Saturday, April 8, 2017

Thinking inside the (Good Food) Box

Lately there’s been a lot of ink spilled about the high cost of living, like the cost of electricity and municipal tax and water increases. Since none of those are things we can immediately address at the household level, we need to look for other ways to save, particularly if we are struggling to put food on the table in the face of rising food prices.
Luckily, Barrie has a program which does just that, by providing a deep discount on a box of fresh produce every month. Called the Good Food Box, this no-membership food-buying club runs in many cities and in Barrie is administered by a collaboration of local organizations led by the Canadian Mental Health Association, who know that food is a key contributor to physical and mental health. And under the Urban Pantry Project, a partnership between the Good Food Box and FruitShare Barrie funded with a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Barrie’s Good Food Box has grown and expanded considerably over the past year, and may now be just what you need to ease your grocery budget woes and boost your healthy diet.
All you do is order and pay for your box by the 2nd Wednesday of the month, and then pick it up on the 3rd Wednesday. There are now 4 pickup locations for your convenience: Barrie Free Methodist Church from 11:30 am – 4:30 pm, City Hall Rotunda from 12 – 4, Georgian College from 2 - 5, and Holly Rec Centre from 5 – 7 pm. Hopefully one of these times and locations works for you. You can order and pay online, or order in person and pay cash at the CMHA, Barrie Community Health Centre, or Barrie Free Methodist.
You have two choices of box: the small for $12 (for 1-2 people) or the family-size for $17. A typical small box includes 5 pounds of potatoes, 2 pounds each onions, carrots & parsnips, 3 pounds of apples, 4 oranges, and a cabbage. The large box doubles the potatoes & oranges, adds more apples, and throws in 2 pounds of beets. Contents vary month-to-month and come from Giffen Orchards, who ensure high quality fresh produce mainly sourced in Ontario and as local as seasonally possible.
The Barrie Good Food Box is a non-profit program run with the support of community volunteers who sort and pack the boxes and distribute them at the 4 pickup sites. Buying in bulk and passing along the savings means you get more for your food dollar. The price has not risen for several years and will continue to stay stable so you can plan your food budget with confidence.
To order, to find handy recipes, or see the calendar of upcoming Box days and other events, visit Or if you’d like to volunteer or have questions, visit or call 705-791-BGFB (2432).
The Urban Pantry Project will soon wrap up its successful first year, and is planning to apply for longer-term funding to further expand Barrie’s local food security measures beyond the two current projects with possible initiatives like community gardens, fleet farming, indoor gardens, or other innovative projects. A special Let’s Get Growing event on April 12 will explore new ideas and start planning their integration. If you have a passion to contribute to a food-related project and would like to take part in this event, email for an invitation. With citizens like you, Barrie can become a food paradise!
Published in the Barrie Examiner as Root Issues: Good Food Box program continues to expand in Barrie

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the boards of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Green electric plans are great

(One of the 4-part series "Game of Shells" about the electricity plans of Ontario's 4 major political parties)

Over the past decade or more, Ontario’s electricity prices have steadily risen. Once a bastion of too-cheap electricity, far below national or world averages, Ontario’s prices are now more in line with global rates, which has been painful for a population long accustomed to receiving subsidized electricity for a relative pittance. Because old habits are hard to break with infrastructure already in place, we seems stuck with paying the bill whatever it is, causing cries to turn back the clock and lower rates again. If only it were so simple!
Of course this creates huge political pressure, so both the Liberal government and the NDP opposition party have advanced plans to lower bills and the PC opposition has promised their own plan soon. However, none of these plans seem to do much to truly lower the real cost of providing electricity; all they do is push it off to future generations, or move it from the power bill to the tax bill, still leaving us (or our children) to pay, in what I’ve called “The Game of Shells”.
What it comes down to is that there are only 3 real ways to reduce electricity prices: produce electricity at lower cost, buy it from other places for lower prices, or simply use less of it. Cancelling existing commitments, as we learned with gas plants, is either impossible or horribly expensive.
We can’t just wave a magic wand and make cheaper power: climate pressures mean we must shift off the old “cheap” fossil fuels like coal and natural gas or pay a premium for carbon emissions. Nuclear brands itself as an affordable “carbon free” source but always costs far more than expected and provides less power than promised, years behind schedule. A big part of today’s high costs cover vast nuclear power overruns from the past. Large-scale new hydro is challenging, while wind, solar, and small hydro are becoming more affordable but present challenges in matching supply and demand which require better management or new power storage facilities. The best we can do in this area is avoid committing to costly new nukes and curtail expensive refurbishment or life-extension operations at existing plants, instead allowing them to retire on schedule.
Glowing object reported hovering over writer's head
On the other hand, there is a huge opportunity for us to use more clean, cheap hydro from Quebec. Not only is this a better deal than pouring more money down our own nuclear pit, it also lets us balance peaks and valleys of renewable generation by “banking” power behind large hydro dams, essentially storing surplus renewable energy until needed. There are other technologies we can implement within Ontario allowing us to store energy between when it is produced and when we need it, narrowing the expensive supply-demand gap.
The most important and reliable way to reduce power bills will always be to use less to begin with. No matter the price, the less you use, the less you pay! While government and opposition plans feature some meagre conservation measures, we need a major commitment of resources to upgrading our business and household technology so we can more efficiently use electricity, or draw more of it at times of low demand, which will reduce overall costs.
Luckily there is another opposition party which has long promoted solutions like this, and on Sunday you can be a part of that conversation. Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner will be in the region this Sunday, April 9, ready to listen to your ideas and share his on how we can truly lower electricity costs, not just move them around. He’ll be at the Innisfil Public Library Lakeshore Branch’s Community Room from 1:30 – 2:30, then at the Grilled Cheese Social Eatery at 53 Dunlop St. E. in Barrie at 6. You are welcome to attend either (or both) of these events and discuss concrete actions to lower Ontario’s electricity costs. Take this chance to be proactive and seize the (electrical) power in your own hands!

Published in the Barrie Examiner as Root Issues: Greener electricity plans out there we can tap into 

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the boards of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Minister Against Democratic Reform, the sequel

Years ago I wrote a series of “Minister Against Portfolio”columns, because while a cabinet minister is theoretically appointed to champion a particular area of society, it seemed that under the anti-government Harper administration, many cabinet members were hostile to the mandate of their own ministry, whether it was environment, finance, agriculture, or justice. (I planned to write about the Minister Against Women but that seat kept being vacated and treated as a secondary portfolio for other ministers.)
Barrie residents holding government to account
However, with the change in power, I thought the series finished. Little did I realize appointing a minister to retard rather than achieve progress was also in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s toolbox. This government is now on its second Minister Against Democratic Reform.
I guess this was telegraphed when Trudeau formally renamed it the Ministry of Democratic Institutions, taking “reform” right out of the name. (Not that having it in the name led to any actual reforms under Stephen Harper). Nevertheless, Minister Maryam Monsef’s original mandate included steps toward electoral reform, a key 2015 Liberal election plank. This was so important it was even included in the Speech from the Throne. Trudeau promised 2015 would be the last election held under first-past-the-post voting over 1,800 times: on the campaign trail, in office, and of course in the aforementioned Throne Speech. Which means through his volte-face on this issue, he makes not only himself but his party and our Queen into liars.
But back to the Minister. Although it was in her mandate to establish a committee to consult on electoral reform, it seemed that having done so, Monsef did her best to undermine and sabotage that committee. Delay in set-up plus a very tight reporting schedule made the committee’s task challenging, yet they were troopers and held an amazing number of hearings in a rather short time, hearing from hundreds of experts and thousands of citizens all over our great nation. Having gone above and beyond, however, and even having reached a consensus recommendation between the Conservative, NDP, and Green parties (and when was the last time that happened?) their work was spurned and even mocked in the House by the Minister. Which I guess we should have expected, given that the holdouts on the committee itself were the Liberal MPs.
Which brings us to the new Minister Against Democratic Reform, Karina Gould. From the start, I had misgivings. In an early interview, she said every vote counts because “We literally count them 1, 2, 3, 4 up to the majority that wins,” showing a breathtaking ignorance of the difference between a majority (what the Liberals have in Parliament) and a plurality (the less-than-majority vote which gave them those seats). Only a minority of MPs ever win on a majority of votes, a serious flaw of our existing system. This dismal portent proved all too true when Gould’s mandate was released, clearly stating the falsehood that no consensus on electoral reform has emerged.
Because the reality is this: in the largest consultative process in Canadian parliamentary history, a strong consensus of experts and regular citizens called for a more proportional system (PR). A survey completed by more than a third of a million people said they want multi-party coalition governments, a feature of PR.
The more recent assertion that reform would somehow empower extremists is even more counter-factual, but more on that will have to wait for a future column. For now, the take-away is this: the Trudeau government seems no less willing than their predecessors to appoint Ministers whose job is to sabotage their portfolio, not advance it. To quote America’s Tweeter-in-Chief: SAD.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the Living Green and Robert Schalkenbach Foundation boards.