Friday, November 27, 2015

FruitShare Barrie taking stock of growing season

As the snow threatens to arrive, we gather in the last of the year’s harvest and take stock of our past growing season. And for FruitShare Barrie, our third successful season was a tale of exponential growth.
I don't mind spots on my apples,
save me the birds and the bees - please!
At our Harvest Celebration a few weeks ago, volunteers and supporters gathered to share a meal and watch the film “Just Eat It”, a Canadian documentary about food waste, taking comfort in the knowledge that together we had prevented literally tonnes of food from going to waste in Barrie. In 2015, volunteers harvested 6,050 lbs of food of which 5,005 lbs (80%) went to local charities, the rest being shared by volunteers and tree owners. Over 10,000 pounds of fruit has been harvested since FruitShare started in 2013 when the initiative was launched as a project of Living Green: Environmental Action Barrie in partnership with Transition Barrie and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
Recipients of fruit this year included the Barrie Food Bank, Hillcrest Public School, and two new partnerships for 2015: the Barrie Native Friendship Centre and the Women & Children’s Shelter of Barrie. A new feature of this year’s program was the donation of homemade preserves to those in need. FruitShare volunteers made and donated jams, jellies, and tarts made from the fruit they harvested.
The FruitShare Steering Committee would like extend a heartfelt thank-you to the volunteers, donors and partners for their enthusiastic support of the program. In numbers, our 2015 season included 65 volunteers, 50 Barrie-area homeowners who let us harvest on their property, and 9 types of local fruit: service berries, sour cherries, mulberries, currants, crab apples, plums, pears, apples, and grapes.
FruitShare is now offering an exclusive benefit for tree owners, who offer up fruit from their trees for volunteers to pick, rather than it going to waste. A local arborist has volunteered to help maintain and prune trees in the program. FruitShare would like to thank James from Timberjack Tree Services for helping homeowners and improving the overall health of Barrie’s tree canopy.
Barrie’s “Food Forest” is also growing! FruitShare is collaborating with the City of Barrie to plant more fruit trees on public land, where anyone can help themselves to free, healthy ripe fruit. Next spring, volunteers will plant 50 fruit tree saplings to add to the dozen planted last year, and more are on the way in future.
FruitShare is still seeking local business sponsors to help fund the program, which is run almost entirely by volunteers and without government funding. Having one or several local businesses adopt FruitShare is key to our sustainability and growth. Businesses can showcase their support within the community with recognition on FruitShare brochures, shirts, lawn signs, public trees, and at our events. Potential sponsors are encouraged to call 705-715-2255 or email Donations can also be made through the website at
With the number of local businesses who generously pony up to put their names on team jerseys, park fitness equipment, public buildings, or other worthy social projects, surely there is at least one who believes that rescuing local organic fruit and sharing it among the hungry is worth a few dollars? If you know of a business which might feel that way, please show them this article.

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

2015 means diversity AND merit in Canada's Cabinet

A new prime minister doesn’t walk alone, which, if you truly understand the job, is a good thing. Instead, he or she takes office together with a a few dozen other elected Members of Parliament, each in charge of overseeing a particular ministry of government. Together, this cabinet advises the PM and in many ways, represents our government to us and the world. So naturally we comment on and debate the qualities of those appointed to these key roles.
In decades past, ministries were a power bases, rewards for different factions of the ruling party. But with the centralization of power in the Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau and his successors, cabinet has instead become an extension of the PM’s philosophy of governing.
Long to reign over us.
Our new Cabinet has been celebrated as the most diverse ever, not least as the first to feature equal numbers of men and women, plus a variety of immigrant or visible minority members. It has been said to “look like Canada”, and to a certain extent, that’s true, although some say it didn’t go far enough.
However, even as these MPs walked up to Rideau Hall to swear in together, some of my Facebook contacts predicted that soon the complaints of diversity at the cost of merit would be heard, from the white male end of society, and sure enough, that came true. I see people complaining that cabinet should not be selected by ticking off demographic boxes, but based on each individual’s resume of training or job experience. Yet those complaining seem too distracted by diversity to actually look into the qualifications of these cabinet appointees, because in many ways, these picks actually seem a better fit with portfolios than has usually been the case.
For example, our Minister of Health is, for the first time ever, an MD. Defense is held by a decorated veteran. The Minister for Sport is a Paralympian, the Minister of Veterans Affairs uses a wheelchair, the Minister of Science is a scientist, the Minister of Transport was an astronaut(!), and so on. So if you are arguing for merit-based appointments, it would be very hard to criticize this list.
However, I will actually argue against the merit case for cabinet. For example, Stephen Harper’s first defense minister was a veteran, yet his tenure was so disastrous he was quickly replaced with longer-serving non-veteran ministers, and Harper’s most prominent Minster of Veteran’s Affairs, a long-time police veteran, was likewise a tone-deaf choice. Government is enacted by our professional civil service, where relevant merit is the primary consideration as people are promoted up to Deputy Minister. But Members of Parliament are elected by popular vote, not merit or suitability for a particular ministry. Their purpose isn’t to be an expert at a specific portfolio, but to advocate for our needs in government, and for their ministry’s needs in cabinet. That role relies on more general skills like communication, integrity, broad-mindedness, the ability to learn quickly and apply perspective to protect the public interest. Let the Deputy Minister be the dispassionate technical expert, while the Minister is the passionate advocate. Further, if MPs and cabinet represent the electorate, then it makes sense that their composition should mirror ours, as much as possible, so that many parts of society have their own voices at the table.
Yet this need not be an either-or situation, merit vs. diversity. Rather, I believe this current cabinet roster proves we can have Ministers who bring great merit and suitability to their posts AND reflect Canada’s true diversity. If you think about it, what would it say if that were not the case in 2015?

A version of this was published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "New cabinet ministers appear to have merit"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, November 6, 2015

Homeless need help, not hate

At last February’s Barrie Film Festival Reel Stories, I watched a powerful documentary called The Overnighters about a church in North Dakota providing housing to homeless men who had come looking for oil boom jobs, only to find a community with no housing for them. Church volunteers gave over space for the men to sleep at night, provided meals, helped them access community services and find work, and otherwise bent over backwards to provide caring and support.
While the lack of housing, struggle for jobs, and general economic malaise plaguing the Land of the Free was one tragedy in the film, another was the hostility of the ostensibly Christian neighbours to the act of Christian charity the church felt compelled to undertake. A significant amount of conflict ensued, but rather than stemming from any criminal or anti-social actions by the homeless men housed at the church, it arose from neighbourhood fears about what might happen, in their worst-case darkest imaginations. Those who took part in the program or got to know the participants had their fears alleviated, but the general attitude of fear and mistrust toward those fallen on hard times remained a pervasive obstacle and always threatened to shut the program down and cast the men back into the streets.
A developing situation in North Carolina is similar, although even more disappointing. This time, a church has been housing four homeless families for the past year and a half, but now as they renovate to accommodate four more, neighbours have suddenly come forward to object to the supposed harms of something they didn’t even notice all that time. Perhaps they think that zero problems, doubled, becomes a lot of problems?
Luckily, here in Barrie, our Out of the Cold program doesn’t seem to have drawn the same kind of groundless fear of the destitute. Perhaps because the program launched in the wake of death-by-freezing of a homeless person, or perhaps because the multi-church partnership means the homeless sleep in a different neighbourhood church basement each night, for whatever reason this program was given the chance to launch. After almost two decades, it has proven that providing a minimum standard of compassionate care to those most in need doesn’t degrade our community or threaten our safety.
Which is not to say we are immune to the negative sentiments we see south of the border. Every application for a zoning change or amendment to allow multi-residential housing (apartments or townhomes) near single-family neighbourhoods draws predictable opposition, and behind the various pretexts of traffic or sightlines or environmental objections, one can usually read the coded language of hostility toward anyone too poor to purchase their own standalone house. About as often as not, such objections are overruled and the result is generally a number of new residents whose presence contributes to the community.
But despite lack of opposition, Barrie’s Out of the Cold still needs help. The greatest need is for volunteers to chaperone the guests in the evening, morning, or overnight, and within that, the need for female volunteers is greatest. So if you can find it in your heart to help out with just one shift a month, November to April, then please visit or call 705-331-1396 in time for training this Saturday morning.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Push on to help Out of the Cold"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Canada's climate delegation looks more like Canada

Last week I suggested the leadership style of incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (whom I didn’t vote for, I should note) might be better-suited to Canada’s governing tradition than was the style of outgoing PM Stephen Harper.
Now, will he listen?
One of PM-designate Trudeau’s first announcements indicates I was right. In December Paris hosts an extremely important climate conference. Approximately 25,000 delegates from 196 countries representing nations, sub-national units, NGOs, inter-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders will meet to seek consensus on an overall climate change agreement as well as many smaller agreements or initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by industry, sector, or region. And Trudeau has announced that, in addition to official negotiators sent by Canada’s federal government, he will also be accrediting provincial premiers and leaders of opposition parties, or their designates. This even goes as far as the leader of the official opposition party with the fewest seats, Elizabeth May of the Green Party, who despite her small footprint in the House, has more experience at these conferences than all of the other party leaders combined.
Already on the comment pages of national newspapers I have seen bizarre complaints about this action. Some people, not clear on the concept of how our elected government works, deem it pointless to send any opposition MPs, since they don’t control the House or write and pass legislation. This assumption is wrong both specifically and in general. It is, of course, the prerogative of any MP to write and submit legislation, and bills by opposition members (including Ms. May) can and have been passed by the House, sometimes unanimously under majority Conservative government. Even climate bills originating with the opposition have passed. So there is no reason to exclude MPs, as PM Harper did, just because they aren’t in the governing party. All MPs were elected by Canadians to represent us on national matters, and that includes international discussions.
The inclusion of provincial premiers is also a promising development, as it indicates a shift from the previous government’s disinterest in consulting or even talking with leaders of our provinces. Under Harper, provinces were expected either to get in line behind federal initiatives, or stick to their own business and stay quiet on the federal scene. But since addressing climate change will perforce require the involvement of provincial governments, as well as municipalities, First Nations, and every individual, family, and business in Canada, it only makes sense to include as many as possible in the negotiation process instead of returning to Canada with some commitment derived from a narrow view and imposed from the top down, no questions asked or answered. We need wider input on what we can and are willing to do, beyond the usual suspects of the PMO’s negotiators and their fossil industry friends.
So as Stephen Harper’s unparalleled collection of five consecutive Fossil-of-the-Year Awards is packed up from 24 Sussex and shipped off for permanent display in Calgary (perhaps Harper will sponsor a US-style presidential library in his own name?), a new approach is moving in just across the street in the Trudeau’s temporary residence. This approach will declare to the world, on the Paris stage, that Canada has shaken off the decade of darkness when she followed the dictates of a single chant denying our role on climate action and is ready to take full responsibility, and leadership, under a diverse chorus who can offer many solutions and forge many connections with the other sincere delegates who share a dream, if not a plan, of preserving the friendly climate which has fostered all human prosperity so far. Our delegates may not all sing from the same songbook, but they will all have the best interests of their constituents, Canada, and the world at heart.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Green leader has valuable experience at conferences" and online as "Climate change top of mind for Trudeau"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.