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 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. 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 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.