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