Robinson and Layton face off over city’s agreement with Toronto Botanical Gardens’ $50 million fundraising plan

Screen-captured images of Councillors Jaye Robinson and Mike Layton during a discussion about a $55 million private-public partnerships, at the Parks and Environment Committee.
Screen-captured images of Councillors Jaye Robinson and Mike Layton during a discussion about a $55 million private-public partnerships, at the Parks and Environment Committee.

April 10, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

A $55 million public-private partnership plan for the redevelopment of Toronto Botanical Gardens and Edwards Gardens was the subject of some heat between Councillors Jaye Robinson and Mike Layton at Monday’s Parks and Environment Committee.

The report and 160-page draft plan details the $5 million capital spending from city, and $50 million fundraising target, but does not make clear if public or private workers will be doing the necessary upgrades.   

At issue between Robinson and Layton was whether the agreement between the city and Toronto Botanical Gardens specifies that all future maintenance and construction within Edwards Gardens, the larger park to the west of the botanical gardens, will be by the city’s unionized workers.

Initially, local councillor Jaye Robinson was happy about the item, thanking all parties involved, including the the Toronto Botanical Gardens Board of Directors. “Their staff, as well as all their volunteers, because they have hundreds of volunteers, who are very passionate and committed to the Toronto Botanical Gardens. This is a big day. A big step forward. Long awaited.”

From there, the direction of the item took a turn.

As a councillor asked questions it became clear the plan could have implications for the city’s unionized outdoor workers.

Following that, Layton brought a motion that council direct staff to include a condition in the fundraising and construction agreements with the Toronto Botanical Gardens “that existing and future parks maintenance of Edwards Gardens continue to be provided by City of Toronto employees (CUPE 416).”

Robinson did not see it as a friendly amendment.

“This has been years in the making and then out of nowhere you’re moving a motion,” Robinson said to Layton after he moved the motion. “We haven’t really fully charted the course, so my question to you is, why are you interjecting with this, after, I think it’s almost been seven years in the making, with all sorts of parties being involved?

“This kind of thing [the motion] is so getting into the weeds and the details. It’s not really oversight and that’s our role as city councillors, so I’m not clear on why you would move this at this juncture, seven years into the process.”

Layton response clarified his reasoning for the surprise motion.

“I’m moving [the motion] because… it’s not clear where the distinction is between where the city’s employees are doing the work, and where we have a third party doing the work, and I think we need to make it very clear that, not in the botanical gardens component but in the rest of Edwards Gardens, that the park is maintained by city staff.”

Layton was asked after the committee meeting if he had any response to Robinson’s comment that a councillor’s role was for “oversight” and not “getting into the weeds.”

“Well I would generally say that this is an oversight role, where we’re looking just to ensure that the spirit of the collective agreements with 416 are being followed… I think that’s my role as a councillor and I get down in the weeds when I’m dealing with a local project as well. This wasn’t a very specific motion, one that would just reinforce what would be our city policy.”

In the end, Layton withdrew his motion. He said he will work with the councillor and staff with the intent of clarifying what work will be done by whom, before the item goes to council.

Signal Toronto contacted Councillor Robinson for her response. At time of publication she had not responded with comment on the item.