Sunday, May 31, 2015

Taking a spin with Bike Week in Barrie

Just over 2 weeks ago I woke in the wee hours to find my whole house was spinning like the midst of a tornado, a chilling thought as we approach the 30-year anniversary of the one that smashed through Allandale, killing 12 in and beyond Barrie.
But it turned out it was just me; I had contracted vestibular neuritis, an inner-ear infection whose nerve damage has left me with constant dizziness and unsteadiness (vertigo) as the whole world still seems to be turning or tilting to my right. I walk unsteady like I’m drunk, for 2 weeks I couldn’t drive, and I still can’t safely get on a bike. Which is the real shame, because Barrie’s perfect cycling season has arrived! The weather is nice, the roads are clear of ice and winter sand, the rain has held off, and a pedal-powered breeze is much sweeter in muggy weather like now.
What’s more, we are about to enter Barrie’s first official Bike Week. First up, for more ardent cyclists, comes Pedal Fest, billed as Ontario’s first-ever all-inclusive cycling festival. Taking place around the King St. loop in the south end and hosted by the Barrie/Simcoe Cycling Club, this event combines their 6th annual Youth Cup with a Para-cycling race and Mens/Womens Criterium.
This fun & friendly tournament is open by design to men, women, youth and adults of all abilities, including those needing to use hand-bikes, trikes or tandem cycles. The traffic-free on-street course features a full day of racing, DJs and live music, food trucks and a community walk/roll/wheel around the race course, open to all, and lead by Olympic gold medallist Graeme Murray; special guests also include five-time world champion Shelley Gauthier. You can find out more, or register to race or volunteer, at
City Hall is very cycle-accessible
Then the work week launches with Bike to Work and School Day, encouraging people to try cycling their commute for one day and see if it can become a habit. Try to bike to work (or school) Monday morning, and if you can, swing by City Hall first for the free breakfast in the Rotunda courtesy of some of Barrie’s best: Cravings Fine Food Market, The Farmhouse, and PIE Wood Fired Pizza Joint, served from 8 – 9:30 am.
Monday also begins the geocaching contest; between Monday and Friday, collect unique stickers from each secret location and you might win a luggage set from South Central Ontario CAA. What better reason to explore our city by bike? Keep up to date at
Next weekend, come to Bike Week Base Camp, put together by Barrie’s bike stores and clubs, to learn all about the cycling world in Barrie. Saturday’s (June 5) Base Camp in downtown’s Memorial Square will feature a rodeo (skill clinic) for kids from noon – 2 pm, and then Sunday’s Base Camp at Celebrate Barrie (June 6) will be the starting point for the Family and Community Group Ride around the waterfront, a safe and fun tour departing at 1 pm.
If my physio has progressed enough by Monday, I look forward to spinning down to City Hall for breakfast as we celebrate Barrie’s first Bike Week and the joy of healthy, sustainable active transportation. Leave your car at home for a day, hop on your wheels, and join us!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Cycling season has just rolled back into Barrie"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Four directions on this map, but only going one way

I take pride in my sense of direction, always knowing which way is north, south, east or west, especially in a city whose streets follow a nice grid pattern, like Toronto or Windsor. This sense probably developed out of my teenage role-playing hobby: hours spent poring over and memorizing maps of medieval dungeons and cities, then creating my own versions. The geographies of the real world (modern and ancient) and of imaginary lands like Middle Earth or Hyboria came naturally to me. So I rarely get lost or turned around, which was especially handy living and teaching in South Korea, whose system of streetnames and addresses runs from idiosyncratic to downright random.
There's four directions on this map
But you're only going one way... Due South!
Living in Windsor for a couple of years, it took a while to get used to residing south of the United States’ border, Detroit directly to my north, but at least it reflected reality, unlike many places in Korea which use English direction names for their foreign-sounding cachet, not because they are accurate descriptors.
That’s why one of my pet peeves in Barrie is how so many businesses seem to use directional names like they did in Korea: by a random assignment that doesn’t match where they actually are. For years I’ve wanted to unload, so this week it’s finally going to happen.
Barrie has a very clear sense of direction and region – there is a south end, a west, north Barrie and the very social east end. But although we have two East Side Mario’s restaurants, neither is on the east side: one is in the north end and the other in the south. We have a South St. Burger Co. in the south, but also one on the northern tip of the city. Ditto for Ol’ West Wing, one of whose two locations is on the west side of town; the other lies in the south-east. Westside Furniture Warehouse began on the west side of the city, but moved to a south-end location before suddenly going bankrupt; perhaps due to confusion about where they actually were?
A tony local eatery is called The North Restaurant, which has always been located on or near Dunlop Street downtown, the traditional center (not north) of the city, although I guess they are on the north side of Dunlop, which presumably justifies the moniker. Of course, downtown added to the confusion when it tried rebranding itself as “Uptown Barrie”.
An avant-garde condominium on Kempenfelt Bay calling itself The West was planned; ironically, located to the east of downtown. Perhaps that contributed to this proposal’s collapse into recrimination and lawsuits?
The other passing Allandale Veterinary Hospital I did a double-take, because it was on Caplan Ave, way down in the south end. Surely Allandale doesn’t stretch that far?
But I must admit to some personal involvement in this problem. Barrie grew too large to be a single federal electoral district (riding), and was split in two. Before official names were established, the new ridings were referred to as “Barrie North” and “Barrie South”. And that’s where the confusion comes in, because our candidate for Barrie south is named Bonnie North. That already caused a mix-up in at least one news story, so hopefully everyone will know what’s what (and who’s where) by the time the fall election comes around!

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Brown is the new Blue, while Blue is the new Green

It was a colourful week in politics. Brown is the new Blue: Barrie’s (former) Member of Parliament Patrick Brown won leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.  Although many felt he didn’t have the experience, depth, or public profile to seize victory, I always knew it was possible. Brown has repeatedly demonstrated his special talent for signing up members, getting out the vote, pushing past the old guard, and defeating incumbents with more experience and endorsements. He did this repeatedly at the council, nomination, and riding levels, so there was no reason to believe he couldn’t flex those same talents in the provincial leadership race. The real question is whether he can extend those skills beyond self-promotion, using them instead to get other PC candidates elected across Ontario. That’s a different skill set, one we don’t yet know he has. Meanwhile, with both new Barrie ridings incumbent-free, and a local history of swing votes, media will flock to this region during the fall federal election.
Shifting hues, blue is the new Green, as Green Party leader Elizabeth May created a tempest in a teapot by “dropping the f-bomb” at Ottawa’s annual Press Gallery dinner. I can’t believe the ruckus this caused; it must be a slow media week in Canada, with lack of real news leaving room to debate such a minor gaffe. Many claimed this blue language was inappropriate, disrespectful, and unbecoming; these people don’t seem aware of the tone of press gallery dinners: a roast of the political and media class that regularly feature salty talk. A couple of years ago at the Ontario press dinner, PC leader Tim Hudak used the f-word at least 40 times in his remarks, to total media silence. A decade ago, in his pre-recorded remarks to the same Ottawa dinner, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told his tattletale friend Peter Newman to “go f… yourself!” Swearing is thus nothing new in this venue, but it is new for May, which was actually the joke she was trying to make.
May goes incognito with a Layton 'stache.
You see, Elizabeth May is known to her colleagues and the press as the “goody-two-shoes” of Parliament. She doesn’t swear, she doesn’t heckle, is always civil and polite. When heckled in the House, she waits quietly until they return the floor, rather than shouting over them. So her idea was that by throwing in a bit of uncharacteristic salty language, she would be mocking her own image.
Sadly, her attempt at humour failed. Having gotten only a few hours of sleep in several days, fighting a flu, after two long flights in coach, with a dose of Nyquil and a glass of wine at dinner, and coming on stage near 11 pm, she lacked her normal poise and timing. Despite that, the rest of her speech,
delivered alternately in English and French, did make some good funny points. But her final gag based on the remedial class sit-com pun “Welcome Back Khadr” fell flat, and although she has apologized repeatedly and explained it was only meant as a joke, there are still many who think she was being serious. But if you knew her as I do; if you had seen her put in 20-hour days all week without pause, work through illness, and maintain a scrupulous civility, you’d know that not to be the case.
Everyone goofs now and then; if this wee gaffe is May’s worst sin, then we can certainly do worse for political role models.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Brown and May add a touch of colour to politics this week"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Thank May for May tax deadline, among other things

Did you file your taxes? You may have appreciated the May 5th extended deadline. Last week I mentioned that Elizabeth May played a role in this; here’s how.
Last year, Canada’s Revenue Agency allowed a 5-day extension after the Heartbleed computer virus wreaked chaos. This year on Friday, April 24, they erroneously re-sent last year’s extension message to thousands of accounting firms, who with a sigh of relief took a normal weekend instead of working through it. Then on Monday, April 27, CRA issued a retraction; suddenly all those firms were behind the 8-ball, now sure to miss important deadlines, costing clients millions of dollars in late penalties. One accountant immediately contacted his Member of Parliament, Elizabeth May, informing her of this looming disaster. Receiving his message on her BlackBerry while sitting in the House of Commons, she immediately had it printed, added a cover letter, and walked across the floor to Minister of National Revenue Kerry-Lynne Findlay, with whom she shares a good working relationship. Hence, within 15 minutes Minister Findlay knew of the issue and that same afternoon announced the mistaken missive would be honoured, extending the tax deadline 5 days.
Ah, Greens; even our slogans are more polite.
Now, you may say that any MP could have done this, and in theory, that’s true. But in fact only a minority of MPs are in attendance any given Monday morning, while May, with the best attendance of any party leader, is there at least 85% of the time, far better than my own backbench MP’s bottom-of-the-list record. Another factor is how quickly a constituent’s urgent concern reaches an actual MP, rather than languishing on the staffer’s desk at the local office. Only a most diligent and well-connected MP could finesse this immediate turnaround. Perhaps that’s why May was voted Best Constituency MP (not to mention Hardest Working MP).
This demonstrates just how effective a single MP, in a caucus of one or two, can be. When elected in 2011, critics declared May would have no noticeable impact. But since constitutionally, all MPs in Parliament are equals, May knew she could have significant effect, and has. She has been the only vote blocking unanimity on a couple of problematic motions, the only opposition MP to attend international climate negotiations, and recently her amendments were accepted into a government bill. This latter event is extremely rare under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, but proves an MP needn’t be in the governing or official opposition party to improve legislation. Green MPs proved they can represent their local district first, rather than always bow to the dictates of a party whip. Imagine if we had more MPs like this!
We don’t have to imagine, we can witness. Two Green Party MPs now sit in the House, both very active on local and national files. Meanwhile, Greens were elected to provincial seats in BC in 2013 and New Brunswick in 2014, and just this past Monday, PEI’s Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker was the first Green sent to Charlottetown, with the province’s largest lead and highest voter turnout. Step by step, Canadians are learning that rather than having no impact, even a single Green MP or MLA has disproportionate influence. Later this year, we’ll witness the power of a whole Green caucus, as Canadians send a dozen new Green MPs to Ottawa.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Thank Elizabeth May for extended tax deadline"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.