Monday, November 9, 2009

Green Pan Am Games, Green Parks, and The Right to Play

Former Mayor David Crombie lobbies to keep 39 inner city school swimming pools open on April 17, 2009 because the City of Toronto cannot afford them. On October 22nd, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced that Ontario has the largest deficit in its history. On October 25th, my neighbourhood park, MacGregor Park, presented a children's play called "All Hallow's Train" about the train tracks crossing its border. On November 1st at the Pumpkin Parade in Sorauren Park, a mother put out her anti-diesel train pumpkin to represent the concerns of her 140 member Toronto Mom's Group for their childrens' health. On November 6th, Ontario won the bid to hold a $2.4 billion Pan Am Games in Toronto, 2015.

These seemingly unrelated facts are intricately interwoven. The two parks, MacGregor and Sorauren, have all the future eight tracks of railroad expansion running directly beside them, and these 464 trains daily will cause irreparable damage to these parks. I thought, as I watched the children's play, whether this play would be possible when the noise of the trains is a non stop wall of sound, and metallic diesel fumes from the trains fill the air. Metrolinx is currently purchasing MP40, 4000 horsepower locomotives, which are much heavier and noisier than previous stock, and their sound travels much further, with a distinctive, high pitched whine, and shudder when they brake. These new generations of children will have very little clean air, or quiet moments, in either playground, or on the running track, behind West Toronto Collegiate in 2015. I wonder if they will be able to perform with period costumes, cut out trains, rolling clocks, and stories written to delight in the railway and amuse their parents, when their lines cannot be delivered over the traffic.

It has been said again and again by Minister of Transportation, Jim Bradley, that the additional $200 - $300 million needed to electrify the Georgetown South Service Expansion and Air Rail Link - not the $8 or $10 billion repeatedly and erroneously stated by Metrolinx to dissuade the taxpayer - is too expensive, yet surprisingly, there is $2.4 billion for the Pan Am Games in the provincial and federal coffers. As part of this Pan Am Games, the Air Rail Link will take the athletes to the Olympic Village through these parks in west end neighbourhoods, so winning these games will speed up its construction to meet this hard deadline.

The Pan Am Games Committee has proclaimed that it wants to be the first 'green games in history'. I wonder what the athletes will think as they board the refurbished 1950s BUDD trains to go to their Olympic Village? If put to a vote, would they think that it is good sportsmanship to impair the lung capacity of children by diesel emissions when they are dependent on their own lung capacity to shave off milliseconds in their performance? The athletes will come from forty-two countries, many of whom have seen systemic poverty, and many of whom have learned that sportsmanship can bring opportunity to learn and travel. I am quite certain that many have been supported by the initiatives of the Right to Play, an organization which creates a healthier world for children through the power of sport and play in developing countries, and would say 'no' to giving children asthma.

In this era of private-public partnerships, untendered contracts, unbridled overspending and cronyism, it is unfashionable to say that I love my vulnerable Ward 18, and want to protect the health of all the children who act, learn and play sports in these parks. The athletes of the Pan Am Games should be made aware that my neighbourhood will be saddled with a diesel corridor which will impact my neighbourhood with a lifetime of pollution, vibration and noise, for their twelve day event. The free community-based events, the Pumpkin Parade, the children's performances, and the right of all children to play in parks without harm, mean the world to me. The welfare of my neighbourhood is priceless, and the health of the children who live within it is not to be used as collateral damage for a temporary sporting event, or air rail link. According to Unicef's Convention of the Rights of the Child, the use of diesel trains, with 'clean diesel' or not, for this rail expansion violates three of its fundamental principles: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; and to protection from harmful influences.

It seems to me that the cost to electrify the rail corridor is a pittance in comparison to the total budget of the Pan Am Games. When Ontario hosts the Pan Am Games, the contractual agreements for building the infrastructure should be transparent and tendered, the Air Rail Link should be built as electric from the beginning, and the impact of its construction should be considered in relation to the neighbourhoods so that it improves the quality of life of those who live there. It may be that the athletes' lodgings, which will be turned into low income housing, in the West Donlands, will be the only positive, permanent contribution of the Games for disadvantaged residents, if other areas affected are not considered, such as this transit corridor.

I am quite sure that the Pan Am Games Committee, and its athletes, will agree that the lung capacity of athletes is worth as much as those of children. The Pan Am Games Committee should practice what they preach, and publicly announce that the performance of the athletes is based upon good sportsmanship, optimal conditioning, and the right to play, and support the goals of social and environmental justice by ensuring this games has green, electric transit. The Pan Am Games should be green for all parks, playgrounds and track fields throughout Ontario, so that no child is harmed when the athletes come to compete. None of these budding actors, or athletes, in my neighbourhood deserves to have impaired lung capacity to host a twelve day event, or to not be able to play safely in their nearby park for the remainder of their life. The playing field should be level for all in the name of sportsmanship and social justice, internationally and locally.


Crombie begs city to rescue 39 pools, The Star, April 17, 2009 at
The Right to Play Canada at
Unicef: 'Convention on the Rights of the Child' at
'Ontario deficit billions more than expected' on October 22nd at