POLITICS

Ontario hiking driver and vehicle licence fees to pay for roads and bridges

03/13/2012 11:48 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Millions of Ontario motorists will share the pain of eliminating the province's massive deficit by paying more in driving and licence fees.

The governing Liberals are hiking the costs of driving, increasing fees for new driver's licences and renewals to $80 from $75 starting next year.

Getting a vehicle licence validation sticker in southern Ontario, which currently costs $74, will go up to $82 next year and hit $98 in 2014.

Northern Ontario will see a more modest increase, with stickers going up by $4 to $41 this year and reaching $49 in 2014.

Driving exams — which currently range between $10 for a written test to $75 for a practical test — will cost between $5 to $10 more. Replacing a licence will cost $15, an increase of $5.

Fees for truck and bus operators, trailers, farm, off-road and snow vehicles are also going up. A permit for a snowmobile — currently $30 — will go up by a $1 in 2013 and reach $33 by 2015. Same for off-road vehicles, which will rise to $36 in 2013 and reach $38 in 2015.

Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said the measures will bring in $340 million a year by 2014-15, which will help maintain Ontario's roads and bridges.

It also means the province, which is facing a $16-billion deficit this year, won't have to charge GO Transit users parking fees as recommended in economist Don Drummond's austerity report, he said.

"These (fee increases) are not specifically recommended in Drummond, but we're implementing them to help our fiscal challenge with $340 million, and that balances the fact that we're not taking his recommendation on GO," he said Tuesday.

Drummond had warned that if the government didn't implement all his recommendations, it would wind up doubling its deficit by 2017-18 instead of eliminating it altogether. If it can't follow through with one recommendation, he said, the government must make up the lost revenue somewhere else.

A government source said new fees will be the only fee hike in the upcoming budget that will affect families.

But critics argue motorists are already paying enough.

Ontario drivers pay an estimated $15 billion a year in taxes and fees, of which the provincial government receives $9.6 billion, said the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association.

Those costs include HST on car sales and new car services, gasoline taxes, the federal air conditioner tax and the Drive Clean program.

"The family car is a necessity for millions of Ontario families and is often the second most expensive purchase a family will make," Frank Notte, a spokesman for the organization, said in a statement.

"Governments must do all they can to keep the cost of owning and operating the family car affordable — that means no new taxes or fees associated with vehicle ownership."

More user fees aren't going to fill the financial hole the Liberals have dug, said NDP critic Gilles Bisson.

"Essentially what they're doing is taxing people by the backdoor," he said. "People are feeling squeezed and I don't think people are going to like this much."

The Progressive Conservatives agree motorists aren't likely to get behind the new fees, and say that instead of reaching deeper into drivers' pockets, the Liberals should curb spending to slay the deficit.

"It'll be very interesting to see the reaction of consumers in this province when they see once again that they're being nickel and dimed, and yet government is doing nothing about dealing with the serious debt issue that they're facing," said Tory transportation critic Frank Klees.

Chiarelli argues the fees — some of which haven't been touched in 15 years — are still below what motorists pay in other provinces.

"You could say that we've been overly modest with our fees," he said.

Southern Ontario drivers currently pay $74 for a vehicle licence validation sticker, compared to $172 in New Brunswick, $142 in British Columbia and $104 in Quebec, he said.

Motorists in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories currently pay a smaller fee.

Even when the fee reaches $98 in 2015, it will still be on par with the national average or below, Chiarelli said.

There are 11 million vehicles registered in Ontario.