Game Fixer

Dive into swimming education

BRIAN BAKER, The Game Fixer

Let’s Make Waves wants you to know they haven’t ebbed on their firm belief that aquatic recreation is important to the community.

It’s unfortunate though the advocacy group is back on lifeguard duties: The municipal election is ramping up at a time when the city has agreed to continue operating 33 school pools until 2011, when the threat of closure may begin anew.

Toronto has already given seven cement ponds the cold shoulder, gating them up permanently from public use. Now, the threat of losing more is fast approaching at a time when drownings are happening at an alarming rate.

We need school pools not just for recreation, but to educate our children on how to keep safe in the water.

With that in mind, mayoral candidate George Smitherman has thrown his water-wings into the policy pool and offered SwimPass. It’s a plan to ensure every child in Toronto can get basic swimming lessons by grade 5 with the help of the city, school boards, non-profits and private groups.

Let’s Make Waves spokesperson Heidi Wilson lauds Smitherman’s paddle in the right direction.

Wilson patiently waits for other candidates’ perspectives on the recreation issue.

“With respect to Smitherman’s policy statement as we understand it we’re happy that he has a policy statement on aquatics and larger recreational programming in the City of Toronto,” Wilson says. “Before we comment on any mayoral platforms we want to see  the others produce what they see as their vision.”

I’m of the same mindset, especially when midtown schools can be returned to their original roles of community hubs as deemed by urban planners of days past. That, of course, depends on if those parties involved can play nice.

“The idea of schools as community hubs is wonderful when the municipality works with both school boards,” Wilson adds. “When there is a lack of communication and cooperation between the two, it won’t work.”

Keeping the resources flowing for such an idea is Ward 16’s Karen Stintz. The councillor has put forward a motion to get sides talking not just the pools in full use but school fields as well.

“Where we need to move to is more integration between the city and the school board with respect to sports facilities in general,” Stintz says. “It’s not just the pools, it’s the fields and in an ideal world we would actually have one place that does both.”

But she admits it hasn’t been an easy task getting the school board and the city to swim in the same lane.

“There was quite a lot of resistance,” Stintz says, the city relied on provincial investment to repair and maintain school pools.

Ontario’s heavy lifting, namely $15-16 million in infrastructure money that went toward Toronto’s pools, shouldn’t be the focus though. The non-partisan Let’s Make Waves says it’s about leveraging existing resources and working together.

“There’s incredible bad blood between the city and the (Toronto District School Board),” Wilson says. “That is why we are so excited about this upcoming election and really thrilled with Smitherman taking a leadership role first out of the gates saying this needs to be addressed.”

I agree.

The summer heat is peeling back the inadequacies of water safety — Ontario has hit 237 drownings, most of them preventable. Let’s hope the city and school board can put their politics aside and work on getting our kids buoyant for swim lessons.

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