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 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 DubĂ©, 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, and about local Dec 6 events at
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.