Parks Canada Canal Systems – User Fees

Honourable senators, I also wish to welcome our five new senators. You will find us pretty nice on this side. Do not be too nervous or concerned. Just watch me.

Last month, honourable senators, Parks Canada released a proposal to dramatically increase the fee structure for using our country’s canal systems, particularly for the Rideau Canal. As the senator for Ottawa/Rideau Canal, I objected strongly. Fees have been frozen since 2008 and the time has come to adjust them incrementally to meet rising costs and to ensure the long-term sustainability of our canals. However, there has been public outcry because Parks Canada presented us with a plan based only on numbers and not on the stake we share in our canals.

From Ottawa to Kingston, the Rideau Canal enhances the quality of life for all sorts of people — boat operators, bed-and- breakfast owners, private campground operators, people who sell everything from groceries to camping supplies. It is a big industry and there can be no mistaking it. Honourable senators, you put all of those together and you have a vibrant tourist industry. Take the season passes away and start charging for each lock and here is what you have. They tried, at first, to impose astronomical fee hikes. They are cutting the industry off at the knees. A couple of weeks ago the Ottawa Citizen’s Don Butler did some math for us and it worked out to an increase of about 340 per cent.

Higher rates do not necessarily translate into higher revenue if there are not as many boats going through. Parks Canada could well price our canal systems and several Ontario towns out of business. Parks Canada should have thought of this in the first place, but at least it is responding to the public backlash. Yesterday, Parks Canada posted its latest revisions to its proposals. Mooring fee increases have been reduced and one- day and seasonal passes have been restored. This is progress, but more is needed.

Mayors along the Rideau corridor are working together in the interests of their constituents. They have been saying that small businesses and transit between municipalities would suffer if Parks Canada went ahead with its plans for still-too-high fees and the elimination of widely used one-day passes.

Part of the mandate for Parks Canada is “to serve Canadians, working together to achieve excellence guided by values of confidence, respect and fairness.” Parks Canada has not been fair about this. The Rideau Canal represents many wonderful things. Operating with the same technology that was used when it was first opened in 1832, it is recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. This means it belongs to the people of Canada. It was never the intention of parks and/or these canal systems to have a user-fee policy all the way through. Parks Canada owes it to Canadians to find a balance between raising revenue and ensuring that the canal remains accessible for all of us to appreciate and enjoy.

Honourable senators, until February 18, the government is accepting public input to its proposal by email. This is not public consultation if it is email. There should be town hall meetings and an open and transparent discussion about this. Email is hardly public consultation, but it is the best we have.

Honourable senators, I encourage you to go on to the Parks Canada website, find out about the proposal and send in your comments.