Toronto pools at risk of drowning

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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swimming pool
The closure of pools in Toronto has become a hot button issue for local politicians

Yesterday, Premier Dalton McGuinty promised Toronto $12 million – $15 million for capital repairs for the city’s public pools. For those of you who don’t follow Hogtown happenings, threats of pool closures have been making headlines for almost a year. But, following a request by Toronto’s tiny, perfect former mayor David Crombie (hired to study this mess), the province finally threw in a capital lifeline.

This money, spread over a few years, fixes holes in liners, patches up broken tiles, funds a few new filters to sift the hideous mammalian detritus often found rippling past you in public pools. But what about the operating costs? Where’s money for heating and staffing and the much needed chlorine to neutralize gallons of human pee?

The city says it still needs $4 million for operating costs or 39 of the city’s 79 pools will still be closed come June. Toronto, with an operating budget approaching $9 billion, is digging in its heels over $4 million (0.04% of the operating budget). And what happens once these pools are closed? Do we think it will take less to re-open them, should they ever be re-opened, than $4 million? This isn’t short-sighted; it’s severely visually impaired.

Tonight, tiny, perfect Crombie will chat with school trustees about options and the trustees will receive a report to peruse, ponder and perhaps probe possibilities to put into practice.

Those are the facts as they stand thus far.

But how did we get to this? Why have citizens felt the need to start protesting and rallying and demanding that someone do something about these 39 pools? Because so far, the city, the mayor, the councillors have done squat. Zilch. And until McGuinty came through with the loot (Toronto is fertile Liberal ground after all), the province and the city were going round and round, “who’s on first?”, deflecting responsibility.

“It’s not my problem, it’s yours” was a refrain oft repeated. We also heard the sucking sound of a leadership vacuum. United Way of Greater Toronto CEO, Frances Lankin, summed it up nicely when she said that these pools are paid for by taxpayers and that the pools are at risk because the province and the city cannot decide from which pot of money the funds will come.

Of course, we in the municipal and provincial political worlds realize that we are tasked with different services, that cities are the entities that must embrace the subsidiarity principle, but we also know that cities are but creatures of provinces. However, let’s not dwell on civics lessons and let’s start making some decisions.

Those pools do more than tone little bodies; we’re not trying to build Teutonic army. They offer a refreshing respite on sweltering days, they teach valuable skills like how not to drown if you fall in the water (Toronto does sit on the shores of a lake), they give idle kids, especially those in high-risk communities, something to do.

I’ll reserve judgment on what the options should be until after those options are unveiled, but it’s time Toronto stepped up and stopped sloughing off responsibility.

Toronto Star columnist, Royson James, has brilliantly and ferociously led the charge on this issue, not merely slapping the wrists of lazy, myopic councillors, but whacking them across their faces. For two deliciously wicked articles that I could only dream of scribbling for myself, check out: “Closing pools won't wash on many levels” and “Councillors tread water in pool crisis”. The Star loves punny headlines.

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