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.
"By doing a two per cent regular increase, the Ministry of Transportation is taking a measured approach to achieving fiscal balance, while providing Ontario residents the ability to predict annual increases, directly tied to inflationary pressures."
The posting 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.
A spokesman for Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said the proposed increases were posted for feedback, and stressed that no decisions have been made yet.
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.
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."