Ontario feels heat, backtracks after splash pad backlash

WATCH: Ford government approves splash pads during stay-at-home order

Ontario officials are moving quickly to allow splash pads to open across the province this weekend after taking some heat for an earlier decision to keep the taps off until mid-June.

A statement from the Ontario government Friday afternoon confirmed splash pads will be allowed to open to the public at 12:01 a.m. on May 22. The decision to turn on the taps is in the hands of local authorities.

“Recognizing that splash/spray pads, like other outdoor recreational amenities, can be safely enjoyed, we have amended the regulation to align splash pads/spray pads with other outdoor recreational amenities,” a spokesperson with the Ministry of Health said.

Ottawa city councillors took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to announce the change in plans, as some splash pads had already opened in the city Thursday before the Ontario government’s reopening announcement put a kibosh on the plans under the ongoing COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney and Capital Coun. Shawn Menard both said splash pads in the city will remain open on Friday.

While Ontario’s new regulations don’t technically come into effect until Saturday, the City of Ottawa has indicated bylaw will not be patrolling splash pads Friday night and that officers will continue to use discretion when enforcing public health measures.

The move comes after some mayors of Ontario cities asked provincial officials to reconsider plans not to allow splash pads to open ahead of the usual season as temperatures in some parts of the province are set to pass 30 C during the Victoria Day weekend.

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The backlash started in Ottawa, which had planned to open up the 127 splash pads across the city on Friday, as the city’s top doctor argued the sites fell under the same exemption to Ontario’s stay-at-home order as playground equipment. Dr. Vera Etches cited the important role the waterworks play in keeping families cool and active over the summer as part of the plan.

But the COVID-19 reopening plan laid out by Ontario officials on Thursday has splash pads staying closed until the first step of the provincial reopening, currently slated for sometime mid-June.

Mayor Jim Watson joined other councillors in the city calling on Premier Doug Ford to reverse the decision and allow splash pads to reopen at the same time as golf and other outdoor activities resume on Saturday.

Other mayors in the province joined Watson’s call Friday morning, with Brampton’s Patrick Brown, Burlington’s Marianne Meed Ward and Mississauga’s Bonnie Crombie adding their voices to those pushing the province to reconsider its plans.

The taps were also turned on at some splash pads in Toronto ahead of Ontario’s reopening announcements earlier this week. In total, 70 out of 140 splash pads in Toronto will be available for use over the weekend. Also set to reopen on Saturday are splash pads in Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Oshawa, Hamilton and London.

However, across southern Ontario not all municipalities were opening local amenities. Splash pads in Markham, Oakville, Pickering and Richmond Hill will stay closed until late May or early June.

— With files from Kamil Karamali and Nick Westoll

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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