Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Senate Sez: We're going to the polls before the snow melts.

The Canadian Senate is colloquially known as the “chamber of sober second thought”. The implication is that partisan and flighty Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, facing election every 4 years or less, may pass unwise legislation to score political points, so we need a group of mature, non-elected and securely serving-for-life representatives to review legislation before it becomes law.
For most of Canadian history, that concept has worked fairly well. In addition to improving or delaying problematic bills, the Senate has taken on and studied many controversial social issues, including elections, taxation, illegal drugs, and prostitution, and been able to put forward more pragmatic suggestions (such as legalization of the latter two, and reforms of the former two) than it seems governing MPs are allowed to endorse. And in recent years, the Senate’s roll in examining legislation for basic errors has become more crucial, as bills are forced through the House by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority with debate cut off, committee hearings a pretense, and all proposed amendments, even of corrections of blatant errors, shouted down.
Nevertheless, the Senate’s committees do perform valuable functions, even if their advice is being ignored for now. Yet they are reaching the point where they won’t be able to do even that, due to a lack of appointments. 16 vacancies have developed over the past year, and Prime Minister Harper is in no hurry to fill them. In his view, as long as the Senate has a Conservative majority and quorum to pass his government’s legislation, it’s good enough for him. But is it good enough for us?
I would argue not, and the Speaker of the Senate would agree, because these vacancies mean valuable committee work can’t be done, and some regions of the country are going under-represented. So what is the holdup?
Marching as to the polls?
Essentially, Harper seems to feel that if he can’t have his style of elected Senate, then we’re better with as little Senate as possible. And he’s probably very wary of making the normal style of appointments – of party hacks, basically – because of how he’s been burned by his past appointees, like suspended Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau. If an early election is in the wind, now would be a bad time to risk more such appointments, which could safely be made after said early election.
Another Senate signal of an early election is that it recently found significant errors in private member’s bill C-525 limiting union powers, but passed it anyway. The pretext was that if the bill were corrected, it would have to go through the House again, and that might not happen before the next election, in effect killing the bill. Well, if the next election truly isn’t until October of next year, then isn’t that more than enough time? One would think so. But if the next election is actually coming in late winter or early spring, then getting even this very flawed anti-union bill onto the books becomes a pressing issue.
Combine these Senate signals with expensive Conservative candidate literature appearing in our mailboxes last month and the message seems to be get ready to go to the polls before the snow melts.

UPDATE: This column attracted a Letter to the Editor - see it, and my response, here.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Confronting oppression begins at home

Recently I spoke at an interfaith luncheon themed “Confronting Oppression” on behalf of Elizabeth May, who was at a climate conference in Lima, Peru, trying to save all of Creation from our collective sins against Nature. I have always been fascinated by the variety of religions; my own family has Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish roots, but in the Green Party I have also enjoyed working with people who are Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Quaker, pagan, Humanist, atheist, agnostic, or Unitarian. We each share different ideas on how to meet our common goals and benefit from the exchange. This diversity of the Green movement, and of Canadians, is not a weakness but a strength. Nature shows us that more diverse ecosystems are more resilient, and history shows communities comfortable with diversity can better weather adversity.
Confronting oppression is an important task, yet there are different approaches. The knee-jerk reaction is to defend those who are like us from those who seem different, the “other”, us vs. them. We see Christians or Jews persecuted by Islamist extremists in the Middle East, and retaliate by persecuting Muslims in our own country; then they see that oppression of Muslims and use it to justify their own violent actions. This kind of reflexive hostility can legitimize oppression. Confronting your own oppressor may also fail because we get little credibility or respect from them, which is the root of the problem. And we won’t achieve cultural reconciliation if we begin by branding the other as “barbaric”.
(Illustration by Pedro Molina)
So what to do? Well, while religious groups are often the victims of oppression, they are also often perpetrators. Virtually every major religion is being oppressed somewhere, but is also the oppressor somewhere else. That is where we have the opportunity to more effectively confront oppression, by looking to ourselves and seeing if there are ways our own group needs to internally confront its own oppressive actions and de-legitimize them.
We saw a wonderful example of this earlier in the fall when Barrie’s Muslim community gathered at City Hall to express support for peace and disavow the violent tactics of the Islamic State. Jewish Canadians can likewise speak up when Israel’s defensive actions cross boundaries. Buddhists can ask Burma not to persecute their Muslim minority, and Hindus can make the same request of Indian nationalists. In China, we see the oppression of Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs, and Falun Dafa practitioners. While there is no Chinese state religion we can reference, certainly when China comes to Canada with bags of money to invest in the tar sands, we can say “before we deal, let’s talk about human rights”.
And Christians in Canada can reach out to churches in nations like Russia or Uganda which implicitly or explicitly persecute, even execute homosexuals. Or we can look at our own tragic treatment of our aboriginal population, whose genocidal* residential school legacy still impacts today, and missing or murdered women cry out for attention.
We have the most credibility with those of the same belief, hence that is where we can have the greatest effect in confronting oppression. Canada can show diverse peoples living and working in harmony, then speak with a strong voice to the many nations we came from and share that example. In this way, we can all work productively to create a more harmonious society free of violence and oppression.

Adapted from my remarks to the 10th annual interfaith meeting hosted by the Islamic Humanitarian Service and Interfaith Grand River and published as my Root issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Canada can show others how to live in harmony" (Also in the Innisfil Examiner)

* for some reason, the word "genocidal" was edited out of the Examiner's version

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, December 12, 2014

Perfect pairing of food and wine close to this locaholic's home

As a “locavore” who prefers locally-grown or produced foods, I often write of local food. But I am also a locaholic, preferring to imbibe locally-made beer, wine, or spirits, and recently discovered a wonderful addition to the Barrie locaholic’s wine rack: Georgian Hills Vineyards.
This young operation cultivates grapes and fruit halfway up the slope of the Niagara escarpment, not on the famous “bench” south of Lake Ontario, but rather where the escarpment passes near Collingwood and Thornbury. A microclimate moderated by nearby Georgian Bay means late blooms protected from the last spring frost and a later harvest in the fall. Despite the short growing season, it is ideal for cold climate wine production, similar to Alsace, Germany, northern Italy, Chile or New Zealand.
Unlike the big, full-bodied wines grown in warm climes, which stand up well on their own, more balanced cool climate wines shine best when paired with food. To emphasize this, Georgian Hills offers a wide variety of food pairings with their wine tastings. By learning firsthand which foods go well with which wines, you will be sure to bring home something that will complement your own table.
My wife and I recently toured Georgian Hills Vineyards with founding partner Robert Ketchin, who paired many of their wines with matching local foods. Some were Ontario and Quebec cheeses from Dags & Willow in Collingwood or The Cheese Gallery in Thornbury, but we went beyond those standards to pairings with charcuterie, local fruit & jelly, and even dark chocolate to complement their dessert wines, harvested or pressed after the winter freeze sets in.
Can we pour you a glass?
Robert’s decades of experience in wine, beer, and spirits marketing and sales found the ideal partnership with John Ardiel, a 5th-generation apple grower overseeing local orchards and viticulture, and Murray Puddicombe, a 6th generation Niagara farmer whose Niagara grapes help balance Georgian’s red wines, vinted by his daughter Lindsay.
After testing various sites in the region in the late 90s and early 2000s, John and Robert found ideal locations for grapes midway between the Beaver Valley floor and Niagara escarpment peak and planted 17 acres of vines, then 4 years ago presented their first vintage. So far they have produced 6 white wines, 3 reds, a rosé, sparkling apple and pear ciders (a dry treat!) and 4 dessert wines: a frozen-on-the-vine Vidal and three “frozen to the core” iced apple or pear wines.
Sitting by the warm fireplace in their tasting room, we saw people “simply sampling” 4 wines (free with purchase) but took our time with the “perfect pairings” 90-minute educational program about the whole range of wines paired with all 4 food groups.
As an even more intense localization of their product, Georgian Hills features an “après ski” package pairing appetizers with wine samples, concluding with roasted marshmallows and chocolate with dessert wines. Or if you prefer to snowshoe, you can bring your shoes (or rent a pair) for a free trek on the “Apple Pie Trail” around the vineyard and escarpment before warming up with samples by the fire.
What better experience than traversing the slopes where food and wine are grown, then sitting down to enjoy them in perfect pairings? If this sounds like heaven for the locavore or locaholic in you, visit www.GeorginaHillsVineyards.ca online or in person to learn more.

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, December 6, 2014

Foreign money indeed warps our tar sands policy

Pipelines loom large in the news, in three main narratives: politicians deciding whether to approve, protesters arrested trying to stop construction, and old pipelines springing damaging leaks. The first two topics dominate editorial pages, although those discussions would be better informed if there was wider media coverage of the leak problem.
Free oil for all, bring your own bucket!
The primary debate should concern whether the risk of leaks, which poison huge areas of fresh water or wetlands and even lead to catastrophic fires or explosions, is worth the export dollars that new pipelines are designed to bring in, and how sustained or increased fossil fuel extraction can be reconciled with greenhouse gas reductions that even the Conservative governments of Canada and Alberta acknowledge are necessary to head off climate disaster (although they continue to choose delay over action). Is this the best future path, or should we invest in cleaner industries instead?
But instead, in the right-wing rants of oil-friendly pundits, we find an odd set of diversionary tactics, tangents, or outright illogical assertions.
One is the supposed benefit of “ethical oil” from Canada, pushed as an alternative to “conflict oil” from the Mid-east. Putting aside for later discussion of supposedly superior tar sands ethics, one can address the basic premise, that if we suck more oil-bearing bitumen from our tar sands, other countries will sell less of the oil pumped from their wells. This is economically facile, given the predictions for rising energy demand and the fact that conventional oil will always be cheaper than unconventional oil from sands or shale. The only result of more pipelines from the tar sands will be an overall reduction in global oil prices, leading to greater use from all sources. Our oil simply can’t displace anyone else’s, because ours will always cost more.
Another misleading argument is that our politics is somehow distorted by foreign money. Actually, this argument is very true, just in the opposite way than the conservapundits would have you believe! In their best Doctor Evil voices, they whine about the “millions of dollars” of support some Canadian environmental groups receive from American foundations, while ignoring the billions – that’s billion with a ‘b’ – of dollars in foreign investment flowing into tar sands development. If even one percent of that investment goes to lobbying or PR, then it’s ten million dollars per billion, larger by a factor of ten than the millions from the Tide Foundation or similar ethical environmental players. Canada’s top 10 oil companies have a combined market capitalization of about a third of a trillion dollars (that’s trillion with a ‘t’)! I can only assume the tarboosters either don’t know the difference between million, billion, and trillion, or hope their readers don’t.
The reality is not that foreign environmental interests and their millions have taken over Canada’s policy direction. Quite the contrary, all the evidence is that billions in foreign and domestic investment have achieved regulatory capture not only of the relevant ministries, such as Resources and Industry, but of entire governments. Omnibus bill after omnibus bill guts legislation across the board to take away any prudent obstacle or delay to reckless fossil development and export.
In this situation, a few pennies from foreign enviros are welcome, if small, respite from the avalanche of energy-extraction dollars.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the titles "Keep tabs on foreign and domestic investment" and "Omnibus bills gut legislation that can ward off reckless fossil development"  (Also in the Innisfil Examiner)
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation and a trained Climate Reality presenter.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Will Harper break what ain't fixed?

One questions asked of Green Party leader Elizabeth May during last week’s Barrie visit was “when will the next federal election be?”
The answer, though, is unclear, despite amendments Prime Minister Stephen Harper made in 2007 to fix election federal dates. (His measures to fix elections will be the topic of another column.)
Traditionally, in a Westminster parliamentary system, government can sit a maximum of 5 years, unless it loses a confidence vote before then. But the Premier or Prime Minister also has the power to call an early election, a power often used to take advantage of favourable timing for re-election, or avoid potential pending embarrassment. This gives an unfair advantage over opposition parties, so many governments in Canada, starting with BC and now including Ontario and most other provinces or territories, have established fixed election dates and hold most elections every four years like clockwork.
But at the federal level, it’s a different story. Despite not losing a vote of confidence, Harper called an election in the fall of 2008, over a year before the date fixed in his law, basically because he felt the timing was good to gain a majority in Parliament. But that didn’t work; instead, he faced a united opposition only a few months later, who publicly declared in writing their intent to move non-confidence in his new government, the proper way to trigger an election before the end of a fixed term.
However, that timing wasn’t so auspicious for Harper, so he suspended Parliament in order to avoid the non-confidence vote, the first time this had every been done anywhere in the world under Westminster governance.
Through these two actions, he showed that despite his own introduction of fixed election dates with the stated intent to “prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage” and “level the playing field for all parties,” he has no interest in a level playing field or giving up short-term political advantage.
Now that he has his majority government, though, Prime Minister Harper has insisted he will not call the next election early, instead waiting until the legislated October 19 date. And I’ve been told the same by one of his Members of Parliament, and one of his nominated candidates. Should we believe them, over Harper’s own demonstrated habits?
Many speculated Harper would again break his own law and send us to the polls this coming spring, following a “good news” budget with a surplus to fund more tax cuts or new spending. But that already happened this fall; now predictions circulate of a writ drop as early as February, to wrap the election before the guaranteed-to-be-embarrassing Mike Duffy trial begins in April.
I guess the only recourse is to look at the indicators. Of all the federal parties, the Conservatives have the most candidates nominated, even though the election is supposedly almost a year away. More telling, to me, is what I got in my mailbox this week: a full-size full-colour election flyer from the Conservative nominee in my riding. Sure, it’s good to start campaigning early, but I’ve never before seen such an expensive mailer 11 months before an anticipated election! Could this signal an election call in the coming months? I guess we’ll find out together.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Signs of an impending election are popping up". 
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Let's learn to work together like Canadians

Can you imagine the sitting leader of a political party writing a book endorsed by prime ministers from two other parties? I didn’t, until I picked up Elizabeth May’s latest work, “Who We Are: Reflections on My Life andCanada” and turned it over to find that both Progressive Conservative Joe Clark’s (the first PM whose election I recall) and Liberal Paul Martin’s (the first PM whose candidate I ran against) glowing recommendations on the back.
Last week I introduced some of May’s fascinating background in politics, environment, and government, from the unlikely start of a semi-employed waitress. But most of her new book documents the current ills of our democratic system and suggests remedies. Learn more from Maclean’s Best Orator of 2014 when she visits Barrie’s Southshore Centre this Saturday at 7 PM (tickets at www.BarrieGreenParty.ca). In the meantime, I share some of those insights here.
Perhaps our greatest weakness is short memories, letting us believe politics was always as dysfunctional as now. Yet Canadian politics used to be more inclusive and respectful, as recently as the late 1980s when May worked for a cabinet minister and interacted regularly in committee with MPs on both sides of the House.
Let the colour of this room be a subtle political hint.
Back then, queries in Question Period were answered by the actual minister for the file, and the answer had something to do with the question, instead of being a scripted attack on the opposition with no regard to what was asked, delivered by an MP with little connection to the relevant ministry.
Under majority governments like Brian Mulroney’s, opposition leaders were consulted on major legislation, to see if consensus could be reached; opposition MPs attended international conferences. Nowadays, the government introduces legislation its own MPs or even ministers haven’t seen, and bars opposition MPs from important multinational negotiations.
In the good old days, the PM served at the pleasure of the MPs, persuading backbenchers to vote for legislation on its merits. Nowadays, MPs are told how to vote on each motion, saving them the trouble of having to read or think about the actual text.
How did this change? One major switch, which seemed a good idea at the time, was shifting approval of candidates from local riding associations to the party leader. With the leader able to authorize or withhold each MP’s candidacy, they risk losing their job if they don’t follow in lockstep. So toe the line they do, on all sides of the House. A private member’s bill by Conservative MP Michael Chong, which has Liberal and Green support, would reverse this mistake.
Another change is committee work, where MPs from all parties meet behind the scenes to revise pending legislation. In recent years, this process has been poisoned by seekers of partisan advantage, with committees now reduced to rubber-stamping legislation instead of improving it. To get around this problem, May has joined or even helped found a number of issue-based all-party caucuses whose unofficial status allows MPs to put partisanship aside and interact based on science, evidence, and public need, then bring those ideas back to their own parties. May sits on the executive of 5 such caucuses, addressing the issues of women, climate, oceans, population/development and HIV/AIDS.
A true Canadian value is putting aside differences to work together. May continues to prove it can be done, as the Right Honourables Paul Martin and Joe Clark affirm.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Political parties can sometimes work together"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This MAY be your best chance to meet one of Canada's best

Countless accomplished Canadians, including three Prime Ministers, many scientific pioneers, artists, writers, and performers, were born abroad, chose to live here, and in doing so made Canada better.
One such person is Elizabeth May. From New England stock, counting three ancestors’ signatures on the Declaration of Independence, her family uprooted themselves and resettled in beautiful Cape Breton, a move that wiped them out financially but was a boon for Canada. You can now read about her early life and how she came to know and love our country with the intensity often found in new Canadians in her latest book “Who We Are: Reflections on my Life and Canada.
Luckily, French studies in elementary school put her in good stead upon arriving in Canada, inhabiting a one-room log cabin with gaps the snow blew in and a TV that only got CBC and its sister French station, Radio-Canada. While friends went off to university, she spent her twenties waitressing and cooking for tourists in the family restaurant, campaigning to protect Cape Breton’s forests from toxic spraying in the off season.
Under a special admissions program and armed with a recommendation from the governor of Arkansas (an old activist friend destined to be United States president), this waitress/cook/activist from the Cape directly entered law school and went on to an environmental career so successful she was elevated to Officer of the Order of Canada with a teaching chair at Dalhousie University named after her.
Between founding several major environmental organizations (Canadian Environmental Defense Fund, Canadian chapters of Cultural Survival and Sierra Club) she also spent two years as senior policy advisor to Tory Environment Minister Tom McMillan, an extremely productive and successful period that led to Brian Mulroney being honoured as Canada’s “greenest” prime minister. During this time she also learned how Canada’s parliament worked: MPs from all parties rolled up their sleeves in committee and made legislation better. The Prime Minister showed respect for opposition leaders, consulting with or notifying them of major policy initiatives; international delegations included members from both sides of the House.
How much things change! Now an MP in her own right, she sits in a House more sharply divided and subject to more top-down control than ever before in our history. Much of her book deals with how unhealthy government is failing to serve the public interest, how we have strayed from the democratic ideals enshrined in our founding documents and instead fallen under the power of a dictatorial Prime Minister’s Office and party leaders, leading to policy failure on many key issues, particularly climate change.
But this topic, which takes up most of her book (with some common-sense prescriptions for how to fix it), goes beyond the capacity of a short column. Luckily, we have a chance to hear Elizabeth speak directly about these topics when she visits Barrie next Saturday (November 22) on her book tour. At 7 pm at the Southshore Centre, May will read from her book and take questions from the audience – unique among elected party leaders, with no pre-screening of attendees or questions! This is your chance to hear from the amazing source in person. For information, to book a ticket or attend the VIP reception, please visit www.BarrieGreenParty.ca.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Elizabeth May shares her insight in new book"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Healthy walk a good way to start off the school day

School is a place of learning many things, including values. And I think we all agree the best way to learn values is by example, rather than just by instruction. But there are subtle lessons being taught by parents which go in the wrong direction.
These lessons are embodied in how children get to school. In an urban environment, it should be trivial to locate schools in the neighbourhood, within walking distance. But with our publicly-funded school system split into two mutually-exclusive boards, the result is often that kids are bused past the nearest school to attend one in the other system. While I believe this could easily be resolved, there seems to be too much inertia for government to even talk about addressing this now, so I’ll let that pass for today.
I sourced this apropos gag here.
Yet there are still many children living near enough to walk to school. The school my daughters attend has no busing at all, drawing only from the local neighbourhood. So that means all the students walk to and from school, right? Sadly, wrong; instead, many are driven to and from by parents, losing the opportunity for a healthy walk. And those parents seem unable to follow simple rules and guidelines the school sends home several times a year: don’t park in the fire lane, don’t double-park, don’t leave your car idling. By putting convenience before basic safety health, and rules, parents are teaching selfishness by example, while failing to build up the healthy habit of walking or cycling.
Much of this is a perception issue: that our streets are unsafe for children, yet safe for cars. Statistics don’t support this. And even if the work schedule requires driving the kids to school instead of walking them, it is very easy, not to mention healthier, to park a block away and walk a little bit, instead of adding to the traffic chaos surrounding the school.
Children, to be healthy in body and mind, need physical activity. This should be a mix of organized sports, free play, and active transportation: getting to and from places on foot or by bike. 58% percent of parents walked to school when they were young, yet only 28% of students do now. This shows that our kids are in serious danger of not getting sufficient daily physical activity, leaving them at greater risk of poor health, poor school performance, and building poor life habits.
In Barrie, a number of caring community members and stakeholders have formed the Active Transportation Working Group to help foster more use of feet and pedals and less use of the automobile. One important and exciting initiative is the School Travel Planning Pilot Project for which three Barrie schools have been selected. What is learned from this pilot will be used to determine how best to move forward and engage more local schools in promoting active transportation within their communities.
A mix of approaches is needed, some relating to infrastructure, like traffic calming and bike lanes, while others relate to education and culture. Simply learning that it takes less time to get door-to-door by bike than by car for distances under 5 km might help people re-think their transportation choices. If you currently drive your kids to school, see if you can find opportunities to turn some (or all) of that daily trip into a healthy walk, instead.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Making our roads work for everyone

Everyone benefits from a healthier diet: less fat & sugar, more fruit & vegetables. But did you ever wonder what a better “diet” for our roads would be? Given what we know about physical activity and human health, and the pollution from cars & trucks, a healthier “road diet” would include a greater proportion of pedestrians and cyclists sharing the road with motor vehicles.
But just like eating better, healthier road use has obstacles. Drivers often aren’t that good at sharing roads with cyclists or pedestrians, and when the two collide, generally it’s the person on bike or foot who suffers worse. As an occasional cyclist on Barrie’s streets, I notice many motorists don’t understand the road rights of cyclists or how to safely share, and when I drive, I even find myself unsure how much space to leave a cyclist when I pass.
The simple answer is bike lanes: a clear definition of where bikes and motor vehicles do or do not belong, a way to keep them safely separate. They can share the road, without the more difficult feat of sharing the same lane.
Yet city budgets have limited funds to widen roads to add lanes, a process taking many years for planning, studies, approvals, funding and finally, construction. Luckily, a much faster and more affordable approach exists. Many of our roads are already wider than necessary for the smooth flow of vehicular traffic, resembling speedways! By simply re-painting and redefining lanes, we can create a better way for all road users to share and maximize their benefit.
We can all share a road that's the right size.
Called “rightsizing”, the most common example is when a street with 4 car lanes (2 each way) is re-painted to 1 car lane in each direction and a double-left turn lane in the middle. This leaves space to add a bike lane to each side. Cities across North America are finding this an effective way to reallocate street space to better serve the full range of users.
Is this a “war on the car”? Far from it! With a 2-lane road, you often have obstacles in one lane or the other – a person turning left, a car parked in the right - which drivers weave back and forth to get around, creating risk. By moving left-turners to their own lane and parking off the main street, the remaining single lane allows smooth traffic flow, taking away the weaving or “racing” between drivers in 2 parallel lanes. In this way, 3 lanes more safely handle nearly the same traffic volume as 4. Average speed goes down a little while excessive speeding drops dramatically. This is the traffic calming every neighbourhood needs, and it comes without the annoying speed bumps or unnecessary stop signs between which hurried drivers “floor it”.
As a bonus, bikes can now travel, and be passed by cars, much more safely. “Rightsized” roads also experience a dramatic drop in collisions, good news for all road users.
And by making our roads more friendly and balanced, bicycle and pedestrian traffic can gradually increase and our “road diet” improves. It’s a win-win-win for driver, cyclist, and pedestrian with very little cost: just some paint and new signage.
Longer-term transit plans include expensive rebuilding or widening of many existing roads and new bike lanes will be part of that process, but for now, “rightsizing” lets us get a head-start on expanding our networks of active transportation without unduly penalizing the safe, steady flow of car traffic.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Healthier road diet includes more walkers and cyclists"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don’t be shy about participating in Tampon Tuesday

Did the title of this article give you pause? That just proves the need for a very important program called “Tampon Tuesday”. Started by CTV London and expanded to Barrie by Kris Hughston, co-organized by Stephanie Lampron, this monthly event in support of the Barrie Food Bank is meant to coordinate with another monthly event most women face.
Although featured in a lot of upbeat TV ads these days, it’s not discussed in polite society, which is part of the problem. When we think of a food bank, we picture families who cannot afford basic groceries, and envision filling shelves with canned and packaged food to distribute among the hungry. Or, more recently, we may recall programs like FruitShare which add fresh local food to supplement a diet that would otherwise be too high on salty, sugary, starch-and-fat-based processed foods.
Groceries are more than just food
Yet rarely do we think about other things we get on our regular grocery shops, things that those with financial difficulties may also struggle with: toiletries and, as the Barrie Food Bank puts it, “monthly supplies.” When your grocery budget falls short, food may not be the only basic need you can’t bring home. And it’s not something that’s easy to include in the traditional food donation asks at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or for public school or special event food drives.
Luckily, Kris and Stephanie are on the case, partnering with the Barrie Food Bank and local sponsors to put on the monthly “Tampon Tuesday” event, targeted to this specific need. Although it’s a collection specific to these items, it’s also a networking event. Hosted by a local restaurant, currently Moxie’s Classic Grill on Bayfield St. who provides free hors d’oeuvres and drink specials, attendees drop off their feminine product donations in the bins at the door before meeting other local businesspeople or non-profit members, making new contacts, and learning all that’s new in the Barrie business community.
Fun activities include finding another guest based on half their business card, or draws for door prizes donated by various generous sponsors. Chay Today 93.1 FM attends to offer draws and radio coverage of the event.
Barrie’s Tampon Tuesday event has moved a few times, having started at Moxies and visited Michael & Marion’s, Lone Star Texas Grill and Il Fornello before returning to Moxies. It starts at 5 PM and runs for a couple of hours, on the last Tuesday of each month – which this month is October 28th. Although a majority of the attendees are businesswomen, men are also welcomed and a brave few of us get past the title to attend this fun and supportive event.
Local businesses or individuals are also welcome to provide door prizes to liven things up and thank attendees for filling several large bins with feminine products each month, so the Food Bank can continue to support the holistic grocery requirements of needy families. Contact Kris at 705-790-8123 if you need information or want to give. And if you can attend, we’ll see you one of these Tuesdays. Don’t be shy!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Green leaders keep Barrie clean

Have you ever sprung into clean? Every April on a weekend near Earth Day, Barrie residents “Spring Into Clean” through community litter clean-ups, tidying parks, schoolyards, parking lots, roadsides, and other areas where litter accumulates. Living Green pioneered this activity in 2003 when the Georgian College student group Responsible Adventure Travel Society (R.A.T.S.) contacted us about doing a waterfront clean-up right around the same time that Tim Horton’s contacted us about sponsoring one, so we brought them together and got the City’s permission to coordinate a clean-up along Centennial Beach. The event grew by leaps & bounds, more sponsors came on board, and Living Green handed over coordination to the City of Barrie and moved on to start more new initiatives (the latest being FruitShare Barrie).
But litter doesn’t wait for spring, so the City also has the Adopt-a-Park or Trail program, which allows individuals or groups to take on spring and fall clean-ups of any city-owned park or trail. Your group can adopt here, or you can join in with an existing adoption, for example, Living Green has adopted Queen’s Park and the Barrie Green Party has adopted Kidd’s Creek Trail at Sunnidale Park.
Barrie Greens are crazy about collecting litter!
In fact, this Sunday, October 19th, marks a special anniversary for the Barrie Greens’ adoption of Kidd’s Creek: this will be the 10th year we tidy it up, having started the adoption process way back in the spring of 2005. To help us celebrate, Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner will take a break from trying to clean up politics and instead join us to clean up this wonderful green space in Barrie.
This is the first of two Green Party leader visits to Barrie; the second will be when federal leader Elizabeth May presents her new book at the Southshore Centre on November 22nd. (Watch this space for more info about this exciting visit.) Green leaders like to visit Barrie because of our enthusiastic support: in the past 11 years, the Barrie riding has consistently shown about 50% higher Green support than the provincial or national average and been in the top 10% of Green vote results.
This clean-up is now a long-term tradition with us; photogenic Barrie Greens at work are even featured prominently in the City’s official Adopt-a-Park/Trail brochure. We’ve found some pretty startling things alongside the normal litter: bikes and shopping carts (both functional and junked), waterlogged down comforters, wheel rims, tires, and clothing, to name a few. Getting this garbage out of the stream and forest is an important way to help nature thrive in our urban surroundings.
You can be a part of this, too! Our clean-ups are always open to the public, and are great fun for the whole family. Meet us at the Dorian Parker Centre at Sunnidale Park this Sunday morning at 10 and join us for 2 hours of tidying, then we’ll treat you to lunch! You also get to roll up your sleeves and get down & dirty with a provincial party leader; how cool is that? Dress for the weather and wear something tough and waterproof on your feet; we’ll provide gloves and trash bags. See you there!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "A variety of community clean-ups to choose from"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rosie's dinners build community

I’ve written before about Rose “Rosie” Romita’s holiday dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, which she puts on with volunteer assistance and donated food. But it’s time to update the story, because her dinners are evolving from charity to community, becoming something even more than just feeding the hungry.
Regularly serving as many as 800 meals to people who otherwise might not have a chance at a good holiday feed is pretty special, but sharing a meal together is a bonus. And that’s why more people are being invited this year: not just to get food, but to share community.
Although our city and our houses are getting bigger, our families seem to be shrinking. Many people either don’t have much or any family to spend the holiday with, or have family who are too far away. Eating alone or as a small family is fine, but on traditional holidays it can seem lonelier, somehow.
So if you find yourself in that situation this year, please come to Rosie’s Thanksgiving dinner! Students, seniors, or anyone who doesn’t have a big group of family or friends to spend the day with, please join us at the Community Wholeness Centre (CWC) at 59 Maple on Monday from noon to 6. You can bring kids or friends, too. All ages, all incomes, all kinds of people; the more, the merrier!
The event is also open to local musicians if you’d like to have a welcoming audience, and even if you aren’t so musically skilled, the karaoke machine will be set up for your singing pleasure.
This is the only turkey - please donate more turkeys!
Photo credit: J.T. McVeigh
Of course, none of this can happen without the support of the community. There are always plenty of volunteers willing to lend a helping hand, so many that it’s not worth leaving your family behind just to come down and help out. But other donations are always needed. The CWC is getting the ball rolling by donating the kitchen and dining space, but there is still a great need for turkeys to be the main course. Beverages, desserts, and other treats are always appreciated, or care items like new socks or toiletries that can make life a little easier for those getting by with less.
So again, one and all are welcome this Monday from noon to six at the Community Wholeness Centre at 59 Maple street. If you are able to donate a turkey or any other kind of food or supplies (or grocery money or gift cards), please email CateringbyRose@gmail.com or call 705-722-7763. Your donation and your company are appreciated by all as this dinner grows into a tradition for the whole community, a chance for us all to come together and give thanks for our blessings many or few, most of all our thanks for having each other.

A version of this - with Rosie's name censored out (!) - was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Thankgiving dinner truly a community event"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Comment on Root Issues at www.ErichtheGreen.ca.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Local government can be the most responsive to voters

Municipal elections are the poor cousin in our democracy. People pay much regard to national media – whether TV, newspapers, or online news digests – but the national media pays little heed to local elections except for the odd high-profile mayoral candidate who gains attention for a stunningly successful social media campaign or shockingly criminal behaviour. That leaves us with the local media’s dwindling staff and space to cover the particulars of local races.
And this is ironic, because local government can be the most responsive to voters, sets new tax rates every year, and provides much of our day-to-day public services, like roads, transit, recreation, and social benefits. You have a far better chance of reaching your councillor on the phone, or even having the mayor call you back, than you have of such personal contact with your MP or MPP. And since our municipal officials aren’t beholden to specific party platforms or leadership, you may have more luck swaying their point of view, or introducing a bold new idea into the process.
Although the Examiner ran this stock photo with my column,
Barrie actually uses touch-screen electronic voting.
This makes municipal elections important. Once the votes have been counted, the person elected will serve the next four years, with almost no chance of recall or dismissal even due to the most egregious abuses of office or common sense. So knowing about your choices before you vote is crucial.
One handy way is to compare candidates’ answers to the same questions and meet them in person at all-candidates meetings. To candidates, it may seem they have to attend many of these meetings, they may even find it a nuisance – which should be your first red flag, because the job of city councillor requires a seemingly endless regimen of meetings and consultations. So I would take very seriously the willingness of a candidate to attend as many of these events as possible.
One upcoming all-candidates meeting has a special twist. Hosted by Grace United Church (at 350 Grove St. E.) and the Barrie chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, this event that starts at 6 PM on October 7 includes the special “Day in a Life” interactive role-play. Presented by Alliance members, it challenges participants to make it through a month’s expenses (rent, food, incidentals) without exceeding the fixed income of a pension, welfare, or disability cheque. All Barrie candidates for mayor and council have been invited to navigate a Day in a Life before taking their seats to answer questions from the public about their vision for Barrie.
A majority of candidates, including all in the mayoral race, are planning to attend this meeting, so this is a wonderful chance to come and see how they stack up. And because the debate format is always limiting, there will be a meet-and-greet afterward where you can talk one-on-one with candidates, in case you haven’t had a chance to meet them at your door. Refreshments will be provided by Grace United.
All questions will be taken in advance, so if there is something you feel should be asked or answered, you can submit it to Grace+Questions@politicallybarrie.ca to be put to the candidates for response. You can also leave questions at the event and we will ensure they are passed on to the candidates in your ward for personal response. Make an informed vote!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How your business needs can support our community's wholeness

Many elements go into a successful community. Of course, a proactive environment for business is important, with jobs and incomes and profit and all those other good things, along with supplying the goods and services we need.
But there are also many important aspects of community that come from the volunteer or non-profit sectors, where people donate their time and effort to worthwhile projects and enterprises work on the principle of serving rather than financially enriching their backers.
You can see the Heart of Barrie from CWC
The Community Wholeness Centre (CWC) is that kind of project. Founded by Yolanda Gallo and a team of volunteers late last year, CWC is still expanding under Yolanda’s executive directorship, where she is charged with mobilizing the community to embrace the CWC’s opportunities. Located in the heart of Barrie, CWC is a conference and business centre combining office space rentals and meeting facilities with a new grassroots model of self-sustainability for Barrie’s volunteer headquarters.
If you are planning a trade show or need a facility, this location offers ideally-located space that can accommodate up to 350 people in various configurations using a gym, a large kitchen, boardrooms and meeting rooms. There is also private space available for short-term or long-term rental. To date, 9 community groups are calling CWC home. What makes this business model unique is that all of the rental fees are reinvested back into the community.
Guided by a business advisory committee of local experts knowledgeable on entrepreneurialism, volunteerism, marketing, and growth, CWC has leveraged approximately $30,000 in donated materials, supplies and services from local supporters like Tile Master, Giant Carpet, Barrie Trim and Moulding, Sue Kay/Allandale Decorating, Hunter Electric, Kwik Kopy, Moore Packaging, Horizons, Simcoe North Visual Printing, Artistic Frameworks, Lloyd Management Services to name a few, as well as a similar amount of financial investments by key affiliates and up to 25,000 volunteer hours to renovate, decorate and run the day-to-day operations of CWC.

From a facility rentals perspective, not-for-profit groups will find very reasonable rates for their facility needs. Businesses can co-locate their office in a supportive, holistic environment for their staff and clients.
Do you already volunteer in the community, or would you like to? As a home to Barrie Volunteer Headquarters, CWC will serve as a clearinghouse for volunteers with an objective to support all not-for-profit organizations by providing volunteer intake, screening, obtaining police record checks, training, mentorship, networking, and free rewards. A benefit for volunteers is that they can treat themselves to free services like Spanish, music, martial arts or meditation classes offered by the CWC, to restore their energy so they can continue to serve.
If this initiative sounds as wonderful to you as it does to me, there are several ways you can connect and show your support. Rent office or facility space for your business or events. Host or attend the scheduled trade shows. Register as a volunteer. Provide financial or in-kind support to help build a legacy for our whole community.
I believe Barrie can be a more complete and resilient community if we focus on this kind of “paying it forward” initiative, don’t you? For more information email admin@cwcbarrie.com, telephone 705-733-5683 or visit www.wholenesscentrebarrie.com.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Would you like to volunteer in our community?"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Speak now, or forever suffer FIPA

If you want to hide a story from the public, release it late on a Friday afternoon, with no fanfare.
This past Friday, the government quietly announced they had ratified the FIPA trade pact with China. Negotiated secretly and signed by Prime Minister Harper in Vladivostok, Russia, 2 years ago, ratification had been delayed under protest from many sectors about its flaws.
Franke James' nightmare is now our reality
And what flaws they are! Essentially, this treaty allows Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises, to sue Canada for any new law or regulation they feel threatens their profits. So laws to protect our environment, health, resources, jobs, culture, or values are now subject to Chinese approval! But in keeping with the secrecy under which this accord was negotiated and signed, those lawsuits will be secret until an award is issued by the unelected tribunal; if a settlement is reached, it might never be made public at all, even if it involves paying huge sums of our tax money to Chinese companies!
And unlike NAFTA, which has similar (although much weaker) investor-state provisions but can be cancelled with only six months’ notice, this trade deal locks us in for at least 31 years. Yes, that means the next 7 governments, regardless of who we elect, are bound by it.
At least we had a good debate on this first, right? Wrong. There were no public hearings or consultations, no vote in Parliament, and only a single hour of discussion in committee. If, as proponents argue, this deal is such an amazing advance for Canadian interests, why were all of us supposed beneficiaries kept in the dark? Government should be eager to trumpet good new trade initiatives.
Outstanding court challenges should have prevented ratification, especially a rather solid one from the tiny Hupacasath First Nation. Caring greatly about our future, they have been on the forefront, trying to protect all of our constitutional rights. They know what it’s like to have your rights stolen away, and this deal will overrule not only indigenous rights but also those of our provinces, municipalities, and federal government. And even though their ruling has yet to be reviewed, the Harper government has gone ahead and ratified, also apparently not caring that this pact probably violates the Canadian constitution.
Who benefits? The main winners look to be huge Chinese enterprises, including state-owned ones, looking to buy up more of our resources and expand tar sands extraction, for example. This deal seems like nothing more than a sacrifice of most of our values for the sake of some big investment money to dig up more dirty bitumen to ship to China, at the cost of our air, water, and forests.
Can we stop being locked into this horrible deal? We’re told we live in a democracy, so let’s try. Greens, NDP, and to an extent Liberal MPs have gone on the record against this, even some Conservative supporters and Cabinet members have expressed reservations, so we’re not starting from square one. Sign this or similar petitions hosted by other groups. Write letters to the editor to show your outrage. Contact your MP and demand your concerns be raised in the House. Make your voice heard, or for the next 31 years hold your peace!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "China deal all but hidden from  public"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation