Toronto's parks committee has moved to address recent criticism over the city's ice skating policies, approving two motions that aim to make more outdoor rinks available, and for longer.
On Wednesday, the committee approved a motion to create a contingency fund that would allow the city to extend its outdoor rink season in years when the weather is cold enough to do so. The committee also approved a motion that asks city staff to report back on the viability of allowing skating on Grenadier Pond in High Park.
"We're a skating city, a skating nation, a northern nation. When it's cold, we want to skate," said Councillor Paula Fletcher, who moved the motion to extend the rink season. The motion still has to go to council for approval.
She called it "silly" that the city should have to rely on corporate donations – as announced by Mayor John Tory last week – to afford the approximately $200,000 to keep an additional 12 rinks open beyond February. Each rink costs the city approximately $4,500 each week to operate.
"People pay a lot in land transfer tax. They pay a lot of taxes. These are simple city services in the park that you expect," she said.
Both issues – short rink seasons and skating in High Park – attracted criticism for the city in recent weeks.
Last week, Mayor John Tory announced that, for the second year in a row, the city would rely on last-minute corporate donations in order to extend the rink season. The news that the city had not budgeted to keep more than 17 of its rinks open in March sparked debate over whether the city should be more flexible in its funding.
Further complicating matters was the fact that last year, Ms. Fletcher had already moved – and had approved – a motion asking city staff asking for the same contingency fund to extend the rink season. But staff said on Wednesday that, because of budget cuts, they did not do so. They also blamed the language of Ms. Fletcher's original motion, saying it had only asked staff to "consider" creating the fund.
Ms. Fletcher reacted with frustration. "I was nice, maybe, and said 'consider,' so maybe you shouldn't be nice," she said Wednesday. "This time, the committee has said 'Go away, figure it out, bring it back'."
Councillor Sarah Doucette's Grenadier Pond motion, meanwhile, takes aim at a city bylaw that prohibits ice skating on the Grenadier Pond in High Park. Although city staff used to facilitate ice skating on the pond – testing the thickness to ensure safety, and even flooding the rink each year to create smoother ice – it stopped doing this in 2001.
In recent weeks, a number of councillors – as well as Mayor Tory – have weighed in on whether the skating ban should be revisited.
In Wednesday's committee meeting, city staff cited budget cuts and safety concerns as reasons why the city should not allow skating on the pond. Citing potential liability, they also rejected an idea by Ms. Doucette to create a "partial program" – using coloured flags to indicate whether the pond is safe to skate on, but not necessarily having staff monitoring the area all the time.
Still, Ms. Doucette's motion passed.
"We're not going to be stopping people from skating on this pond," she said. "I am asking if we can monitor it and make it safe."