October 15, 2008
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

One of the main jobs of any association is to create positive government relations. All three levels of government assert a huge influence on our nation. Often the difference between harmful and helpful legislation and polices can simply be traced to the level of government awareness or ignorance about our sector. Only a few understand that our industry provides huge societal benefits. Therefore, it is essential that we collectively “tell our story” about the environmental, economic, aesthetic, therapeutic, recreational, tourism and quality-of-life benefits that our industry generates.

In 2007, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada commissioned a review of the documented health and environmental benefits derived from our industry’s products and services. The document provides excellent information on why garden, greenspace and landscape development benefits us all. You need to read this document. It will make you proud. It is available free of charge at: http://www.agrireseau.qc.ca/horticulture-arbresdenoel/documents/Reports_Ornamentals_Health_Benefits.pdf.

Here are some quick points taken from the summary:
  • The farm-gate value of plant material from across Canada is over $2 billion  ($1 billion in Ontario). In Ontario this is more than corn, wheat, soybeans, fruits and vegetables. Our sector provides huge benefits to farmers and rural development.
  • Landscaping significantly reduces energy costs, such as cooling and heating.
  • Landscapes improve property value.
  • Gardens, landscapes and greenspace provide huge aesthetic benefits and stimulate community pride.
  • Huge environmental benefits are derived from plants and landscapes including moderation of temperature extremes, mitigation of urban heat islands, sequestration of carbon, amelioration of pollution, improvement of air quality, filtration of air and soil pollution, wildlife attraction, soil erosion control, reduction of weather impacts through windbreaks and shelterbelts, reduction in noise, control of urban glare and reflection, etc.
  • Gardens and landscapes reduce stress, increase productivity, improve human satisfaction and well-being, increase positive emotions, reduce aggression and violence, encourage healthy, active and passive lifestyle pursuit.

We have a remarkable story

The study provides the science behind all of these claims. Very few industries can boast as many societal benefits.

In order to raise awareness of the value of our sector, we need your help. Together with CNLA, we have formed a government relations committee that is charged with visiting every elected government official in Canada. The current federal election gives us an enormous opportunity to have the politicians listen to our message. However, it is often difficult to get through the many barriers of bureaucracy. Usually the best way is through personal relationships. Do you have a friend, relative or client who is a Member of Parliament in the federal or provincial government? Do you know any of the candidates? Would you be willing to broker a meeting, so that we can use your credibility and trust in order to facilitate a dialogue? Would you be willing to come with us? Please e-mail me at tonydigiovanni@landscapeontario.com if you can assist in telling our remarkable story to the government.

Two specific activities we are currently promoting are:
  1. At the federal level we are promoting a national planting program that is aimed at ‘Landscaping for Energy Reduction.’ We are suggesting that the GST collected on plant material be used to fund the campaign. Landscaping plant material is the only agricultural crop that is charged GST. This simple idea would help farmers, educate the public, reduce energy costs, enhance economic, social and environmental prosperity and grow our industry.
  2. At the provincial level we are promoting a highway planting program to counteract pollution and carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles. Climate change issues are related to carbon dioxide emissions. Happily, plants love carbon dioxide, and the cabon dioxide trapped by plants actually acts like a fertilizer. The positive side benefit is oxygen production. The problem is that the harsh conditions on highways are not very conducive to plant survival. In order to improve this situation, we are promoting the establishment of a ‘Centre for Highway Greening’ at the new Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. New varieties and processes are essential for success.

Mark Cullen, Donald Ziraldo, chair of Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, and I have already started communicating these ideas to federal and provincial politicians. Can you help us get this message out to political leaders and those who influence policy?

These are just two examples of how we can work ensure that our industry has a positive image with government, business and society. We work to achieve this every day through our actions and words. Now we need to take that second step. How amazing would it be to leverage our collective points of contact into a coordinated campaign to communicate the life benefits of our industry? The task would go much easier if every one of us helped to promote the benefits we provide.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tonydigiovanni@landscapeontario.com.