Ah, the joys of summer. Can you feel them coming? Summer is now here, and has been for about a week. Those who love summer look forward to going outside without the tedious task of layering up, and they can’t wait to go camping, fishing, boating, and swimming. A uniquely affordable activity in that list – and one that is fun for all ages – is swimming.
North Dundas is lucky to have two public swimming pools, one in Winchester, and one in Chesterville. Those of us who live outside of these villages must travel by car to go swimming, but the pools are still accessible within a reasonable distance, and we can still take advantage of the discounted resident rates for pool rentals and other facility rentals.
This year, as most readers will know, the pools will be open only on what is considered a “part time” basis. The hours remain reasonable, but the move will definitely cause a limitation on when regular pool-goers will be able to enjoy their favourite pastime. Council was tasked in April with deciding whether to open only the Winchester pool but for its full hours, or to open both the Winchester and Chesterville pools each part time. Council absolutely made the right call – deciding in favour of one community over another would have been inappropriate. But why can’t both pools be opened full time? The answer is… staffing! The same problem is plaguing every employment sector.
There are certain places where I would never want to work, so I don’t blame people for not jumping at the opportunity to work these jobs. Two prime examples are the fast food and retail industries. These jobs pay at or near minimum wage, and come with a side order of verbal abuse. The derogatory expression “not qualified to flip burgers” no longer has much meaning in today’s world. Take McDonald’s as an example. When it opened decades ago, the menu had only three food items – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and fries, with a basic assortment of drinks. Last fall, to illustrate a point, I added up the current food items on the McDonald’s menu… all 83 of them! This does not include drinks or the assortment of “McCafe” beverages.
The exact number of menu items may have changed since the fall, but it gives a solid idea of the workload of fast food workers. Knowing how to make 83 food items and a handful of frilly beverages certainly sets modern fast food workers apart from those who ran the original chains. Customers, however, expect the same speed of service, and can be far less civil when their order is wrong. Most of us know teens and young adults who have been verbally berated by customers when working in the fast food and retail industries, some of them so badly that they come home crying each day. Then we wonder why they want extra pay to keep doing the job, and why our food and other goods are becoming so expensive. It’s only one aspect of the wage wars in this country, but an important one.
McDonald’s pays its starting non-student general labourers $16.50 hourly, likely because with the increased demands of the job, workers will not do it for any less. In fact, the LED sign that hangs at the McDonald’s location in the west end of Kemptville is dedicated almost exclusively to hiring staff. Message after message pops up, including one bold message “come in with a resume, leave with a career.”
Let’s extrapolate this to lifeguarding. Being a lifeguard is a massive responsibility that requires extensive hands-on training, which costs both time and money. Lifeguards are not unskilled labourers, and although they only work during the summer season in North Dundas, being a lifeguard is much more than a “summer job”. It’s a job with pre-existing qualification requirements. What do we pay our North Dundas lifeguards? According to the 2023 recruitment ad, we pay $17-19 hourly for the lifeguard/ swimming instructor positions. These are qualified people who are quite literally “guarding lives” and also teaching and guiding children who – let’s face it – don’t always listen. A starting wage just 50 cents higher than what one can expect at McDonald’s is simply laughable.
This Township has a very divided population when it comes to spending tax dollars. Many want to pinch pennies, and many others want to spend generously on recreation and other amenities. Our two pools are subsidized by taxpayer dollars. User fees do not cover their cost. But in the case of underpaying lifeguards and ending up with a shortage of them, it is my belief that it costs us money in the long run. When our pools are sitting closed for 20-30 hours each week during times when they would normally be open, there is money that is “going down the drain”, so to speak. Any hardcore Harry Potter fan may be familiar with the spell “Evanesco”, which makes things vanish and cease to exist. That is exactly what happens to our tax dollars when the pools are closed. The money we spent purifying the municipal water that fills them, the money we spent on the chemicals to keep the water safe for swimming, the money we spent on electricity to keep the pumps and heaters running, the money we spent maintaining the property… this taxpayer subsidy money is wasted if we can’t get swimmers in the water.
The solution for next year seems simple. A wage bump of $2 or $3 or some other reasonable amount might attract lifeguards and allow the largely taxpayer-funded pools to serve the communities that pay for them, just as intended. For the penny pinchers, it may seem like a waste of money. For those of us with money sense, it seems that paying for pools that are closed is a much bigger waste.