POLITICS

Ontario finance minister rules out photo radar among proposed user fee hikes

06/03/2013 11:22 EDT | Updated 08/03/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Photo radar won't come back to Ontario, but other government proposals to increase and change user fees will be reviewed, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Monday.

They're just recommendations and "alternatives" at this point, he said.

"A lot of the recommendations that are being brought forward are also not being acted upon," he said. "These are just recommendations that are being brought forward."

The proposals include expanding red-light cameras in "high-risk areas," a surcharge of up to 75 cents for 911 services on monthly phone bills and a "pay for stay" user fees at jails, according to Treasury Board documents.

The ministries submitted the ideas after they were asked to develop "non-tax revenue components" as part of their plans for 2013-14, the documents said.

The ministries were directed to look at indexing fees and come up with new or updated fees to recover costs for "enhanced" services or programs and to "offset ministry pressures."

The suggestions include new family court fees and public parking fees, an in-person service charge from ServiceOntario, "reinstating the Drive Clean expense," a new processing fee for fish and wildlife licences, as well as increasing vehicle licence and permit fees — which the Liberals already hiked this year.

Altogether, the Treasury Board estimated the proposed fee increases — which would apply to businesses and municipalities as well as individuals — would raise $269 million by 2015-16.

Three of them — including the Drive Clean expense — have been approved in principle and are expected to bring in $21.9 million by 2015-16.

The Progressive Conservatives, who obtained the documents through a legislative committee that's looking into the expensive cancellation of two gas plants, brandished the papers as proof the Liberals intend to dig deeper in taxpayers' pockets.

"We read through every detail of the budget," Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said in the legislature.

"Nowhere in the budget was there mention of this new tax grab or user fees. Nowhere did the words 'photo radar' appear."

Sousa fired back, saying Hudak wants to "make things up" and muse about what may happen.

They're just proposals and no decision has been made about whether they will be implemented, he said.

Outside the chamber, Sousa said photo radar wasn't on the table, but wouldn't rule out anything else.

More user fees are not the way to go, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. Instead, the Liberals should focus on corporate tax breaks.

"Some people are told that they have to pony up time and time again, while those who least need the breaks are the ones who get the breaks," she said. "That's not a fair and balanced approach."

Ontario is facing a $11.7-billion deficit this year and is expected to stay in the red until 2017-18.