In the inaugural edition of our new sleuthing column, we enlist the help of a horticulture expert and dig into Rob Ford’s most famous pet peeve.
Back when Rob Ford was running for mayor, one of his favourite examples of wasteful government spending was the plants at City Hall—taxpayers, he insisted, were paying someone $77,000 a year to water them. “I try to get rid of it every year and I can’t get rid of it,” Ford told the Toronto Sun three months before he was voted in. As an Etobicoke councillor, he’d spent the previous decade, budget year after budget year, trying to prune the city-paid gardener; in 2004, he even claimed he was a victim of “plant discrimination” after a poinsettia he brought from home for his office died. “It’s just another example of wasting taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Ford had it partly right. There was, and still is, a lone gardener who walks around City Hall tending to the plants in the public rotunda, council chambers, councillors’ offices, and, yes, the mayor’s office. But “they don’t only work at City Hall,” explains Carol Cormier, a Parks, Forestry & Recreation manager. Most of their week is spent where there is a great deal more City of Toronto–owned greenery to tend to, at the Allan Gardens and Cloud Gardens conservatories. City Hall’s plants, on the other hand, take up just four to eight hours of the gardener’s workweek. For all of that, the full-time, unionized job pays $54,953.60 a year (so the bill for City Hall wouldn’t be more than $10,990.72).
And the plants? They’re mostly fine. Last Wednesday afternoon, The Grid brought Sandra Pella, the Toronto Botanical Garden’s head gardener, to City Hall to assess the building’s plants. They were “not too bad” or “okay” or “quite healthy, actually,” she said, as she tugged on the leaves of some and poked the dirt of others. What she called the “saddest-looking” of the bunch, the ones in large planters sitting at the far side of the rotunda, could have used more water, a bit more natural light, and a good dusting. But overall, Pella said, “it’s better than I thought it would be.”
That includes the mayor’s office. Before we left, Pella peered through the glass wall of the reception area at a short, bright plant, part of the Aglaonema genus of evergreens. “It actually looks okay!” she exclaimed. “Other than the few dried leaves on the bottom, it actually looks good.”
There’s still someone watering it, after all.
ROB FORD’S WAR ON HORTICULTURE
“It’s our hard-earned tax dollars going to pay literally for dirt.”—Rob Ford, quoted in the National Post, April 26, 2001
“I don’t know why they pay people to do this. It’s not like they are watering a forest down here.”—Globe and Mail, May 1, 2004
“They laugh and giggle at me. But the average taxpayer isn’t laughing, that’s for sure…There’s never a drought here at City Hall!”—Toronto Sun, July 8, 2010
“The taxpayers have been very, very clear. They want a clean, safe city. That’s a priority. So if you are going to say, ‘Am I going to hire someone to water plants or am I going to hire a police officer,’ obviously we are going to take a police officer.”—Globe and Mail, July 21, 2011
GOT A MYSTERY THAT YOU WANT THE GRID TO SOLVE? Even if it’s not botany-related (or Rob Ford–related), e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll see what we can find.