A proposed Parks Canada fee hike for using boats on the Rideau Canal has Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar worried that a UNESCO World Heritage site will be turned into an ATM machine for the government.
Politicians in and around Centretown are now worried that fee increases could threaten the coveted international heritage designation for the canal.
On Jan. 11, Parks Canada released a proposal for lockage and mooring fees on the canal that in some instances saw a 300 per cent increase in costs for boaters. The proposal also eliminated temporary and season long passes, ending the discounts associated with those plans.
Parks Canada states on its website that the planned fee increases are due to the fact that the costs for operating the canal lockage services are $18.5 million annually and that revenues from those services are equal to just 9.6 per cent of those costs, whereas roughly 35 per cent of operational costs are recovered at other Parks Canada operations.
That proposed fee hike prompted an outcry from canal users, mayors in towns along the canal between Ottawa to Kingston, Dewar and Liberal Sen. Jim Munson, whose constituency is officially styled “Ottawa-Rideau Canal.”
In response to the public backlash, Parks Canada has adjusted the proposed fee proposals twice
The new plan eliminated the earlier proposal’s costly ticket system and offered two package deals: a six-day pass and a season pass priced according to the length of the boat passing through the canal’s locks.
Under the new proposal, boaters would pay $7.20 per foot for a six-day pass and $15 per foot for a season pass.
“My greatest concern is that the government has taken something that so many people fought for to be a UNESCO World Heritage site and they’re looking to turn it into a cash cow,” says Dewar.
Munson says the revised proposal is still unacceptable.
Munson says Parks Canada “is missing the boat on what the original concept behind having a World Heritage sites was: to be used by all.
“In my opinion these outrageous fee increases will kill the canal,” says Munson.
“It’s not enough for a World Heritage site to just be seen; it must be used, and it must be affordable to be used by Canadians of all means.”
Dewar says the canal has become a major point of interest for tourism in downtown Ottawa and that the Parks Canada proposals reflect a misunderstanding and undermining of the status of the canal as a World Heritage site.
“The government is showing that there isn’t an understanding of how local tourism works.”
Munson echoes the sentiment. “While the canal is a beautiful sanctuary, people really go to downtown Ottawa to see the boats on the canal, not just the canal itself.”
Dewar says a decrease in canal usage could negatively affect businesses in Centretown.
But Maria Giannatos, owner of Ambiance Bed and Breakfast on Nepean Street, says a decrease in canal usage likely wouldn’t affect overnight spots downtown.
“I’m about a 10- or 15-minute walk from the canal,” she says. In the 12 years that her business has operated in Centretown, she says there has never been a customer who boated into Ottawa and stayed at her bed and breakfast.
“I don’t see a fee increase having a very big consequence for our industry,” she says.
A notice on Parks Canada’s website informs citizens that they have until Feb. 18 to submit e-mails expressing their concern.
“That’s not a conversation, at all. That’s not even consultation. It’s a matter of, ‘Thank you for your point of view, I don’t know who you are, thanks but no thanks,” says Munson.
“The government needs to understand that this way of governing is not accountable, it’s not transparent,” adds Dewar.
Munson says that in order to have a truly democratic discussion about the fee increases, there need to be face-to-face meetings with federal politicians, bureaucrats, and the people affected.
“If we don’t do that, then we don’t live in much of a democracy,” he says.
“I don’t see any logic in any of this. I think that’s why it has to be looked at again,” says Munson, adding that he plans to raise the issue in the Senate.