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, 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 or 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 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.