TORONTO - Less than a year after freezing driver and vehicle fees in Ontario, the Progressive Conservative government is considering raising them again, while bracing for a "negative reaction."
In a proposal quietly posted to a regulatory registry for public comment, the government says it is seeking to introduce annual fee increases of two per cent "across the board" for "various driver, vehicle and carrier products and services."
"These moderate fee increases will allow the government to continue delivering services and move towards full cost recovery without increasing taxes for all Ontarians," said the posting.
Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said Wednesday that he is looking at implementing predictable increases, after the previous Liberal government introduced multiple increases per year at larger amounts.
"We are looking to see how we can attain that cost recovery model, but in a way that reflects people's ability to pay and we're going to try to tie it to inflation, but as I said, no decisions have been made and I look forward to people's responses on that," he said.
The posting on the regulatory registry was up for just five days and removed on Monday. Only two comments were received, the ministry said.
The fee increases would start July 1 and continue for five years, under the proposal.
"It is anticipated there will be a neutral to negative reaction from drivers, vehicle owners and commercial carriers, with the impact on drivers and vehicle owners estimated to be low as proposed increases are minimal and will be spread over a five-year planning horizon," the proposal says.
The government froze some driver fees last August, cancelling increases that had been set for the following month, leaving the fee for a new driver's licence, for example, at $90 instead of $97.
"People are fed up with paying more and more every time they need to renew their licence or take a driving test," Premier Doug Ford said in a statement at the time.
Later, the government also cancelled increases for some passenger, commercial and farm vehicle and driver fees that were set to take effect Jan. 1, 2019.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the government is saying one thing and doing another.
"The Ford government made a big deal about not raising license fees and now they've done this quietly, hoping no one would notice," he said in a statement.
"The Ford government has put themselves in a very tight fiscal box. They've reduced their revenues through tax cuts for the rich and corporations as well as ending cap and trade. When revenue is reduced, it limits your options."
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner pointed to analysis from the province's fiscal watchdog and said it will be difficult to balance the budget without new revenue, so the premier is quietly cancelling some of his old promises, like halting driver fee increases.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said it's concerned that Ontario is looking to increase fees for drivers, who need a break.
"Instead of raising fees to cover the cost of providing these services, the government should explore ways to reduce the cost of providing these services," the federation's interim Ontario director, Jasmine Pickel, said in a statement.
NDP transportation critic Jennifer French said drivers can't trust the premier to help make their lives more affordable.
"Ontario families are already struggling to pay skyrocketing auto insurance and gas prices, and now Ford is hitting them with even more costs to drive their cars," she said in a statement.
The proposal also says the impact on commercial carriers is expected to be "medium, as carriers have previously been impacted by fee increases over the last few years."