May 6, 2020
Jeff Olsen
Jeff Olsen
By Jeff Olsen
LO Covid-19 Task Force member

When I volunteered to be a member of Landscape Ontario’s Covid-19 Task Force at the March 19 Provincial Board meeting, I really had no idea what I was in for. The meeting was odd in itself in that it didn’t take place around a conference table — instead it was the first time that I had heard of, or used the Zoom video conference app. It was a weird experience to see fellow board members in their own “Hollywood Squares” on screen, and I don’t think anyone quite understood the etiquette in terms of when to speak and when not to, or when to go on mute and when to tap the microphone to speak. But we all figured it out and got through what we thought would be a one-time thing.

Since that day, our Covid-19 Task Force has met via Zoom every single business day at either 4:30 or 5 p.m. for a one-hour update. Our Task Force consists of nine members from LO companies (Alan White, Margot Byers, Jon Durzi, Dave Wright, Jamie Riddell, Terry Childs, Lindsey Ross and me) and eight LO staff. We represent just about every sector of the industry. Our first call on March 20 seems like a lifetime ago, and we spent most of our time on that call setting up for what we thought would be a short-lived blip on our industry’s business. We really focused on communications around hygiene in the workplace and how member companies could stop the spread within their own organizations. We were starting to hear some rumours around government assistance for companies, so we wanted to make sure we were providing that information to members in a timely fashion. Personally, I was coping with the fact that just three days prior, I had laid off 60 per cent of my staff (over 100 people) and my customers were cancelling most of their spring orders. By the end of the day on March 20, we were looking to lose most of what we spent the past 30 years building.

The next week would prove even worse as the first announcement of Ontario closing non-essential businesses came, and as a team, we tried to find information for members that would calm their fears so they could keep working. We found none. The original list of essential workplaces was completely vague and therefore, it seemed like our members would be able to fit into one area or another. The emails and phone calls began to pile up with the membership demanding clarity. We again decided as a group that we were not confident we could provide it, because it was not being provided to us. It got quite heated as the week went on, and another announcement loomed on April 3.

Since we were unable to provide clarity that was positive, we took the approach that we should take a strong stance for our members not to work. We foresaw the April 3 announcement being much stronger wording and decided to pre-empt it by letting our members know in advance that they should prepare to stop working in the interest of public health. Needless to say, this was not well-received by our members, but we felt we were providing the safest approach and ensuring that our member companies were protected from public scrutiny and ultimately fines and possible jail time for owners.

This was a tough decision, but we believe it was the right one in light of the public health crisis we find ourselves in as a province, country and world. Protecting our workers and their families seemed way more important than a few weeks of revenue — even though we know some member businesses will not survive. I can tell you that as a task force made up of volunteers from member companies, we feel the pain as much as other members do. Each and every one of the task force’s companies are in the same jeopardy as those of other members of Landscape Ontario. We don’t take these decisions lightly as we are also suffering severe casualties in this battle.

Going forward, we will continue to fight on our members’ behalf on multiple fronts. We will advocate for you to ensure that when business gets back up and running, our members will be the first out of the gate. We will make sure that all levels of government understand how critical our trade is to the health, safety and well-being of our province. We will make sure our members and their employees understand all of the financial assistance that is available to them, to help soften the blow that this crisis is putting on businesses and families. We will ensure the public is reminded of the importance of our products and services, and how they provide beauty and life to our world. Finally, we will ensure that all of our 2,000+ members understand that we are stronger together than we could ever be as individuals, and that it is critical to support each other’s business during this time.

I would like to say how proud I am of my fellow Task Force members who have decided to put their industry first, over that of their individual companies. This team understands the big picture and has their priorities in the right place as they work for you, our wonderful Landscape Ontario community.