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Tory’s vote sinks city funding for SH Armstrong pool

Final result of motion to save SH Armstrong pool funding -SCREEN CAPTURE

Final result of City Council vote on motion to save SH Armstrong pool funding -SCREEN CAPTURE

\ by Gary Webb-Proctor \

In the end, it was Mayor John Tory‘s negative vote that made the difference as Toronto City Council voted late last night to pull the plug on city funding for community swimming programs at SH Armstrong Pool in east Toronto.

A motion at the February 15 special budget meeting of council by Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon to keep the $85,000 funding item in the budget failed on a recorded tie vote, with council deadlocked 22-22 and Mr. Tory’s vote in the red “against” column.

As previously reported, the budget put before council proposed funding be removed for programming at the pool attached to Duke of Connaught Public School at 56 Woodfield Rd. in the Queen St. East/Greenwood area.

The facility is owned by Toronto District School Board, which, under an agreement going back to when it was built, has been receiving a subsidy to provide for city programs, which are now to be relocated to another “nearby” facility in July.

Mary-Margaret McMahon @ City Council budget meeting 170215 -SCREEN CAPTURE

Mary-Margaret McMahon @ City Council budget meeting 170215 -SCREEN CAPTURE

Members of a group formed to try to save the funding lost no time pointing their fingers at the mayor for reneging on a promise he tweeted to East York student and historic Olympic multiple-gold medal-winning swimmer Penny Oleksiak last month, that he would ask the budget chief to try and save the programming.

“Gold medal message received … I’ve asked budget chief Gary Crawford to find a way to save these pools,” Tory responded to a January 10 tweet from Ms. Oleksiak, which had said “it’s important to teach kids how to swim” and included the hashtags #saveSHpool and #TObudget.

Families at rally for SH Armstrong pool 170212 -PAULA FLETCHER TWITTER

Families at rally for SH Armstrong pool 170212 -PAULA FLETCHER TWITTER

But after last week’s executive committee vote, at which Tory had also voted against a motion to restore the funding, TDSB Ward 15 trustee Jennifer Story, who has been lobbying to keep the funding for the pool and two others from which the city is pulling its programming, accused him of “playing political football” and said on Twitter: “mayor tweeted he would support pool to Penny Oleksiak. Got lots of media attention and applause. Today he broke that promise.”

Members of the local community, who staged a well-attended rally of parents and children in the middle of a snowstorm on Sunday, wasted no time in echoing that sentiment after the vote was taken at 11:10 p.m. near the end of a gruelling day of deliberations that saw few changes to the submitted budget.

“Please come to #saveSHpool tomorrow at 5 pm and explain to the 26 members of the SHA swim team that you have killed their team,” tweeted Angie Law, who operates a Save S.H. Armstrong account on Twitter.

Laurie Barnett, a member of the Save SH Armstrong/Duke of Connaught Community Pool 2017 Facebook group, posted a similar message, tweeting to Tory: “thx for letting Lville and the Beach know that we’re not worth 85k #saveSHpool. Where’s our open letter? Pls address to our kids.”

Last week, after East York Chronicle and then other media reported on the vote at council’s executive committee and local reaction, the mayor wrote an open letter to Oleksiak in which he tried to justify his decision by noting that there are three other city pools “within 3 kilometres” of the facility and suggested that it had been underutilized by community members.

But Ms. McMahon, whose motion Wednesday was essentially the same as that she had introduced to the EC meeting, noted in addressing the full council that many people in area were not even aware there was a pool in the community centre.  Her comments were echoed by Paula Fletcher, who represents adjacent Ward 30, where many of the affected residents live, when she recounted canvassing new mid-rise condos in the area and being told by residents they didn’t know about the pool.

Google map of Toronto east indoor swimming pools

Google map of Toronto east indoor swimming pools

A Google map of the area that comes up when a search for “East Toronto Indoor Pools” is conducted does not even show the Armstrong pool.  The nearest of three other pools shown is 1.8 kilomteres away, while the furthest is almost 3 km.

With the city funds gone, the buck now passes to the TDSB to determine its future.

Ms. Fletcher had said removing the funding would be tantamount to closing the pool, since, as Ms. Story noted, TDSB built the pool “understanding that we were agreeing to shared use, that we were agreeing on maintaining the pools as hubs.”

Tory had suggested in his open letter that “when we removed programming from 11 other TDSB pools in the past, the school board has always kept the pools open” and reiterated that under questioning by McMahon at the full council meeting.

But while last year TDSB found “one-time funding” for pools at which the city cut its subsidy then, Story has said, there is no guarantee that this can happen with the Connaught facility.

TDSB chair Robin Pilkey had warned in a statement last week prior to the executive committee meeting that the city needs “to re-think cutting funding for pools and leaving TDSB to shoulder the costs” and work with the province, board and parents “to develop a sustainable funding strategy before cutting funding and before closing pools.”

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