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 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

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 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.