Thursday, June 27, 2013

We're going Off the Hook in support of green fashions

Regular readers know Off the Rack and Barrie’s Free Clothing Centre. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to visit, shop, donate items, or even volunteer. But if you haven’t, now is the time to experience Off the Rack (OTR) as they host their first-ever “Off the Hook Fashion Soiree”. Held at and in partnership with the D.I.Y. Collective at 67 Toronto St., this event at 7 PM on Saturday July 6 will showcase some of the amazing clothing coming out of the efforts at OTR to rework, repurpose, and recycle old clothing in new and exciting ways.
This fun fashion show put together by OTR volunteers Dave Reynolds and Erin Colella promises unique apparel and fashion accessories and will include children and adult models showcasing a wide range of items, all from Off the Rack. Repurposed clothing includes aprons made from blue jeans, dresses out of pillow cases, shopping bags from all kinds of cloth and many other clever ways to avert clothing from landfill.
There will also be great live music and food, plus select items from Off the Rack will be displayed around the walls to take home for a small fee.
And whether or not you can attend this special soiree, you should certainly add Off the Rack to your regular rounds. The shop, run completely by volunteers and supported by Living Green, is full of free or almost-free items to match any wardrobe. Your donations of wearable clothing (not stained or damaged) keep the Centre running; we are always in particular need of men’s clothing, particularly shorts and T-shirts for the summer heat. Best of all, you can donate and shop in the same visit: leave us things you don’t need any more and pick up something new for you!
If you’re the type who likes to learn a new skill, there are also afternoon classes in the almost-lost arts of sewing, knitting, and crochet. Spring children’s classes were a great success, combining art, crafts and dance with values and service to the community, such as hospital and senior’s visits and helping Unity Market with gardening. Watch Facebook or contact Karen to find out more about upcoming classes or indicate your interest so we can build classes around demand.
If you have a working fridge to spare, the store could use that, and of course more volunteers are always welcome. Off the Rack is located at Toronto and Dunlop streets, off the parking lot behind Meineke Car Care. You can keep track of upcoming sales or special events by following our Facebook page – just search for Off the Rack Barrie and you’ll find us.
Off the Hook Fashion Soiree is only $10 at the door; for $8 advance tickets, contact Karen Fox at or 705-721-6867. We look forward to joining you at this fun and exciting event in support of our community.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Off the Hook Fashion Soiree the right design"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why can't all MPs be this transparent now?

Transparency: apparently easier to talk about than to do.
When Stephen Harper first led his Conservatives to government in 2006, a key promise was transparency and accountability, contrasting with Liberal government corruption in areas like “Adscam”. Canadians were sick of politicians using public money for their own gain, and hoped a change of government would curtail this abuse.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. The Harper government has consistently received the lowest possible grade on transparency. All the recent headlines are MPs and Senators, mostly from Conservative Party ranks, caught red-handed either padding publicly-funded expense accounts to the roof or illegally overspending election limits. Of course, the occasional offender from some other party is gleefully held up by Conservative MPs in Question Period, as if saying “some of them do it, too” somehow makes it all okay. But lacking many real offenders from other parties, they have even tried bizarre tangents: attacking Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for fulfilling his duties as a paid speaker at various events, as if he were somehow cheating organizations that invite, host, and pay him on their own initiative; mocking NDP leader Thomas Mulcair for not taking a bribe. (Mulcair apparently missed Brian Mulroney’s lessons on accepting cash-filled envelopes.)
Of course there’s always talk about being more transparent, and not just 7 years of unfulfilled Conservative promises. The Liberals want to make all MPs and Senators publish detailed expense reports online for the public to see. I ask them: why don’t you do that now? Although no law requires it, there is nothing stopping you. Any MP supporting transparency can start today.
We know this can be done because one MP has been doing it for two years already. Every year since getting elected, Saanich – Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May has published her itemized expenses online, not just by category, but with copies of every single receipt! We can all see she is spending far less than the maximum in each category, unlike the consistently high-spending MP who sent 2 pieces of literature to my mailbox today. This despite having to singlehandedly represent not just her own riding’s constituents, but the million supporters of the Green Party.
Has this openness made her a pariah among MPs, or hurt her work in her riding? To the contrary, she was found to be the Hardest-working MP and Best Constituency MP in The Hill Times’ survey, and was chosen by her peers as Parliamentarian of the Year. She must be doing more than something right, yet no other MP has yet followed her example.
So, in light of how rewarding this approach is, I wonder if our local MPs Patrick Brown, Peter Van Loan, Kellie Leitch or Bruce Stanton will do the same, and post their expense claims in a transparent way for all to see? Without waiting for a law to make them, that is. (Feel free to contact them at those links and if they respond, tell us in a comment what they said). Myself, I'd be very interested to find out how much of my tax money goes into buying MP advertising in the Barrie Examiner.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Transparency easy to talk about, but not accomplish".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Energy ire valid but misdirected

People are rightly upset about energy and its costs and risks. Sadly, though, a lot of misinformation keeps circulating, with people pointing fingers in the wrong direction.
The favourite whipping-boy is renewable energy. Columns and letters in this very paper constantly repeat outright false information, from risks to costs to effects.
One constant misstatement is that Ontario’s push for green energy drives electric bill hikes, even though the analyses clearly show it’s actually legacy costs from nuclear power plus overpriced supply contracts with all sources, including supposedly cheap gas and (for a little while, still) coal. Wind is only a tiny sliver of the bill while solar doesn’t even register.
Another myth is the supposed harms or risks of wind turbines. A recent letter vastly exaggerated both, speaking of “millions” of bird deaths when the real figure is in the thousands. Anyone truly concerned about bird deaths would focus on roads, power lines, pesticides, windows, or cats, each of which kills at least a thousand or ten-thousand times as many birds as turbines do. And the idea that it’s dangerous near the CAW’s wind turbine because it might break or fall down is just silly. Any tall thing might drop a piece or fall over, but you have more risk of getting hit by a falling tree or building tile (or lightning!) than any part of a highly-engineered wind turbine. In fact, no bystander has ever been injured or killed by a wind turbine, anywhere in the world. Contrast this with a real risk to your health: the cars CAW members build. (Who can’t name someone injured or killed in a car accident?)
Of course, the biggest change our energy supply needs is a price on carbon pollution, putting all energy sources on a level playing field. Right now, the market is tipped dangerously in favour of fossil fuels, which receive huge government support that dwarfs the piddling subsidies to wind or solar which seem to upset some people. From provincial governments that let tar sands avoid paying full royalties, to the federal government bribing them to clean up their act a little while they increase emissions, to flow-through tax credits for finding more carbon that must stay in the ground while luring limited investment dollars away from new, clean technology, it’s time we stopped shovelling tax money to the most profitable industry in the world. And here’s a number to put that into perspective: these subsidies amount to almost $800 per Canadian per year (according to this IMF report). That’s right, you’re being overtaxed by $800 every year to subsidize fossil fuels. That’s 3 days of income for the average Canadian! This money should be going into a clean energy future, not the deep pockets of dirty energy dinosaurs.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Renewable energy always a favourite whipping boy".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation