The Harper government may have vowed that cutting the deficit would not lead to higher user fees, but documents show that as many as a dozen federal departments plan to raise those fees - including Parks Canada.
The department responsible for Canada's national parks will soon release its proposed new user fees for next year, ranging from entry and camping, to the cost of fishing licences and the use of hot pools. A Parks Canada official said camping fees - which have been frozen since 2008 - are too low and that the increases are likely to be in line with inflation and the cost of living.
The agency is also planning to charge private businesses quite a lot more to renew licences on park property.
Asking Canadians and industry to pay more for government services appears to be one way federal departments are managing the wave of cost-cutting demands as the Harper government attempts to erase Canada's $32.3-billion deficit.
Government departments that charge user fees - the federal government takes in about $1.8-billion a year this way - recently outlined their future plans in reports to Parliament. Treasury Board President Tony Clement has said that higher user fees would not form part of the government's deficit-fighting plan, but The Globe and Mail has reviewed some of the reports and found that 13 government departments are preparing to update their fees.
Most of the 13 that are planning to "change" their user fees have not yet provided detailed proposals. Only the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is using language in its proposal that suggests its fees will decrease, while the rest either explicitly state or imply that fees will rise.
Among those with detailed proposals, the Parole Board of Canada is planning to increase the cost of a pardon to $631 from $150.
That was almost universally panned in a recent public consultation. Canadians who e-mailed responses called the hike excessively punitive and warned it would make it harder for convicted felons to clear their names so they can find work.
Health Canada is also planning to more than double fees for drug and medical-device companies to help cover the cost of safety regulation.
All of this activity - some of which would require legislative changes to the User Fee Act - appears at odds with recent assertions from Mr. Clement, who is in charge of finding $4-billion in annual savings across government.
After floating the idea of higher user fees in a closed-door speech to public servants, the Treasury Board President later flatly rejected the notion when asked about it by reporters on Parliament Hill.
"We don't think that taxpayers should be taxed more or should be user-feed to death," Mr. Clement said on June 13. "There's lots of ways that we can get to a balanced budget without additional user fees on Canadians."
Squaring this circle requires a classic case of Ottawa-speak.
Mr. Clement's office explains that the minister was only ruling out higher user fees as part of his Strategic and Operating Review process, which will be detailed in the 2012 budget. That doesn't prevent government departments from raising fees outside of that plan.
That's exactly how the minister's comments are being interpreted at Parks Canada. One official said that while the higher user fees will not be part of Parks Canada's restraint proposal to Mr. Clement, the agency needs more revenue partly because of previous efforts to curb government spending.
"We're not getting increases, nor do we expect to get increases to support those types of activities from appropriations [from Ottawa]" said Andrew Campbell, Parks Canada's director general of external relations and visitor experience. "So as the cost of delivering those services goes up, we expect to raise the fees in order to do that."
Any changes to user fees must be put forward for public comment before being approved by Parliament.
Fees that could cost more
Services ranging from hunting permits to Parole Board pardons are all under the microscope
Parks and national historic sites
For $136.40, a family can purchase an all-access, one-year pass to all 27 national parks and 77 participating National Historic Sites. A day pass to visit a national park is $9.80 for an adult and $14.70 for a family.
These Parks Canada fees are expected to go up next year, as the agency tries to cover about 30 per cent of its costs from user fees. The cost of a licence for private businesses operating on park land is expected to rise more steeply.
The proposed fees will be announced in the coming months.
Parks Canada director general Andrew Campbell says admission fees will still be a great value for Canadians. "It's hard to get into a movie for one person for that type of money," he said. "So those are, from my perspective, great values."
Applying for a pardon used to be free. A $50 user fee was introduced in 1995 to help the Parole Board of Canada and the RCMP cover some of the processing costs. In 2010, the federal government raised the fee to $150. Also that year, it passed the Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act, replacing the legal term "pardon" with "record suspension."
The board says covering the cost of implementing these changes is partly why it needs more revenue from fees, which would be $631 under the proposal.
Canada's drug and medical-device companies are being asked to pay millions more in fees to Health Canada. The proposed 139-per-cent hike in user fees for industry is aimed at offsetting half the cost of regulating the safety of drugs and medical services under the Food and Drugs Act. If accepted, revenue from fees would rise from $47-million a year to $112.4-million.
Among the proposed increases, the basic fee for licensing a new drug would rise from $6,000 to $15,450, and the fees associated with regulating a vaccine would increase from $10,000 to $25,750.
The cost to hunt in a federally regulated national wildlife area would go up by an amount that has yet to be announced. Currently, hunters pay $108.68 for a day pass. Environment Canada is responsible for 51 national wildlife areas across the country, covering a combined 529,000 hectares.
Other organizations signalling plans to change user fees include the Canadian School of Public Service, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Grain Commission, Canadian Heritage, the Canadian Space Agency, Correctional Service Canada, Industry Canada and Natural Resources Canada.