03/04/2015 01:30 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT

No new Quebec government funding for drowning prevention lessons

The Quebec government will not be funding a drowning prevention program in elementary schools despite recommendations from three coroners, CBC Montreal Investigates has learned.

Quebec’s Lifesaving Society is now struggling to pay for lessons for 5,200 school children across the province .

“We have over 130 schools in Quebec that say we are ready to implement this program, but for sure we need some grants," said Raynald Hawkins, the society's general director.

That money, he says, is needed to pay for access to swimming pools,instructors, lifeguards, or for transportation.

Coroners call for lessons across Quebec

Three different coroners have called on funding for drowning prevention in the last seven years.

In 2008, Jacques Ramsay recommended the provincial Education Minister “integrate ‘swim to survive’ into the school curriculum for students in grades three and four so that one day all Quebecers have the minimal requirements to face an emergency situation in the water and so avoid drowning.”

In 2012, coroners Frédéric Boily and Luc Malouin echoed Ramsay after they examined different drowning incidents themselves.

That year, Liberal Education Minister Michelle Courchesne  promised funding to help kick-start the program. She estimated the cost at two million dollars. However, the Liberals lost power to the Parti Québecois that fall, and the PQ could never find the money.

And though there is now yet another Liberal government in place, and Premier Philippe Couillard has named yet another Education Minister in François Blais, there will be no direct funding for "swim to survive" this year.

“The [Education Ministry’s] always concerned with safety for the young and less young near water,” it said in a statement.

The ministry does run a contest for schools with proposals to finance specific physical activities, and offers institutions the chance to present a “swim to survive” initiative as an entry. Last year, there were 134 winning schools, and 13 of them had sent in “swim to survive” proposals.

The programs consist of three, hour-long sessions. They focus on three central lessons for children: a roll entry into the water, which simulates the idea of accidentally falling in; treading water for a minute; and swimming 50 metres.

“At the end of the three swimming lessons or three hours of this program, we’re going to make the evaluation to see the capacity for the children, can they react very safely if they go in the water,” said Hawkins.

Quebec’s Lifesaving Society has run a number of pilot projects since 2010. Hawkins said the results showed the need for wide-spread availability of the program.

“Only 50 per cent of the kids in Quebec meet the standards,” he said.

Hawkins said the money he’s looking for would off-set the program’s costs for transportation to swimming pools, pool rentals, as well as lifeguard salaries.

With no help from Quebec, he’s hoping to turn to the private sector, estimating 130-thousand dollars should meet the current demand.

Last year, the society was able to offer lessons to 2,600 students, he said, all thanks to private funding.
But this year, he already has double the number of people who want in on the courses.

Cash in other provinces

The governments of Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia each subsidize their Lifesaving Society branches to run their “swim to survive” programs.

Ontario’s Education Ministry kicked in 1.5 million dollars per year in the last two academic years, and its Lifesaving Society estimates the cash helps around 81,000 students a year undertake the drowning prevention lessons.

Quebec’s Lifesaving Society estimates there were 41 drownings in the province in 2014. 

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