Thursday, July 26, 2012

Trans-Pacific handshake, or Chinese finger trap?

Living in South Korea for three years, I personally experienced Chinese power. This nation, people, and culture have always shown a huge influence on their neighbours, even when not exerting direct political control. Although Korea has her own unique culture, one sees Chinese influences everywhere, from the use of Chinese writing and vocabulary, to customs of family relationships and respect, to foods. We found the same on our visit to Japan, and I understand that Mongolia, Vietnam and the rest of Indochina, and even Indonesia and Malaysia likewise have significant Chinese influences. With such a huge population and powerful economy, this kind of cultural spillover is inevitable.
But in the modern globalized economy, one no longer needs to be China’s neighbour to fall under her influence. As our energy and resources flow more swiftly across the Pacific, and our stores fill their shelves with Chinese-made products, we move closer to China as surely as if the ocean itself were contracting. But is this a handshake, or a Chinese finger trap?
When Stephen Harper first led his party in Parliament, he vocally criticized China’s human rights record, and rightly so. This past weekend a human rights conference in Toronto was reminded by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Green Party leader Elizabeth May May of the continuing religious persecution in China, targeting underground Christians, Muslim Uyghurs, and Falun Gong. Yet under the Harper Government, not only has trade integration with China continued, it has accelerated. Even Barrie is getting in on the act with trade missions.
The underlying philosophy long used to justify this increased trade is that Canadian values will rub off on the Chinese through close contact. I am reminded of the proverb of the sweet cucumber in the vinegar barrel, thinking the barrel will be sweetened; instead, the cucumber gets pickled.
Human rights abuses are endemic in China, and as the supposedly freeing information age marches on, new technologies are used to spy on and isolate dissent, as even giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter bend to Chinese internet restrictions. China’s environmental degradation is legendary, as growth-at-all-costs prevails over traditional Chinese caution.
In fact, not only have Canadian values gained little traction in China, we are now seeing the Chinese approach coming to Canada. As delays to the Keystone XL pipeline turn tar sands plans toward Asia, legislation like omnibus Bill C-38 is passed to undermine or gut any laws that could stop or even delay pipeline construction. Signal sent and received; China has responded with their largest-ever foreign takeover bid, $15 billion for Nexen, following over $10 billion of other recent Canadian energy acquisitions.
Our government has already thrown our environmental laws under the bus to entice Chinese investment, and leaned on sincere charities and civic groups trying to warn us of the consequences. What will they pickle next, our labour or human rights standards?
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Growing Chinese influence inevitable"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Learning, Love and Laughter, or get your Shorts in our bunch!

An author friend of mine has observed that although we have reached (or exceeded) our limits of material growth, there is no limit to the growth of what he terms the “three L’s” of life-based pursuits: learning, love and laughter. So while we scale back resource extraction and energy use, we can expand the creative arts to grow individually and as a society.
One such avenue is film. Although I appreciate a well-crafted Hollywood blockbuster as much as anyone, I also enjoy good foreign or independent film, like the Barrie Film Festival showcases each October and at the monthly Screen One.
Even I must admit that sometimes a movie loses me within the first hour. But there’s one kind of film where this never happens: a short. A special part of Barrie’s Film Festival has long been the Short Film Program. It’s one presentation I never miss; most years I even have the special privilege of helping judge which films we will screen or award prizes.
Special to Barrie’s Shorts competition is its wide mix. One component is the Open category, drawing films from talented or accomplished filmmakers the world over. The other categories, high school and Simcoe County, traditionally offered a somewhat lower standard of production, but were fun to watch for the glimpses of local landmarks or personalities and, usually, the presence of enthusiastic filmmakers at the screening.
However, over the years of my involvement, I’ve noticed a marked boost in the quality and professionalism demonstrated in these “amateur” categories, such that many are now on a par with our top international entrants. Although the People’s Choice Award has always been open to any submission, in recent years the improvement in local & student filmmaking has raised the chance that the winner won’t be from the Open side.
But whether prize-winning or not, even being selected for our festival is prestigious; fewer than half our entrants make the grade. So if you have a film in the works, or already have one “in the can”, as they say, then submit it to us for our screening on Saturday October 13th. Or if you have a relative, or acquaintance with cinematic skills, pass along this link:, for the entry process and regulations.
The rules are pretty simple: the film can be no longer than 10 minutes (including credits), entrants for Simcoe County must live here now or have within the last 5 years, and high school films must have been made since January 2010 and before your 19th birthday. We must receive the film by September 7th to include it this year.
Send us your film or spread the word, help Barrie to grow in learning, love, and laughter!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Film shorts leave a lasting impression"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Smart Local Food at Barrie's Local Foods Mart

In past generations, local markets mainly stocked foods produced nearby. Nowadays, you’re lucky to find anything locally produced in your neighbourhood supermarket besides this newspaper. But a new store at 123 Dunlop East (near Mulcaster) is changing that, for the better.
The love child of newlyweds Chan Ju Park and her husband/employee Julian Daniel, Local Foods Mart’s mission is to fill your fridge and pantry with the wonderful nourishment of our own region.
Originally planned as Barrie’s first “100-mile store” (a store selling only things produced within 100 miles), they’ve expanded their product line to help supply downtown residents stranded by Foodland’s recent closure (and the pending closure of Price Chopper just up Bayfield). But although 100 miles isn’t a strict rule, Local Foods Mart still seeks out things made nearby, within Ontario, or within Canada, and the offerings also tend to be organic or naturally grown.
Salsa, ships and tortillas from Cookstown? Check. Organic Ontario-grown flours? Present. Co-operatively produced organic canned Ontario tomatoes & sauce? Got em!
Some things just can’t be grown in Ontario, but they can still be processed here. On these shelves you’ll find organic Greek olive oil bottled in Queensville and coffee roasted in Midland.
The product line runs the gamut from organic baby food to cereals, soups, sauces, dressings, pickles, chips, fresh and dried pasta, even trout smoked in Thornbury and canned wild salmon & tuna from BC. The cooler features milk, ice cream, yogurt and cheeses from at least a dozen different small dairies. There are berries from local farms and veggies from the Holland Marsh. Unity Market supplies the produce from urban gardens right here in town, and this is the only store in Barrie where you can buy local greens all week long.
And Unity’s produce isn’t the only Barrie product in stock. If you want to shop the zero-mile diet, Local Foods Mart showcases Barrie-made bread, desserts, frozen meals and pizzas, pierogies, soup stock, bagels, hot sauce, BBQ rubs, even exotic sushi and kimchi.
Shopping Local Foods Mart (; follow on Facebook or Twitter for frequent product updates with photos) can be your first step in meeting the Ontario Table $10 Challenge, which asks us each to dedicate $10 a week of our grocery budget to Ontario foods. If every Ontarian took the challenge, it would put $2.4 billion into our provincial economy each year, supporting 10,000 new local jobs.
Most of the products are labelled with their place of origin and how far (in miles and km) they came to Barrie. And for an even better sense of connection to those who make your food, the store even features farmer bios from a growing number of their suppliers. What a great way to get closer to your food, and get your food closer to home!
A version of this was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Shelves packed with local fare at food store"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada