Mayor John Tory says that the city will create 20,000 new recreation program spaces in 2018 in an attempt to reduce and eventually eliminate a wait list that currently has about 70,000 names on it.

In November, city council approved a plan to add 10,000 new recreation program spaces in 2018 and 25,000 in 2019 and 2020 but on Tuesday Tory told reporters that the proposed budget for 2018 includes $965,000 in additional funding to double the number of new spaces planned for 2018.

He said that the spaces will be added to programs experiencing the highest demand, mainly swimming, skating and summer camps.

“These community centres and the programs that go on inside of them are an indispensable part of people’s lives but as our city grows and more people decide to have families here and move here we have to make sure that these rec programs keep up,” Tory said.

Tory said that about 35 per cent of the new spaces will be allocated to programs in Scarborough, where the waiting lists tend to be the longest.

The investment in new spaces comes as the city gets ready to roll out a new online platform for registering for the programs later this year. The introduction of that program comes in the wake of several interim changes made to boost the capacity of the previous system. Tory said those changes have helped improve what had become a “nightmareish” process for many parents but have not done anything to address the underlying issue of an insufficient number of spaces.

“The new registration system will help us better manage the wait list but it doesn’t address the core problem of not enough spaces in programs,” Tory said. “Without adding more programs we won’t be able to reduce or eliminate the wait list.”

About 75 per cent of the city’s one million hours in recreation programming are offered free of charge.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Community Development and Recreation Committee Chair James Pasternak said that the programming has become a “vital part of making Toronto a liveable city” and attracting newcomers here.

“Ours must be a city that gets everyone into the game,” he said. “No benchwarmers, no wallflowers and no couch potatoes.”

City council will vote on the proposed budget during a meeting scheduled for Feb 12-13.