northern California, over 6 million in Texas, even thousands in Alberta (a.k.a. Texas north), and soon millions more in BC. You could be the next client to do well by doing good through this Canadian innovation. Help the Earth, save money, get paid – get to it!

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Reduce your use and get paid in the process"

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Foodstock: taking stock of what must be preserved

In August I wrote of an exciting upcoming event, Foodstock. Well, it’s shaping up to be even bigger and better, not one to miss.

You may have seen something about it on CBC’s The National on Monday. If you did, you saw volunteers (including yours truly) prepping the site for a day of celebration of the food we eat and the land where it grows.

We celebrate now but that land is under threat. A company planning to tear off the soil and dig up Canada’s largest quarry has amassed huge tracts of Melancthon Township in neighbouring Dufferin County. Although they promise to restore some of the land to something like its previous state – at the bottom of a huge pit – it strains credulity to believe this activity can avoid serious harm to our air and water.

Several of Ontario’s major rivers headwater in this region. Excavation will alter the water table, introduce minerals into streams, and require tonnes of explosives with toxic residue. Farming, even on such rich soil, is touch-and-go already. How viable can it be when 600 million litres of water must be pumped out each day to prevent farms becoming lakes?

Which brings us to Foodstock, a chance to take stock of the value of food, water, and soil. Operations like this only add up on paper when the value of gravel is greater than the value of clean local food. Major chefs beg to differ, so over 100 top chefs will be there, each crafting a signature dish to highlight the value of our local food. Do the names Michael Stadtlander, Jamie Kennedy, or Anthony Walsh mean anything to you? If so, meet them and sample their fare face-to-face at Foodstock. From as far as Nunavut and Nova Scotia, from Toronto and even from Barrie, Canada’s most famous and caring chefs will be gathered like never before.

There are also over two dozen musical acts to entertain you while you wander and eat, including names like Sarah Harmer, Jim Cuddy, and Ron Sexsmith, MC’d by Jeremy Taggart of Our Lady Peace. A whole day of fun! Bring your family. Oh, bring your own plates and cutlery, and dress for the weather (including boots).

This outdoor event starts at 11 am this Sunday, October 16th and wraps up around 5 pm. For up-to-date participant lists and directions to the site, visit http://www.ndact.com/ or NoMegaQuarry.ca. It’s about an hour’s drive from Barrie; carpool to save money and parking space.

The event is pay-what-you-can, with funds raised to help save this land from the quarry plans. If you want to pitch in like me, there is still need for volunteers from early in the morning until into the evening. Contact davidwaters@remax.net to connect.

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Foodstock: Learn the value of clean local food"

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Columnists unethical, and oily on the facts.

When a news reporter gets a fact wrong, it’s usually an honest mistake they’ll happily correct if notified. But when a columnist gets the facts wrong, no-one seems to care. Their output is treated as opinion, and who can correct an opinion? Yet that is no excuse for printing outright false information when they really should know better. Even if the error serves their political bias.

Attacks on Ontario’s McGuinty government provide easy examples. I’m not a big fan of the premier, and I don’t support his party, but I don’t attack him with lies, either. So when I read in Christina Blizzard's February 16th column that “Wind and other renewable energy programs are largely responsible for soaring energy costs”, I rolled my eyes. Wind is barely 2% of our electric supply, and solar is so small it’s not even on the charts. Between them, they barely nudge our electric prices. Blame high bills on nuclear overruns and long-overdue grid upgrades. Since neither of those provide ammunition to fire at “the Dalton Gang”, the lies come out.

But things took a turn for the morbid this week, as Ezra Levant dumped on the accolades paid the late Jack Layton (“Funeral that became an NDP rally”, Aug 30). You might know Levant from his book declaring our tar sands operations to be “ethical oil” because they harm the Earth more than they harm humans.

I had my differences with Jack and don’t support his party, either, but I wouldn’t deny reality as Ezra has. First, he laments that Jack didn’t even sit for a day as Leader of the Opposition. Actually, he sat for several weeks in June, including a major filibuster. Did Levant miss that? He also opines Jack didn’t deserve a state funeral, not having achieved successes to “transcend our national divides”. Um, just who wiped the Bloc from the House? But the most damning claim is that eulogists could only talk of Jack’s opinions, not accomplishments, because “he really had none”. Well, tens of thousands of Torontonians begged to differ, honouring Jack’s many achievements as city councilor and committee chair.

Levant attributes this supposed lack of accomplishments to Jack’s never having “held executive office,” merely being opposition leader. Levant needs a better understanding of Canadian civics. Our Prime Minister is not our ruler – he sits as first among equals, and must have support of the House. And in 7 years of minority governments, many motions only passed with the support of Jack Layton’s NDP, for better or worse. Any accomplishment of the House of Commons is shared by all members, or at least those voting in favour; to take those from Jack is to rob the dead. Unethical, or just oily?

UPDATE: Mr. Levant has proven me wrong (sort of), by publishing a correction of his mis-statement on Jack's non-sitting as Leader of the Opposition. Now, can anyone find another source who pointed out Levant's error? Because I can't, which makes me believe his retraction is a direct response to my article/blog. So all welcome my new reader, Ezra Levant!

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

Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "To dismiss Layton's feats is to rob the dead"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Blacklisting artists is Franke-ly un-Canadian

When a great Canadian ascends the world stage, our nation is supportive. Actor, author, athlete, artist, or academic, we take vicarious pride in world recognition of our home-grown talent, like Christopher Plummer, Margaret Atwood, Wayne Gretzky, Emily Carr or Marshall McLuhan. We celebrate our Nobel laureates, Olympic gold medalists, platinum-selling recording artists, and Oscar-winning directors.

But of late have been exceptions of a disturbingly political nature. When the International Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, our government failed to recognize Canada’s prominent IPCC contributors; luckily the Green Party stepped up, spearheading a congratulatory ceremony on Parliament Hill (which Harper’s cabinet boycotted). Author and academic Michael Ignatieff was not lauded, but instead mocked in political attack ads, for his years as a respected Cambridge and Harvard professor. And now a Canadian artist is censored and blacklisted simply for challenging our government (through her art) to be more active on the climate file.

Through visual essays, Franke James blends science and art with storytelling, using their power not to preach but to engage viewers’ minds and hearts. She explores and illustrates topics like disaster preparedness, forest preservation, the health and environmental impacts of salon hair-dyeing, and of course, climate change. Her work is colourful, entertaining, accessible and informative. Not only that, it’s in demand internationally.

Canadians working abroad count on consular support. Whether a businessperson, artist, or whatever, our national brand grows when other countries appreciate us. Sometimes this involves government grants or lobbying, other times just the rubber stamp of approval from an embassy and some help reaching local media. The bar is set by quality, not political loyalty.

Or at least, that’s how it was. Under the Harper regime, things have changed. For having the audacity to challenge some Harper policies (or lack thereof), James has been blacklisted overseas. Not only was a promised $5000 grant pulled, she is denied even the basic support Canadian efforts abroad depend upon, and receive as a matter of course.

What’s worse, the foreign service has actively campaigned against her! A planned European tour was kiboshed after they “warned” her European corporate backer to pull sponsorship or face damage to their company. Without even token consular approval, private backing is difficult to secure; in the face of such threats, impossible.

For exercising her democratic rights of political expression and free speech, for questioning Harper’s tar sands promotion, she is branded as “speaking against the Canadian government.” James is neither an insurgent nor a rebel inciting violence – she is merely a thought-provoking artist.

If you’d like to learn more, or see what our government doesn’t want seen, visit http://www.frankejames.com/ and decide for yourself if your Canada includes the blacklisting of artists.

Originally published as my Root Issues colum in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Does your Canada include blacklisting artists?" .

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taters over craters: Quarry a bad use of land

When the combined powers of corporations and government seem to overpower all, don’t despair; recall the triumph of the fight to stop Dump Site 41.

That campaign succeeded because so many stakeholders came together: environmentalists, farmers, First Nations, scientists, and concerned urban and rural citizens. Elected officials eventually saw the writing on the wall and put more stock in public demand than in “no worries” reports from corporate consultants.

Linking arms in a coalition of caring, we prevented the potential poisoning of one of our cleanest water sources and sent notice that we are serious about reducing waste. Even better, stakeholders learned to work together effectively, and continue to do so as new corporate or government actions threaten the clean water, air, and soil so vital to our health and lives.

The new threat on the horizon is the Melancthon “mega-quarry”, a proposal to create the largest quarry in Canada, churning 2,316 acres of prime spud-growing land to gravel pit and limestone extraction. The project’s scale is staggering: 4000 truckloads in and out each day, an area 1/3 the size of Orillia scoured deeper than Niagara Falls. In digging 200 down feet, far below the waterline, the operation will need to pump out 600 million litres of water every day, forever. That’s almost ¼ as much water as is currently used by all Ontarians.

Over many years, Highland Companies bought up land on the pretext that they would continue the traditional use of potato farming. Now, their application reveals they don’t have any requirement to preserve farmland, or restore it after digging it up. Instead, Ontario’s Aggregate Resource Act puts gravel ahead of food. In response to this concern, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffrey quipped that the post-quarry land would make a nice golf course!

Highland believes that after the quarrying, “crater-farming”, requiring perpetual pumping, will somehow be a viable operation. Such fantasy boggles the mind. As Green Party leader Mike Schreiner has noted, our politicians must put food first.

There are many threads in the community struggle to save our soil, water and air from this threat, and this Saturday (August 20th) is a chance to engage your spirit in this cause. From 10 am to 2 pm Anishnabek First Nations and the North Dufferin Agricultural Community Taskforce will host a prayer lunch near Stayner, open to all faiths and nationalities. For more information, email Vicki_monague@live.ca or call 705-305-0125.

Another key upcoming event is Foodstock on October 16th, an outdoor festival/protest featuring 70 of Canada’s to chefs preparing local foods to highlight the value of our farmland over quarrying. More details to come, but save the day in your calendar for a delicious way to show your support for taters over craters.

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

(Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sorry world, we're doing Asbestos we can

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, printed under the title "Exporting asbestos a hypocritical practice"

Those who thought majority government would mean the end of Stephen Harper’s iron grip on his caucus are surely disappointed by Canada’s disgusting behaviour on asbestos.

On June 24th, our government embarrassed us to the world by standing alone to block asbestos from being placed on the UN’s list of hazardous substances. If you thought asbestos was an issue of the past, with today’s relevance only being its costly removal (including from Parliament Hill), you were wrong. It’s actually mined in a few locations in Quebec (including the town of Asbestos), and our government not only allows this, they spend our tax money and harm our international reputation promoting for export something we’ve decided is too dangerous to use here in Canada.

Listing it as a hazard would not ban the mining, export or trade of our asbestos. It would just provide notice to other countries that it is dangerous, allowing them to ban its import (if they chose) without penalty. It would inform countries that there are no safety protocols sufficient to eliminate the catastrophic risk of working with this substance.

Our government’s facetious excuse, that other countries should be responsible for regulations to protect their citizens from our poison, is the height of hypocrisy. It even contradicts the views of their own Libertarian wing, who prefer that such things not be regulated, allowing users to make their own informed decisions. But here our government is telling other nations to make regulations, yet refusing to give them the information they would need to make an informed choice.

But that’s where we get to the issue of muzzling the caucus. Chuck Strahl, former Conservative cabinet minister, is slowly dying from asbestos-related lung cancer. He’s not alone; according to the Worker’s Compensation Board, nearly a third of workplace-related fatalities are due to asbestos exposure. He dared to speak out against Canada’s pro-asbestos policies while in government, but his strongest messages have come now that he is retired and beyond political penalty. His son, who succeeded him to the apparently hereditary Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon seat, has been silent on the issue, as befits a backbencher under Harper’s watchful eye.

Even more disturbing is the silence from neighbouring Simcoe-Grey’s MP Kellie Leitch, MD. Where is the good doctor’s ethical commitment to put health above all other concerns, including political advantage? Outside of Harper’s caucus, the medical profession is rather united on the best course to deal with asbestos: a total ban. This position is endorsed by the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Canadian Public Health Association. Could Dr. Leitch not put aside crass politics to speak on behalf of public health? Or is that too much to expect in Harper’s Canada?

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

UPDATE: The Examiner received and published an excellent letter in response to this column. I believe it is worth addressing this issue again soon in another column. I will copy the letter below, as it will eventually fall off the Examiner site. I offer my condolences to the writer, and my respect for taking the time to tell her vital story.

MORE UPDATES: Two more letters in the Examiner on asbestos, and an article in the Globe & Mail echoing my key points.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Even the Barrie Examiner editorial stance now supports mine!

STILL UPDATING: At 5, this is now more letters than I've seen on any other topic in recent memory.

Debate over as far as asbestos is concerned

(RE: 'Exporting asbestos a hypocritical practice' in the Aug. 11 edition of the Examiner)

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins' column hit home.

On Sunday Aug. 8, my mother died of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that is caused from exposure to asbestos.

My sister and I were with her as she struggled through the day, breath by breath, each one a little more shallow than the previous. We knew what to expect as my father had died the same way only four years before. He worked with chrysotile asbestos, manufacturing insulation and pipes.

This is the same asbestos that is being exported to Third World countries where they, too, make insulation and pipes.

There is no cure, at present, for mesothelioma. There is no relief for mesothelioma. Although the latency period is anywhere from 10 to 50 years, once it shows up on a cat scan it is already too late.

Anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma will likely die in four to 18 months. My mother died in four months. She did not work with asbestos. It was brought home on my father's clothes, skin and hair.

Because it is an air-borne substance, she breathed it in when she shook off his clothes before washing them.

But once in the home, we all breathed it in, unknowingly. It is only now that we are starting to see those with para-occupational exposure getting sick and dying.

My four siblings and I are all at risk. The risk factor varies from child to child. It is determined on the number of years of exposure.

Everyone in the medical industry knows the risk of occupational and para-occupational exposure, including Simcoe- Grey MP Kellie Leitch.

The column was correct. Anyone more concerned about a political career over the health of the public is a hypocrite.

But perhaps Ms. Leitch misread the oath she should have taken as a doctor? Perhaps she should have signed the hypocritical oath instead of the Hippocratic Oath which states 'causing no harm...'.

Ms. Leitch must choose.

She must either stand up in Parliament and declare that because of her training as a doctor she cannot support the exportation of asbestos to India and other developing countries, or she must ask the medical association to revoke her license.


My mother fought courageously throughout her dying. She was selfless in the end, hoping that others would not have to suffer as she has.

Neither here, nor in India.

Heidi von Palleskre
Toronto

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beware the Sneaky Nuclear Tax

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; publised under the title "Don't tolerate the electricity shell-game".

Electricity may dominate the fall election, in terms of dollars and cents. But to make an informed choice, voters need all the facts. Sadly, few parties seem willing to present them.

The current Liberal government, and the PC opposition, both include new nuclear in their future supply plans. From our own history, this is a frighteningly expensive choice, one we’ll pay for either through higher electric bills or taxes. Our nukes have cost us, on average, 2.5 times sticker price. (And it’s not just Ontario; Finland, France, and New Brunswick all face massive cost overruns on current nuclear builds). That means a promised $16 billion project will actually cost us $40 billion. And sadly, the practice has been to pass all those cost overruns to you, the taxpayer. You can even see it on your monthly bill, as the debt retirement charge.

No other energy source gets this guaranteed taxpayer hand-out, only nuclear. If solar panels cost more than expected to install, or a wind turbine breaks down, we don’t pay a penny extra to cover it.

It has long been Green Party policy not to cover any nuclear cost overruns, and both the NDP and Liberal leaders have also recently made this pledge to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. The PC leader, however, has refused to respond, so presumably he plans to hand those cost overruns to you, in what Greenpeace has dubbed “Tim Hudak’s Sneaky Nuclear Tax.” Meanwhile, his anti-Green power messaging ignores the 57% of his own supporters who favour wind and solar initiatives.

A recent infographic by EnergySavvy.com shows that, for half the price of a new nuclear plant, efficiency retrofits reduce electric demand the same amount and create at least 4 times as many new local jobs. Plus, instead of paying more on your bill for the nuclear option, you save by using less energy. From a dollars and cents perspective, it’s a no-brainer. So why don’t more parties understand?

Another option is cheap hydro imports from Quebec, like Vermont just acquired. Even after setting up transmission lines, these would cost less than new nukes. So why are only the Greens committed to this course, with the NDP at least willing to explore the option? Why do the Liberal and PC plans make you to pay more for nukes?

Energy has costs, and we either pay now or pay (more) later. Wishing it away by pretending our debt has already been paid, or responding to high energy prices with a 10% discount or dropping the HST, isn’t going to save you money – just move the cost around. Either you, or your children, will pay. Don’t accept the electricity price pandering shell-game – demand real, fully-costed solutions.

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Getting clean without getting dirty

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Being clean can harm: our dirty little secret"

As a teen, I saw the “Law of Conservation of Dirt” on a friend’s fridge: “To get anything clean, you must get something else dirty. But you can get everything dirty without getting anything clean.”

It’s wry wit stuck with me for 25 years, but I have since realized an unintended, underlying truth: the harm we do to our Earth, and ourselves, in the name of “cleaning” is a dirty little secret. Harsh chemicals used to remove spots, stains or smudges get in our water supply; fragrances added to give a “clean” smell can harm our bodies; antibacterial additives in our soaps contribute to the evolution of untreatable “supergerms”.

Of course, the other dirty secret is the energy we spend creating and transporting chemicals, then disposing of them in our sewage treatment plants after use. Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve these problems all at once? Perhaps we can.

For years our family has used home-made cleansers based on simple grocery-store items like vinegar and baking soda. We’ve found them just as good at scouring counters and floors as the latest “new and improved” chemical/fragrance blend. But if you’re not a home mixer, a growing variety of environmentally-friendly non-toxic cleaners are on store shelves, pre-mixed and customized for dishes, windows, toilets, or whatever else needs cleaning.

But we spend much of our time outside the home, at school or work, in shopping centres, offices, or hospitals. How they clean affects both our health and our planet, yet they must also meet strict standards of cleanliness and can’t take chances with unproven products.

Well, the good news is there are green methods for industrial cleaning, too. One local distributor is Barrie’s Superior Solutions, who are hosting their first annual “Green Cleaning Solutions Open House” this coming Monday, July 25th. From 9 to 4 at Fendley Hall, 565 Bryne Drive, you’ll be able to meet experts on a number of affordable green options for cleaning your business or workplace, and try a “hands on” experience with their products.

You will see such things as a stand-on floor polisher which uses your own weight instead of heavy machinery, and is better for your back, too. You can learn about systems using special microfibre cloths and water to clean effectively without any chemicals at all. There are all manner of sustainable cleaning supplies and specialized non-toxic cleansers, concentrated to reduce shipping emissions. You can even try floor mats made from recycled plastic, to keep water and dirt away in the first place!

There will also be free refreshments and door prizes, including lunch and a round of golf for 2 at Tangle Creek. Where else could you have such fun talking dirty?

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The real functions of online petitions

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Online petitions only hold potential value"

The Internet Age promises amazing powers of action with minimal effort. But sometimes it really is too good to be true. Case in point: online petitions.

A piece of paper signed by enough local residents serves as proof positive that many people hold to a position strongly enough to sign their name to it, and want to see action taken (or, in some cases, prevented). In some jurisdictions a properly-formatted petition with enough valid signatures requires official response from government, or can trigger a review, referendum, or recall of an elected official. Petitions thus hold a noble place in our culture as a tool of mass political action.

But what happens when that tool crosses into the electronic world? Surely everyone with email has received at least one electronic petition appeal; the highly connected see them on a daily basis. Their goals vary widely, but their lure is the same: by typing your name and clicking a button, you have the power to improve the world. Why not do it? Clicking a button is the least you can do, right?

Actually, it is the absolute least. It is so easy to click the button to sign an online petition that (with rare exceptions) public officials pay them little or no heed. Unless you are an elector in the appropriate district, your signature holds no legal weight. Further, since your e-signature can’t be verified, it bears no weight at all.

Yet if online petitions are so powerless, why so many of them? The real strength of such a petition is not as a method of persuading higher powers, but of gathering contact information. By signing and passing it along, you equip the creators of a successful online petition with the names and emails of potential supporters, people who might be persuaded to do more than just click a button. These contact lists are then used for fundraising, or to try and get you to join an organization or take part in a (real world) activity. You may be asked to send a letter, fax, or email to a government member, actions which are far more effective than online petition-signing. Avaaz.org is very active at this, starting with petition drives that turn into fundraising drives for money to spend on advertising and lobbying politicians – sometimes with real effect.

Does this mean online petitions are useless? No; in fact, I recently signed two, one against the mega-quarry and one about asbestos (both subjects of future columns). Just don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve actually accomplished something by “signing”. Instead, know that you are merely taking the first step of connecting with a group that (hopefully) will involve you in more meaningful action tomorrow.

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

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Burgeoning groups quickly outgrow basements

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner

It’s great when citizens to come together to somehow improve the world, or at least their community. I’ve been involved with quite a few such organizations, ranging from registered charities and non-profits to ad-hoc local groups. One of the challenges such an initiative faces is where to have meetings.

Early group meetings usually begin either at a person’s home or a local café or bar, but rapidly outgrow those facilities. Meeting at a café or bar is problematic in that you may not get good seating, or it might be too noisy due to other patrons or music. What’s more, it is expected that each attendee will buy something, which might get expensive for some participants.

Meeting at someone’s home seems a good alternative, but it can feel awkward for new members to show up at a stranger’s home. Then you run into the “life’s like that” situations, when the host has to cancel at the last minute due to illness or some other family happenstance, leaving you scrambling for another location or meeting time.

Which leaves booking a meeting room. Many churches have meeting spaces they rent fairly cheaply, or maybe free if your group includes a congregation member. But their willingness to host might depend on the nature of your group or its mission. You can rent rooms at City Hall or the various rec centres, but that costs money your group might not have. If you were active years ago, you might recall when Zehrs offered free community room bookings (provided you bought their food), but now they charge a rental fee. Luckily, there are still some excellent sources of free rooms in Barrie, some you may not have been aware of.

The best-known is the Barrie Public Library. For group sizes ranging from 10 to 50, they have meeting rooms available for non-profits to book on a first-come, first-served basis. They’ll set up chairs and tables to suit your plans, have free wi-fi, and can provide a screen, whiteboard, or flipchart to help with presentations. The Kozlov café is on site, and in the larger rooms you can set up your own kettle or coffee machine. To find out more or to book, visit their http://www.library.barrie.on.ca/ or contact 705-728-1010.

Perhaps more unique to Barrie is what Steckley-Gooderham Funeral Homes offers: free bookings of their Sir Robert Barrie and Kempenfelt community boardrooms at their downtown and Minet’s Point locations, respectively. Each features a computer and wi-fi, a phone for someone call in to your meeting, and VCR/DVD players and projectors. They even serve complimentary coffee & tea! Like the library, these are first-come first-served. To book one of their excellent rooms, call Nicki at 705-721-1211.

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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eating in Season is Simply the Best

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Eating 'in season' foods helps to benefit all"

Throughout human history, our food grew and ripened around us. We ate seasonally: fiddleheads and asparagus in the spring, then rhubarb and strawberries bringing us into summer, with fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob leading into the bounty of tree fruit and tomatoes in the fall. We’d pickle or can foods picked at their peak to preserve their flavours and nutrients for later in the year.

But in recent decades, we’ve been spoiled by fresh food flown or trucked in from distant climes. First strawberries throughout the year, now we also see raspberries and blueberries on the grocer’s shelf in the winter or spring, courtesy of China, California, or Chile.

It’s gotten so bad that people often don’t even know what’s local, or what’s in season. A recent letter-writer expressed surprise that organic apples from the Barrie Farmers Market grew in Chile rather than Simcoe County. What surprised me was that someone expected local apples in May or June! Apples season here starts in late summer, with cold-stored local apples available through the winter in gradually diminishing quality and quantity, growing scarce by April. May or June? I wish!

Moving toward sustainability, our family has been filling our plate and pantry as much as possible with local food, which means eating produce as it’s harvested. Sometimes a challenge, it’s also fun. Pick-your-own at Barrie Hill Farms is a cherished family outing; self-picked berries top our morning cereal for months. We also love freezing them for later, and making all kinds of jams and jellies, combining hand-picked local berries with in-season Niagara-region stone fruits. Spread on home-made bread, it’s heaven for your mouth!

Whether from a CSA, farmers market, or your own garden, eating locally in season means winter menu staples are late-harvest vegetables that keep well in cold storage. Luckily, my wife has found numerous tasty ways to prepare carrots, parsnip, turnip, beets, and cabbage, especially some truly gourmet soups. Of course, one great resource is the Internet. But while a web search can give you a recipe for just about anything, often it involves sourcing exotic or out-of-season ingredients to supplement your main item, which sort of defeats the purpose.

That’s where our second secret weapon comes in: the wonderful book Simply in Season. This handy reference is organized along the agricultural calendar to provide great instruction on how to use each food as it comes into season, and more importantly, how to combine the foods that are in season together. Colour-coded with handy tabs showing which in-season foods are in each recipe, it is our most well-worn cookbook, a veritable bible for Barrie’s bountiful local foods.

Eating simply and in season helps re-attune our lives to the natural rhythms, rooting us in Nature’s wonders, courtesy of our local farmers. And with a great resource like this book, eating local in season needn’t be a chore. Instead, you can enjoy the superior taste and nutrition of the full variety of fresh foods, while supporting our local economy and ecology and your health, too.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Go Green at Staples on Saturday

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; a version of this was published under the title "Staples hosts first 'Go Green' ecofair event"

Transition Barrie has been working for a few years now to help plan a low-energy, sustainable future for our community. One thing is very clear – nobody can do this for us, we all have to learn and do our part. Events earlier this year like the E3 Summit and Ecofest have shown how stakeholders in Barrie are going green. What’s nice to see now is that business is helping to lead the way. This Saturday, local green services will be showcased as Staples Business Depot hosts their first Go Green event, so other businesses and families who want to green themselves can learn how.

In partnership with Transition, the 561 Bayfield St. (at Hanmer) Staples location is putting on an event for the whole community. To start, eco-friendly businesses will be showing off their products and services. You can see everything from environmental house-cleaning to rain barrels to local solar providers. Major retailers Rona and Staples will demonstrate how they can help you sustainably source your home and office needs. Earth Electric can help you save power, and Nifty Thrifty will demonstrate the re-fashioning of old clothing into new items.

Planning a move to new digs? Let Green Box Rental show you how to save time, money, and the environment when you do. And talk to the Green Realtor Karen Fox about how she can help you market or find a more ecological home. Let the Green Team of Back to Basics show you how they can provide for your landscaping needs with Barrie’s only totally emission-free service.

Recycling will be the order of the day, a chance for you to clear out those hard-to-dispose-of items. You can bring in your e-waste, your paint, batteries, and compact fluorescent bulbs, your older cell phones, your used ink & toner cartridges, even your old tires and they’ll be collected by GEEP, Rona, Cellcycle, Staples, and Emterra, respectively. Don’t let these hazards lie around, or escape into the waste stream.

And it will be fun for the whole family. Earth Day Canada is sponsoring a children’s area with seed plantings, crafts, games, and a gift bag where the kids can have supervised fun while parents browse the other booths. Sophie’s Place will host a charity BBQ to benefit the Special Olympics, and Dominos on Bell Farm Rd. will provide lunch for volunteers and participants.

So come out and Go Green – learn about savings and rebates, and enter the free draw for a $500 eco-prize pack. The event is free to attend, starts at 10 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m., so no matter what you have planned Saturday, you should be able to find time to swing by. You will be glad you did!

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The federal budget IS debatable

When the latest federal budget was released, coverage of it in our local daily was somewhat one-sided. Apparently that's because in the narrow window between the budget release and the story deadline, there was only time enough to interview our Conservative MP for his (predictably supportive) comments. However, the Examiner was kind enough to publish my reactions from the Green Party perspective as a letter to the editor, reprinted below.

Federal budget doesn't receive a passing grade [presumably the title refers to my education career]

In her outgoing address, Auditor General Sheila Fraser noted three key areas of persistent failure: the plight of First Nations communities, the threat from crumbling infrastructure and the crisis posed by a rapidly changing climate. These three areas were core elements of the 2011 Green Party platform. Sadly, none were addressed in the June 6 regurgitated federal budget, beyond token measures.

Surprisingly, climate impacts threatening economic recovery are mentioned several times, but without connection to climate change. On page 37, food prices are linked to 'weather-driven supply constraints'. Costs to Canadian infrastructure and compensation due to extreme weather (driven by climate change) include $72 million to repair storm surge damage to small craft harbours (page 105), melting permafrost compromising arctic ice roads requiring $150 million for the Inuvik -- Tuktoyaktuk highway (page 102), and $470 million to farmers after extraordinary spring floods. These amounts are the tip of a very large iceberg, as Ms. Fraser warned.

On the fiscal front, extending corporate tax cuts helps only already-profitable corporations, while increasing employment insurance (EI) premiums $8 billion over the next five years squeezes the bottom line for all employers. If the goal is boosting jobs, this makes no economic sense. Neither do the billion-dollar annual handouts to the fossil fuel industry, or the extra $100 million in nuclear subsidies.

One bright light for local business was the restoration of ecoEnergy retrofits [as I have called for in previous columns].

Overall, not much good news, and not a great omen for the next four years.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins
National Revenue critic
Green Party of Canada