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Calgary councillor wants to save $4M by ignoring new lifeguard recommendations

Calgary’s budget was just approved earlier this month, but already one councillor wants to amend the document to save the city $4 million.

Coun. Evan Woolley said while it wasn’t addressed at the time, he was troubled by a line item that had the city spending $4 million on 45 additional lifeguard positions due to new regulatory best practices set to come in from the Alberta Lifesaving Society.

The current provincial recommendation for lifeguard-to-bather ratio is 1:75, but the Alberta Lifesaving Society has given notice that they will be lowering that recommended ratio to 1:40.

“We have a tendency as politicians, when somebody says, ‘Well it’s the law so we have to abide by it,’ we don’t really ask a lot of questions. And we just approved it,” said Woolley.

He said his office started digging into what due diligence the society had done to arrive at the new ratio of lifeguards to swimmers, and found it lacking.

Woolley said if there had been a genuine need for more lifeguards at Calgary’s pools, increasing the funding would not have been a problem, but the city’s own numbers show that the current practices are working.

“We have amazing statistics in terms of safety in our pools, so none of it added up for me,” said Woolley.

Kelly Carter,executive director of the Alberta Lifesaving Society, said just because nothing has happened doesn’t mean nothing will happen when it comes to safety at the city’s pools.

“This will definitely be one of the questions that come forward in any circumstance that might happen that would be unfortunate. The question will be asked: Why is it that the city decided to make the decision not to increase the level of protection that they offer citizens?”

Technically there are no provincial laws about the ratio of lifeguards to bathers, but the province tells municipalities they should follow the Lifesaving Society’s recommendations.

Carter said just using an economic rationale to stick with the status quo is not acceptable, noting that the new 1:40 recommendation was not arrived arbitrarily.

He said they decided on that number after reviewing judicial findings on several child drownings across Canada, including the 2006 drowning of 8-year-old Jordan Neave at the Olds Aquatic Centre.

“We’re looking at this from a bather safety and citizen safety standpoint,” said Carter. “And we know that the lifeguard-to-bather ratio established over 30-40 year ago aren’t necessarily current.”

Woolley said in anything there are risks, and the city is not hitting other safety targets, such as the desired seven-minute response time for fire service.

“In a finite budget, particularly in terms of our current economy, we are struggling, and we need to make decisions around where we allocate resources and what are citizens’ priorities,” he said.

He noted that the potential savings here is “a lot of money.”

Woolley’s notice of motion asks to apply the savings to the city’s non-residential tax rate.

“We have to do some work to shrink the gap between the residential and nonresidential rate,” said Woolley.

“We know that non-residential rate flows through to coffee shop owners and restaurant owners and small businesses.”

Council will debate the motion at the next regular meeting of council, which begins Monday morning.