Wednesday, December 19, 2012

We can LIC our energy problems

Thanks to a new provincial regulation, there is now a cost-free way for municipalities like Barrie to fund homeowners improvements to save or even generate energy.
I’ve written before on the benefits of solar, and of retrofitting to shrink gas or electric bills. For both, the main obstacle is cash. Although energy savings and renewable income return more than they cost, you must put up the money first, then pay it back over time. By borrowing, you can avoid going out-of-pocket, but that won’t work for everyone. Some can’t qualify for a loan, while others are wary of taking on debt. Selling your home before the loan is repaid is also a concern.
But there’s a new way to finance these projects. The municipality funds it through a bond, taken at the lowest interest rate, then recoups the charges through an increase in the improved home’s property tax, called a local improvement charge (LIC).
Normally LICs used to fund road upgrades or sewer improvements, and homeowners have no choice. But the new regulation allows for voluntary agreements with homeowners, for improvements to private buildings rather than public works.
Your monthly utility savings or renewable income repay the loan. There is no debt in your name – the loan is registered to the property itself. If you sell, the obligation (along with the benefit of improvement) transfers to the new owner, while if payments aren’t made, the City can undertake a tax sale, so they can’t lose. The City’s bond is paid down by the homeowner payments, so the cost to the City is nil. The LIC can be set to recover all administrative costs and even generate a small profit. It’s a real win-win situation!
Benefits of this LIC program are many. It will improve the quality and value of our housing stock. It will reduce energy use and pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. It can help people with low income or poor credit, or improve affordable housing without extra cost. The work will create local jobs and support local businesses.
The rules allow for a variety of renewable energy or efficiency projects. These could include new insulation, new windows, a new furnace or air conditioner, solar panels or thermal water heating, etc.
All that is required for this to happen is for the City to take the initiative in setting up a program to make this funding available to residents. If you’d like to see that in 2013, please contact your ward councillor.
And in an update on solar power co-ops, the province has just opened up a narrow window for applications, which closes January 18th. So if you’re still interested in the good clean return of a solar investment, you can contact or for information on how to join.
Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Solar energy program can generate revenue".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, December 14, 2012

Putting your back into urban canopy

I’ve written before of local author Gwen Petreman’s passion for trees and her personal campaign to increase Barrie’s urban tree canopy to over 30% from its current level of just 25%.
Mature and growing trees affect more than just aesthetics; a glimpse at the real estate pages will show they raise the value of a home or street. But their benefits, both environmental and financial, stretch far beyond that.
Trees are nature’s sponges. Their leaves filter air pollutants like smog. Although their pollen may cause some seasonal allergy suffering, they provide a year-round benefit to asthmatics or anyone else sensitive to air quality. Their roots help to clean soil and the water passing through it that recharges the streams, lakes, and aquifers providing our drinking water.
Trees also provide hidden financial benefits. By catching and delaying rainwater, they reduce the cost to build, repair, and maintain storm water systems that comes out of your property tax bill. By cleaning air they reduce illness and absenteeism, and by cleaning water they help cut water treatment costs. Preventing soil erosion reduces street- and storm drain-cleaning costs, too.
They also improve shelter. When not cut down for materials or to make room for buildings, trees around our homes make life more affordable. In summer, leafy trees provide shade and evapotranspiration, lowering temperatures around your house and reducing cooling costs. In winter, trees shelter your home from winds that draw out heat, saving your heating bill. Over a 50-year lifespan, one tree provides the equivalent of $160,000 of environmental services by creating oxygen, cleaning water & air, and preventing soil erosion!
But urban trees struggle. Many are cut down for development, of course. Newly-planted trees take many years to establish. Without sufficient soil or unpaved space, tree growth will be stunted, and the limited root systems of younger trees are more vulnerable to climate change effects like drought. When large areas are developed all at once and planted with trees the same age, the city faces coordinated die-offs as they reach the end of their lifespan around the same time. And pests can be a huge burden, including the expected arrival of the emerald ash borer imperiling 180,000 Barrie trees.
Luckily there are crusaders like Gwen Petreman of Living Green bringing together partners to replace and expand our tree canopy. For their annual charity day on Monday, December 17th, Barrie Chiropractic & Health Services Centre at 55 Cedar Point Dr. will donate all proceeds to Living Green’s tree-planting initiatives. If you could use a massage, adjustment, or other wellness service, please drop in and help trees while getting help for yourself. The money raised will be paired with funds from Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s Watershed Program to pay for tree planting along the Huronia Buffer.
Watch this column for notice of the spring planting day when you can put your back into it, or on Monday, let Barrie Chiropractic & Health pamper your back and support trees at the same time!
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Expanding tree canopy benefits us all"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Green gifts: a plot to use less chemicals

Christmas approaches, and why not buy something local, organic, or do-it-yourself – or something that’s all three!
On December 1st registration opened for the 2013 season of Barrie’s community gardens at Sunnidale Park off Coulter Street and at Golden Meadow Park by Hurst Drive, with possibly another in north-east Barrie coming this spring. (You might recall I wrote about these back when they were just getting started up in 2010.)
Plots book up quickly, so if you (or a loved one) care to garden this year, sign up now. A regular 5 X 15 foot plot is just $20 for the whole season, a double plot (10 X 15) only $40 (plus HST). That fee includes gardening from April 1 to October 31, compost fertilizer, and use of a shed full of handy tools like shovels, wheelbarrows, and rakes.
Previous gardening seasons have been successful, so we expect to see every plot booked this year. More gardeners means the gardens can thrive and grow, and there is always a warm welcome for volunteer coordinators who can share time or skills.
Each gardener is responsible for keeping their own plot weeded and neat, which takes only about 3 hours per week. To sign up, visit and enter “community garden” in the search box.
If gardening isn’t for you, or you have your own garden space, here’s another organic gift suggestion: soap berries, or soap nuts. These are the dried berries from a bush grown in the Himalayas which resemble nuts or acorns, that you use in place of laundry detergent.
You put 3-5 of these nuts into a little cloth drawstring bag which goes into the washing machine with your laundry. (For a cold wash, pre-soak them in warm water for 10 minutes first). They contain natural surfactants that work like a gentle laundry soap and get your clothes clean without any harsh or irritating chemicals or perfumes. Since you can re-use them for several loads, a single sack lasts many months, and they work fine in energy-saving HE machines like ours.
I’m always skeptical of alternate no-soap laundry systems, because I know that using the over-generous recommended amount of laundry soap leaves some detergent in your clothes after each cycle. Then, when you test a “soap-free” system, the leftover soap comes out and does the actual washing, tricking you into believing the no-soap system works. So to test these, we used them exclusively for about 6 months. They kept working just fine long after any soap residue was gone from our clothes or washer. They were also a successful entrant on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.
I confidently recommend soap nuts, an effective organic alternative to chemical laundry detergents. They come in different sizes and brands. The one I use is called Earth’s Berries, and is available for purchase at Bodystream at 51 King St in Barrie.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Community gardens really can grow on you".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

No batteries required to enjoy these local works

Publishing your ideas used to mean overcoming many barriers. But today, those with a drive to see their work in print can enter the system easier and sooner. Case in point are a couple of young Barrie women whose children’s books could find their way under your tree this Christmas.
One has partnered with experienced local author Gwen Petreman on Gwen’s seventh picture book. This retired teacher writes engaging tales that engage children’s minds and present interesting facts to supplement the story. Her latest is The Weird Week. For this project, Gwen wanted to find an illustrator so she could focus on story and design. Luckily, through a chance meeting at the local hair salon, she learned of Charlit Floriano, a talented student of illustration at Sheridan College. Charlit recently won an international contest to design the album cover for English indie-rock band Florence + the Machine and has done a wonderful job creating the colourful, whimsical creatures of this story.
Gwen’s other passion is increasing Barrie’s tree canopy, so she is donating 10% of all sales from now to Christmas toward Living Green’s tree-planting projects. More on these in a future column. Gwen also does free meet-the-author presentations in schools; to book her for your classroom, email
Another local young author, Bailey Thompson, was so inspired by her gerbils’ antics that she decided to build three series of books around them, each illustrated with real photographs of her subjects acting out the story. She’s spent the last four years taming and training gerbils to act on a green screen, to the point that they appear to listen to the scene and act it out with precision!
Since no publisher could match her ambition to publish a new title every month, Bailey started her own publishing house, Gerbil Meets Mouse. She is now preparing three series for release: Gerbs in the House, a father & son who escape their cage to live in a Victorian dollhouse, Melvin, a hat-loving gerbil and his fantastical dreams, and EcoGerbs, on a mission to change the world. 
Gerbs in the House: The Discovery is available for pre-order in a special expanded edition due for release December 10, with the regular version coming February 15th, and another book on the 15th of each following month. You can order them all at
You may have seen the Facebook post urging you to buy local this year, or hope to shun the preponderance of electronic toys on offer. Thanks to authors and illustrators of this caliber, you can buy something local that your children will treasure and that won’t annoy everyone with beeps, pows, and pings. No batteries required to enjoy these brilliant visual stories.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Flexitarianism might be the diet for you

Last week’s Barrie visit from NHLer-turned-activist Georges Laraque sparked discussion about what constitutes a healthy, sustainable, or ethical diet.
Georges is vegan: not only does he not eat meat, but no animal products at all, such as eggs or dairy. He quit cold turkey (or cold tofu?) after seeing Earthlings, a film depicting the abysmal treatment of livestock in our industrial food system. He has also found his vegan diet of foods like those at local restaurant Rawlicious cured his hypertension and asthma, feels much better after eating, and has no problem maintaining a strong and healthy physique.
I went veggie over 20 years ago, upon learning the extreme environmental impact of the meat industry. Depending on the study, a pound of red meat consumes the energy, water, or soil of 10 pounds of plant food. Essentially, we feed 10 pounds of grain to an animal for each pound of meat. Clearly, this isn’t the most efficient use of farmland. Worldwide, about half the food grown is fed to livestock, so if we all went vegetarian, we could feed as many people using half the land.
But unlike Georges, I didn’t cut out all animal proteins. Swearing off beef and pork, I was too fond of cheese and eggs to forgo them. I later resumed eating chicken, which uses only about 3 times the resources of vegetables, and fish, which can be sustainably caught, so I was a “pollo-pesce-ovo-lacto-vegetarian”. What a mouthful!
Over the years, I’ve gone back to other meats, mainly from local organic free-range sources. Farms supplying our table use livestock as part of their sustainable nutrient cycle: animals graze or eat food waste, their manure restoring the soil. We see the humane conditions they are raised in, nothing like the cruel factory-farming featured in the more alarming documentaries.
Yet I still eat less meat than the average Canadian. And as I was reminded by the new caterer Urban Acorn, there’s a term that describes me: flexitarian, one who practices sustainable, healthy eating by following a plant-based diet which may include moderate animal consumption.
Flexitarians are closer to vegetarian than the average person, but aren’t dogmatic about what they eat. Meals may include sustainable seafood, small amounts of (preferably organic) meat, or dairy. But overall their carbon footprint is below average.
Some say the biggest way to help the environment is to go veg. But if the committed carnivore in you refuses to become a virtuous vegan, then try the path of flexitarianism. Just follow the simple directives of food author Michael Pollan: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Try to know where your food comes from and how it’s raised; eat local when possible. If your food dollars recycle in the local economy and you are comfortable with the ethics of how it’s produced, or better yet can visit the farms yourself, your meal will sit much better.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Monday, November 19, 2012

Rick the Barber a cut above the rest

One can never predict the paths Life will take us down. One election, while canvassing a house on a nearby street, I met the proprietor of a neighbourhood barber shop. He agreed to put my Green Party sign on his lawn, and I promised I’d drop by the next time I needed a trim.
Well, I kept my promise, and since then every hair cut has been from Rick the Barber. (You may remember him from the Time to Care event). It’s been perfect for me, because the 15-minute walk to his shop is a great constitutional. But even better, he does a better cut, in less time, than the cut-rate mall salons I used to frequent. For some reason the ladies there would never cut my hair short enough; it took half an hour and repeated requests to get them to trim it how I wanted. Rick gets it right the first time, saving me about 20 minutes. Yet his price is the same as theirs; he doesn’t charge a premium for better service.
The nice thing about Rick’s quick work is that even if I’m not the first in line, it’s never a long wait – at most, I have 10 minutes to catch up on the latest in the world of sports, cars, or hunting & fishing, the contents of his magazine rack. Although none of those are my usual topics, at least it beats fashion magazines or catalogues of unlikely hairstyles!
Getting back to my theme: Rick’s life also took an unpredictable path. Born at RVH and raised in Barrie, he started in the construction trade, with two decades of bricklaying and masonry. But helping his wife at her salon while laid off one winter, he was caught by a labour inspector and cited for not having the proper license. He agreed to join an apprenticeship program, and in 1991 completed barber courses at George Brown college and proudly posted his license to cut (although the inspector has never returned).
Since then, he’s sometimes worked in his wife’s salon, sometimes on his own. Today, she works from home and he runs a small barber shop at Dunlop & Anne. He’s there full time, Tuesday through Saturday; if you need a haircut that’s quick, smart, and affordable, it’s the place to go.
Something special in the works is the antique iron, wood, and leather original Koken barber chair Rick is restoring in his spare time. At about 125 years old, it’s a real piece of history. And once it’s in working order, you can settle into that chair for a trim and be a part of that history – at no extra charge! I’m looking forward to it.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Teachers are not the enemy, unless you treat them as such.

On October 23, the Barrie Advance carried an editorial about the current stalemate between Ontario's government and teachers. You can read it at this link, and I've copied the text below. I responded the next day with this Letter to the Editor, which was finally printed in the November 13th edition of the Advance.

In your editorial "Teachers must stay dedicated" of October 23rd you state "the Catholic ... systems complied and reached settlements that their teachers understood and accepted."
In fact, Catholic teachers did not accept. The Ontario Elementary Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) signed with the Ministry of Education without consulting their members before or after. It was even specified that they could NOT take it to their membership for a vote. Instead, the OECTA presidents were told this was the deal and they would have to support it. In response, three OECTA locals have filed unfair bargaining practices against their own union; some locals are looking at switching from OECTA to the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
So whether or not the new deal was fair or warranted, Catholic teachers were never given the opportunity to agree or object. The only understanding was that they would shut up and comply. And that's what's wrong with the entire process: the refusal of our government to even try and deal in good faith with our teachers. Instead, they cast them as the enemy by denying them the opportunity to be a willing part of the process of helping balance Ontario's budget, even though they were open and ready to do so. Teachers could have been part of the solution, but instead the province declared that they were the problem.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins
Barrie, ON

Here is the text of the original editorial. 
Teachers who put time, effort and their very hearts into their jobs, and who give children every opportunity to succeed, are treasured.
Yes, there are some teachers who leave parents (and probably their peers) mystified as to their motivations and priorities, but it’s fair to say that most teachers do care about the welfare of the children in their classrooms.
We hope those teachers will continue to show their dedication in the face of mounting union pressure to diminish the quality of their work, commitment and professionalism.
On the heels of suggestions that teachers in the public system should scale back extracurricular activities comes a directive to minimize comments on elementary report cards.
This from a union leadership that contaminated radio airwaves a few weeks ago with promises that students’ interests would not be compromised, despite their ongoing beef with the provincial government.
That beef has been well documented. Last spring, in a bid to address a massive debt, the provincial government urged teachers’ unions to negotiate changes to their contract.
The Catholic and French systems complied and reached settlements that their teachers understood and accepted. Wages were frozen and limits placed on the benefit that previously allowed teachers to stockpile sick days for a sweet payoff at retirement.
The public teachers’ unions, however, took the summer off, in essence daring the province to make good on its threat to impose a deal.
And now, having abdicated their responsibility to ensure public teachers got the best possible arrangement with Queen’s Park, union leaders are screeching at Premier Dalton McGuinty’s supposed duplicity and, worse, encouraging teachers to use kids as leverage.
Teachers may have a right to be angry with the government, but they should also be angry with a union leadership that dropped the ball this summer and now wants to put them in the position of having to compromise their commitment and face upset children and angry parents.
We hope teachers resist the union’s pressure to do the wrong thing. They can still keep the promise made in those radio ads, despite union bosses whose motivations and priorities leave us mystified.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Big Mouth and Big Georges the big events in Barrie this week

The big US election is over, but there are some pretty “Big” events coming up in Barrie this week.
First is a special benefit for Barrie’s own “Big Mouth”, Dan Dunlop. I first caught Dan shortly after moving to Barrie in 1999, via his Rogers TV live call-in show. A few years later, this York Police news-story-of-the-year recipient and Seneca Radio & TV graduate took it to the streets with his weekly “Big Mouth” show, entertainingly blending high-energy human interest topics with comedy and winning 2005’s Impression Award.
I recall being thoroughly entertained by Dan’s “Baron of Barrie” short when it came before our judging committee for the Barrie Film Festival, and was happy to select it for screening, where it was very well received by our audience.
Dan has carved out his own space over recent years, working independently on music and film production, including a piece on Barrie’s history planned for a 2013 release.
But independence brings risk. Recently Dan survived a hair-raising accident resulting in hospitalization, cast, staples, surgery, and lengthy convalescence. Although on the mend, it has kept him from working and put a huge strain on his finances, with no sick days or benefits to draw upon. Luckily, the community Dan generously entertains is coming together to give back, with a special benefit concert & dinner this Sunday, November 11th at the Spotlight Event Centre, 41 Essa Rd.
Festivities and live entertainment run from 2 to 8 PM at $10 to attend, or $20 including the roast beef dinner served at 5 by our friend Rose Romita. Having enjoyed Rosie’s cooking, I know this is a great deal, and it’s for a great cause, so I look forward to seeing you all there.
One fun thing to find on YouTube is Dan’s interview with Battle of the Blades participants Anabelle Langlois and Georges Laraque. The “Big Mouth” convinced “Big Georges” to sing Hotel California on camera, showing what a great sport Laraque is off the ice, especially when he can support a good cause, like relief aid for Haiti.
And as I mentioned last week, “Big Georges” will also be in Barrie this coming Thursday November 15th, presented by the Green Party of Canada. What could be more Canadian than having an NHL star as the party’s deputy leader? Not only did he fight for his teammates, he also fights for the environment and animal rights. The public is invited to meet Georges at 7 PM at the Ferndale Banquet Hall (next to the Simcoe Building Centre) to learn about his important causes or get photos and autographs. Special fans can attend a VIP reception before the main event – email or call 705-730-7591 for more information.

UPDATE: I am sad to learn that Dan "Big Mouth" Dunlop passed away yesterday.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Fundraiser for 'Baron of Barrie'"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, November 2, 2012

Georges Laraque coming down the Pipeline for Barrie

Since I entered federal politics in 2004, minority government meant maintaining a constant state of readiness, because no matter how recent the last, the next election could be right around the corner. But now with a solid majority in Ottawa, four years will be blissfully election-free. Gone is diligent door-knocking, frantic fundraising, or political posturing – for now.
So what do politicians do in this long inter-election period? For guidance, I look to our perennially-popular MP Patrick Brown. Between distant elections, primary activities seem to be flipping pancakes, skating with NHLers, and deep discussions about national policy. (Well, two out of three ain’t bad!)
Drawing on that example, we are hosting a couple of interesting events. The first is on American election day. Who wins will have a huge effect on the Keystone XL pipeline to connect Alberta tar sands with the world’s customers via tankers in the ecologically-sensitive Gulf of Mexico. Will the Northern Gateway cross BC instead, drawing more tankers to our own vulnerable coast? What about Enbridge’s plans to reverse, increase, and change the contents of pipelines crossing southern Ontario? How do we feel about their record of spills (and spills, and spills…) in our own backyard?
To discuss this, come to our “Pipelines or Pipe dreams?” discussion at 7:45 PM this Tuesday, November 6, at 89 Dunlop St. E. (back entrance).
Barrie is Hockey Town, as Patrick has amply proven. So it’s time for our own NHL visit, from Oilers, Coyotes, Penguins and Canadiens star enforcer Georges Laraque, a fascinating mix of contrasting elements. Inspired by Jackie Robinson, he rose above racism to the elite ranks of the last “white” professional team sport. This strict vegan maintains an impressive 6’4” 255 lb fighting trim without consuming animal proteins. Despite a career as a professional enforcer tasked with intimidating and fighting opponents, “Big Georges” is well-known in the community as a humanitarian, philanthropist, and constant volunteer for good causes, visiting hospitalized children, campaigning to rebuild hospitals in his ancestral Haiti, championing animal rights and a sustainable environment. You may have seen him with Canadian champion figure skater Anabelle Langlois in Battle of the Blades.
Beyond hockey and charity, he puts his money and name to a raft of sustainable endeavors. He co-owns Crudessence raw food restaurants in Montreal. He marketed energy-saving synthetic ice sheets, and promotes vertical farming to sustainably grow local organic food right in our cities. Oh, and did I mention he’s deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada?
Meet this fascinating man right here in Barrie on November 15th for a free reading from his autobiography “Georges Laraque, the story of the NHL’sunlikeliest tough guy”, at the Ferndale Banquet Hall (beside Simcoe Building Centre) at 7 PM, following a special VIP reception. Contact or call 705-730-7591 for more information.
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Georges Laraque skates through town Nov. 15"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 25, 2012

3 flavours of sunny delight for Barrie

Shifting from our fossil-fuel based economy to a renewable one is expensive but inevitable, so we must stop investing in the carbon economy now; every investment locks us in to an unsustainable and unaffordable future for that much longer. Far cheaper in the long run to only invest in sustainable infrastructure that needn’t be replaced, or force us to burn yet more carbon.
Although we can’t control what government does (especially when prorogued), we can invest in our own community’s renewable power directly. And that’s also important because we are more secure when we create energy right here instead of having to pipe it in from distant gas fields or nuclear plants.
The good news is that there are now at least three different ways for Barrie residents to move us off carbon, increase local energy generation, and receive a good financial return for doing it.
The simplest is microFIT: install up to 10 kilowatts of solar panels on your roof and receive almost 55 cents per kw/h you produce over the next 20 years. The drawback? You must finance around $50,000 yourself, which is why my own project took a couple of years to set up. But don’t despair. There are also two different co-operative solar models recruiting members in the Barrie area.
One of them, EthoSolar, groups many property owners together into a single unit. You still provide a location to put up panels, but the panels are purchased and installed in bulk to save you money. After your $100 co-op membership fee, you can then finance the rest through the co-op’s long-term standard loan agreement at a fixed rate. That means you’re never out of pocket, because each year’s income covers the loan payments, plus money left over. Have a prime location for solar power but can’t easily pull together the start-up cost? This plan is for you.
Another plan, being arranged in partnership with the Options for Green Energy co-op, features each member purchasing one or more $5,000 equal shares. The shares will be combined to set up a single, large-scale rooftop project that’s already been registered under older, more generous rates. Each $5,000 will begin paying 5% per year, increasing to 6% and then 7% over the course of the 20-year contract. At the end, you even get your original $5,000 back. In effect, it works just like a long-term escalator bond. This co-op is suitable for an investor with money to invest but no location for panels.
Timelines are tight and opportunities may close in the new year, so if you are ready for your place in the sun, Barrie is ready for you now! For specific details about EthoSolar, contact or 705-795-6140. To learn about the OPTIONS co-op, contact And for microFIT, visit
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "There are ways to move away from using carbon"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We will pay the price, but we will not count the cost

“If we keep our pride though everything is lost, we will pay the price but we will not count the cost”
As Rush performed their song Bravado Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre, this phrase resonated with today’s situation. The fall session of Parliament has been bizarre to witness. From the government comes ridicule of the NDP cap-and-trade proposal for greenhouse gases, even though the Conservatives themselves proposed the same approach in the 2008 election. Across the floor, the NDP deny their plan is a carbon tax, even though it would force those releasing carbon to pay a price. Both are putting spin and pride before the interests of Canadians and the world.
By opposing a price on carbon, what both a cap or tax would mean, they block the best way to stave off further global warming. There is simply no denying the cost that climate change will put upon us all, starting with the neediest in our own communities and the poorest among nations. We can’t wish it away. The only fair response is to ensure those who demand fossil energy, who benefit and profit from extraction of resources, who cause deforestation and soil erosion and ocean acidification, know and pay the true cost of their actions. Because if they get out of paying it, the rest of us must pick up the tab; we will pay the price.
Climate change is already eroding global GDP by 1.6 percent, costing $1.2 trillion a year. In human terms, almost 5 million a year die from fossil fuel pollution or its consequences. Putting a price on pollution and greenhouse gas emissions is the surest way to shift our economy away from waste and toward clean systems.
Some insist carbon pricing would harm our prosperity, yet the opposite is true. Bureau of Labor statistics show that the “greener” an industry or region, the greater its job growth. Meanwhile, Canada’s shift in emphasis away from value-added goods and services toward extraction of resources like oil, gas, and forests has reduced our international competitiveness, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Even worse, our resource sector’s voracious appetite for investment capital is putting more and more of our economy under foreign control.
The biggest myth about carbon pricing is that it would be a tax on everything. False! As long as carbon tax revenues are used to lower other taxes or provide an equal rebate, they won’t make life any more expensive, as BC has already proven. What carbon pricing will do is reward those with a smaller ecological footprint (including the poor), and spur much-needed innovation in our economy, the true driver of sustainable prosperity.
So our governing Conservatives and opposition NDP should stop their bickering against carbon pricing, and agree on a system to implement as part of a much-needed national energy strategy. The sooner, the better for our environment and our economy, our planet and our prosperity.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Bickering won’t fuel national energy plan"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Water pressure

Back in May of this year I wrote a couple of columns about the silliness of drinking so much bottled water in a society where clean tap water is so abundant. Well, there are big interests with big money at stake, because putting a penny of tap water in a bottle and selling it to you for a dollar is a pretty high margin business. 

Today I learned that, sadly, the City of Guelph seems to have been convinced by the bottled water lobby to pull a screening of a documentary about the issue. In Barrie, we've also seen similar pressure from the industry, and below are a series of letters that ran in the local paper in response to my column, plus the (current) final result for Barrie.

This was the first letter, in response to my first column, which spawned my second column.

Banning bottled water not the answer (May 8)

(Re: 'Plenty of ways to keep our beautiful city squeaky clean' in the May 3 edition of the Examiner)
I read with interest Erich Jacoby-Hawkins' column. In the piece, Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins writes that one way to keep Barrie's public spaces cleaner is to "refuse bottled water."
While he is to be commended for his commitment to environmental sustainability, Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins is focused on banishing from use a legal, federally- regulated food product found in a 100% recyclable bottle -- and the healthiest beverage found in a plastic container.
The industry that produces these products also funds a minimum of 50% of every curbside, depot and public spaces recycling program in Canada, including those in Barrie.
In partnership with five municipalities in four provinces over the last three years, Nestlé Waters Canada and its industry partners have funded pilot public spaces recycling programs with the objective of launching these initiatives provincewide.
The first permanent program in North America was established in Manitoba in 2010. The Canadian beverage industry is confident more provinces will come on stream with similar offerings in the years to come.
Independent waste audits from these pilots have confirmed that plastic beverage containers, of which bottled water is a small percentage of the total beverage mix, represent about 1% to 4% of litter in public spaces and/or recyclables found in garbage containers.
Achieving "squeaky clean" public spaces requires installing recycling infrastructure and supporting it with continuous public education -- not banning bottled water and, thus, infringing on Barrie residents' fundamental right to consume the beverage of their choice, wherever it may be.
John Challinor, Nestle Waters Canada, Milton
In my defense, my friend Don McNeil wrote this letter:

Water bottle issue 'muddied': LETTER OF THE DAY (May 14)

Nestle Waters Canada has a hired gun and he has trained his sights on Barrie. The problem
for Nestle's John Challinor is he keeps missing his target when he is not firing blanks.
Mr. Challinor, and his paid-for opinions in the defence of single-use plastic water bottles, missed their mark when he claimed Barrie Examiner columnist Erich Jacoby-Hawkins has called for a ban on the sale of bottled water in a recent article.
Mr. Challinor wrote his diatribe based on three words in Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins' column: "Refuse bottled water."
Actually, Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins never mentioned the word ban or even proposed one.
Also, Mr. Challinor defended his product, boasting of partnerships with five municipalities in four provinces, to fund pilot public spaces recycling programs proclaiming the first
permanent program in North America was established in Manitoba in 2010.
However, he fails to mention that, the following year, the Manitoba government actually banned the use of provincial funds to purchase single-use plastic water bottles and four Manitoba municipalities and two of that provinces' three universities have banned the sale of bottled water while the third is installing hydration stations with the hopes of a bottle ban.
Mr. Challinor also mentioned how he hoped the Nestle-led initiative would spread nationwide, while failing again to mention nearly 100 municipalities, including six provincial and two territorial capitals, have banned the sale of bottled water.
Those communities have been joined by nearly 40 universities, colleges and school boards. It almost seems Mr. Challinor is actually selling 'muddied water'.
I earlier stated Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins, in his article critiqued by the Nestle rep, never mentions the word ban or even proposes one, but it is a great idea. In fact, the Council of Canadians approached the City of Barrie in March 2012 with hopes city hall will join the growing roster of blue communities across the country in protecting our water in three important ways.
One, banning the sale of water bottles in public facilities and municipal events.
Two, commit to publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.
Three, officially recognize water as a human right.
At the end of the day, Challinor is a Nestle executive whose motives need to be questioned. Our interest is purely altruistic.
Don MacNeil, Simcoe Region (Ontario) Chapter of Council of Canadians

Which drew this response from Mr. Challinor

Bottled water not banned (May 22)

(Re: 'Water bottle issue muddied' in the May 15 edition of the Examiner)
I read with interest Don MacNeil's the letter.
While I studiously avoid he said-she said debate in the pages of local newspapers, Mr. MacNeil makes a number of statements about bottled water that have long been confirmed as false - mythology one typically finds on anti-bottled water activist websites, including the Council of Canadians.
Contrary to what was stated, the province of Manitoba has not banned the sale of bottled water in its facilities, as a letter to me, dated Dec. 13, 2011, from Manitoba Conservation Minister Dave Chomiak will confirm.
A copy has been filed with the editor of the Examiner.
To date, 120 local governments across Canada have formally rejected resolutions to ban the sale of bottled water in their facilities. Twenty-eight municipalities, four school boards and 12 colleges and universities have banned the sale of the product.
Most telling is the fact that several thousand local jurisdictions have determined there are more important matters to consider than bottled water, like repairing aging water and sewer infrastructure, improving local service delivery and keeping taxes low.
John Challinor, Nestle Waters Canada (Guelph)

Meanwhile, Mr. Challinor had also written a letter in response to my second column:

Column dilutes water facts (May 18)

(Re: 'City heads must leads residents back to the taps' in the May 10 edition of the Examiner)

I read with interest the column written by Erich Jacoby-Hawkins. While I studiously avoid he said/she said debate through the editorial pages of local newspapers, the comments by Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins require a reply.

In the piece, he makes numerous statements about bottled water that have long been confirmed as false - mythology one typically finds on anti-bottled water activists' websites, like the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
For example, independent research firm Quantis International ( found that bottled water has the lightest carbon footprint of any bottled beverage, whether measured by water use, petroleum product use or greenhouse gas emissions. The average bottle of water travels about 250 kilometres from source to shelf. That compares to 2,400 to 3,200 km for fresh fruit and vegetables and most consumer packaged goods, according to Washington agricultural consultant Dan Murphy.
Health Canada regulations for bottled water must be as strong and protective of public health as provincial regulations for tap water.
However, Examiner readers need not take my word for it, nor Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins' for that matter. When it comes to the quality, safety or regulation of bottled water, they can get the facts by simply visiting the Health Canada website (
His information related to recalls is simply false.
His comment that recycled plastic bottles weren't being used to make new ones is also incorrect. Nestle Waters Canada is one of several bottled water producers in Canada that are selling bottled water in recycled packaging. The company's Montclair brand is Canada's best-known natural spring bottled water produced in recycling packaging.
Also contrary to what was written, while bottled water costs about 200 to 300 times more than tap water, it's an irrelevant comparison. Most Canadians don't view them as competing hydration alternatives.
According to independent consumer research firm
Probe Research (, 70% of Canadians drink both. They consume tap water at home and bottled water away from home for health and convenience. Bottled water competes with other bottled beverages. It is not an alternative to tap water.
As for CUPE and the council's Blue Communities Project, it is a Trojan horse-like treatise developed solely to encourage Canadian municipalities to ban the sale of bottled water in their facilities under the guise of human rights and infrastructure management. It is not an environmental initiative - it is a political campaign.
We agree with the council and CUPE that water is a human right. And given that Canada has a $31-billion water and sewer infrastructure deficit resulting in, amongst other things, more than 1,500 boil-water orders across the country last year, we also support continued investment in our municipal systems.
Where we draw the line with the council and CUPE is their misguided and misleading attempts to ban the sale of bottled water in public facilities.
In closing, while Mr. Jacoby-Hawkins is entitled to his views, Examiner readers have a right to know the facts. Publishing poorly researched columns like this will erode the reputation of a good newspaper like the Examiner over time.
John Challinor - Nestle Waters Canada, Milton

I must say that of all of his spin, the part I take greatest exception to is his accusation that "His information related to recalls is simply false." No, it's not - it's fully documented here

Anyhow, back to letters, as Don again came to my defense:

Flood of missing information in letter (May 22)

(Re: 'Column dilutes water facts' in the May 19 edition of the Examiner)
I see the Nestle Waters hired gun is once again playing his version of spin the (water) bottle.
In Nestle's John Challinor's latest missive, he once again cherry picks the truth and plays a misdirection game with the facts. He speaks of outdated polls and offers up morsels of detail as he defends nothing more than his company's ability to make obscene profits.
Mr. Challinor tells you "independent research firm Quantis International found that bottled water has the lightest carbon footprint of any bottled beverage".
What he forgot to mention is that other bottled beverages, including juice, pop, sports drinks, beer and even milk, use grown ingredients, such as sugar, to manufacture their products. Those ingredients need to be shipped to bottling plants. Since none of these other beverages flow from my kitchen tap it puts bottled water in a different class and enforces the redundancy of the product Nestle Water peddles.
Mr. Challinor also mentions "independent consumer research firm Probe Research (found) 70% of Canadians drink both (tap and bottled water)" and this, in Nestle's eyes, means "most Canadians don't view them as competing hydration alternatives". He adds these people "consume tap water at home and bottled water away from home".
That Canadians drink bottled water away from home is one reason why so many single-use plastic water bottles don't find there way to a blue bin. It's easier to recycle at home. Also, Mr. Challinor neglected to mention that the Probe Research findings are four years old. Polls are snapshots in time while opinions and behaviours are, pardon the pun, fluid. His data, like his product, has a limited shelf life.
And finally Mr. Challinor employs fear tactics. He, ironically, accuses the Council of Canadians of being misleading and misguided in our attempts to ban the sale of water bottles at municipal buildings and events and goes as far as to call our Blue Communities initiative "Trojan horse-like" adding "it is not an environmental initiative - it is a political campaign".
Once again, he is partly right. It is a political campaign. To paraphrase Council of Canadians national chairperson Maude Barlow, all grassroots activism invites our elected local representatives to have a democratic, public debate and that it is "laughable (and insulting to local elected officials) to suggest that city councillors are being duped by our call to rethink the use of bottled water. Decisions to end the sale of bottled water are made in public, after open and democratic debate. It's hard to argue with that process".
In closing, Mr. Challinor said "Examiner readers have a right to know the facts. Publishing poorly researched columns like this will erode the reputation of a good newspaper like the Examiner over time."
Finally, something we can agree on.
Don MacNeil
Simcoe Region Chapter of Council of Canadians (Barrie)

And for good measure, Don also responded to Challinor's response to him:

Facts do hold water (May 30)

(Re: 'Bottled water not banned' in the May 23 edition of the Examiner)

I see John Challinor of Nestle Waters Canada is at it again. His playing three card monte with the facts would be comical if it weren't so disconcerting.

He makes the claim that, in a previous letter to the editor, I had made "a number of statements about bottled water that have long been confirmed as false."

Yet, of all the information I , presented he could only cite one statement he found erroneous.

And he even got that wrong.

Mr. Challinor writes "contrary to what was stated (by me), the province of Manitoba has not banned the sale of bottled water in its facilities."

What I wrote was that "the Manitoba government actually banned the use of provincial funds to purchase single-use plastic water bottles."

Manitoba Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie said, at the time: "We believe, by taking this step, we are leading by example and encouraging Manitobans to move away from using single-use bottled water."

I had forgotten to mention at the time that Nova Scotia enacted a similar ban on purchasing bottled water a year before Manitoba did.

Perhaps in the future, Nestle Waters can use some of the profits it makes from its overpriced, unnecessary product to pay for a proofreader, or fact-checker.

Don MacNeil, Simcoe Region Chapter of Council of Canadians (Barrie)

If you've read this far, you probably agree that Challinor lost the battle of the letters. Unfortunately, he won the battle at Council - for now, anyway. And he's trying to do the same in Guelph. I hope that their valiant letter writers will have more success than we did.

p.s. Apologies for the weird formatting, Blogger seems to have trouble with cut-and-paste from some websites.