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.