Smiths Falls

Municipalities have their say on future of Rideau Canal operations

Posted Aug 16, 2012 By Stacey Roy

EMC News - It looks like municipalities along the Rideau Canal will have to wait a little while longer before they know the fate of the Rideau Canal.

Seven municipal representatives met with Minister of the Environment Peter Kent Aug. 7 to provide their input into the government's plans to adjust regular operations of the world heritage site.

Mayor Doug Struthers of Merrickville-Wolford said several points were made beyond the obvious historical importance of the canal to the nation and the world during the meeting where ministry and Parks Canada executives attended. During discussions the idea of increasing boating fees and potentially reducing the shoulder season was brought forward with mayors leaving one clear message - business operators must be part of this process.

"It would be more than appropriate to do so," Struthers said.

Minister Kent's brief comments regarding Canada's fees charged to businesses within federal parks drew fire from the opposition party. Liberal Small Business and Tourism critic Joyce Murray spoke of the impacts to local communities - most of whom have evolved directly around the Rideau Canal long before it became a federal park.

"His plan to tax these small businesses is ludicrous as policy, probably illegal to institute and would be devastating to local economies. Owning a business is not a privilege, it is the right of every Canadian who dreams of being a successful entrepreneur," a statement released Aug. 10 by Murray reads.

Struthers said the minister did muse about this possibility during the meeting, but that it was not further discussed.

"Those kinds of opportunities aught to be discussed with commercial operators," he said.

There was some positive information sharing from the minister at the meeting when he assured the mayors that Parks Canada will always have adequate maintenance funding available for the historic waterway and that their objective was to ensure no federal revenues derived from businesses along the canal be impacted by their decisions.

"That was encouraging to hear," Struthers said.

The mayors urged the government to consider the savings they have already made through previous cuts when looking at how much more the historic system should be trimmed. They expressed their concern with a large portion of the Parks Canada cuts aimed at the Rideau Canal and asked that any reductions be fair across the board. Struthers said of Parks Canada's $695 million budget they have been asked to cut $29.5 million with about $2 million in savings coming from the canal. Officials stated 50 per cent of this would be non-water based operational cuts.

There was no timeline given for when the minister will release the ultimate decision for the canal's 2013 operations, but expediency was highlighted to assist commercial operators and tourists who will be planning their 2013 season this fall.

"There needs to be a clear picture sooner rather than later for 2013," Struthers said.

Minister Kent said all government departments are to report back in the very near future.

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