Edmonton mayoral hopeful proposes free rec activities at city facilities for kids

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Mayoral candidates continue to share what Edmonton could look like under their leadership. Michael Oshry says he'd like to make after-school recreation available free of charge. As Morgan Black reports, the question that follows-how realistic is it? – Jun 7, 2021

A mayoral candidate in Edmonton would like to see free, supervised activities for everyone under the age of 18 at City of Edmonton recreation facilities.

Michael Oshry’s proposed policy pitches that city-owned recreation centres would be available at no cost from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on school days. The proposal would also establish bus transportation from the 100 highest-need schools in the city to the closest facility.

“It also ends up being free after-school daycare. Someone is watching after the kids if their parents are working,” he said.

“There’s a lot of families who have had a tough time during COVID-19. This is a small step that the city can take to step up and support families.”

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The proposed policy is a partnership between Free Play for Kids, a program based on the model the organization has created.

Political analyst John Brennan said he believes if the policy was brought as a motion to the new council members following the Oct. 18 municipal election, it could have teeth for a majority vote.

“It’s certainly an innovative and ambitious proposal. It has clear social and health benefits for Edmonton’s kids.”

Brennan said financing will be the biggest barrier facing Edmonton’s new mayor and council regardless of who emerges victorious in the election.

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“The city is very strapped for money. It’s a pandemic-induced recession,” he said. “There’s a lot of households in the city that are hurting. There is no appetite in the city for any increase in taxes.”

Oshry said the program would not require any increase in tax levels and would be instead funded by reducing city administration costs.

“This can all be done by reallocating resources within the City of Edmonton’s current citizen services budget,” he said.

“We’ve looked and there’s money to be found within those [administration] costs.”

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According to Oshry, the policy could help 3,000 kids in Edmonton in January 2022, but would need other layers of support to reach every child in the city.

He cited Edmonton Public School Board, Edmonton Catholic School Board and the provincial and federal government as potential funding supplements.

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“The primary cost early on will go towards extra staffing at recreation centres, new programming and transportation. The cost for 50 buses and additional staffing capacity is approximately $6 million,” reads a statement on the proposed policy.

“We will work hard to obtain support from other orders of government to bring cost down further. All we need in the interim is transportation and free access to city facilities.”

Brennan said he’s unsure if the school boards, already strapped for cash, or the province would get on board.

“Right now, the provincial government is not really interested in funding things that the city has already requested, like operating funding for new affordable housing projects.”

But, Brennan said the boldness of the proposed policy is exactly what he likes about it.

“Innovative and ambitious ideas that confront the problems we face… that’s what election campaigns are for,” he said.

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You can read more about Oshry’s proposed policy here.

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