Boating in Canada Archive

Canada's Canals targetted by Auditor General

November 27, 1996

In the 1996 Auditor General's Report, Auditor General Denis Desautels says Parks Canada is not charging boaters enough for using the canals. You can request the full chapter on "Canadian Heritage - Parks Canada: Management of Historic Canals" which includes canal traffic statistics since 1984.

Fees paid by boats covered only 5% of the annual $24 million in 1995 to operate nine historic canals. Most of the costs are for the Rideau Canal and Trent-Severn Waterway.

Parks Canada made a written reply to Desautels, saying it has no intention of increasing rates for boaters because it wouldn't be fair. [!] Desautels found that boaters were a limited and declining market on the canal. [See comments]

2,200 boats navigate the Rideau Canal in a year, 80% of which use them during July and August. Shortening the navigation season on the canals was suggested (to save money). Desautels also recommends closing 64% of the Rideau Canal locks and 55% of the Trent-Severn locks since they are used by a small munber of boaters -- which would save $10 million annually.

My Comments

A boat can't traverse the waterway with even one lock closed! You can't shut down "a few" locks, without the waterway ceasing to exist. And who gets to play God and cut some communities off from tourist income that comes from boaters and, indirectly from the land tourists they attract. The Rideau Canal and Trent-Severn Canal attract boats travelling from the Ottawa River, St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes and beyond. The large boat rental business, catering to tourists from around the world, will die. Marinas will die. Towns will suffer bankruptcies of tourist- oriented businesses.

One of the important roles of Rideau staff is to monitor and maintain water levels on the entire Rideau waterway (I assume the Trent is the same). The experienced lock staff is an invaluable resource in flood control. If cutbacks affect this service, you can expect serious flooding along the waterways from Ottawa to Kingston, from Georgian Bay to Trenton, and all the other heritage canal systems.

One of the reasons that boaters are declining in numbers paying at lockstations is the huge increases in fees the last few years. In spite of what Parks Canada says "officially", the lockmasters and boaters know that the poor weather in 1996 wasn't the reason for the drop in numbers. It's a vicious circle -- you raise fees to cover more of the cost, the boaters (who pay lockage and mooring fees), tourists, picnicers and fishing folk (who pay new parking fees) will resist. Result? Income from fees actaully drops.

These are just a few of the results of this sort of political thinking. Instead of looking for ways to maintain public parkland and heritage sites for our children, or developing a budding tourist industry, they think "chop" first and forget the consequences.

Parkland and recreational facilities for the public are suddenly considered frills that Canadians must pay for as individuals. I always thought one of the main purposes of government was to provide services for the public. [sigh]

It's interesting to travel just a few miles south across the border, where the New York State Barge Canal splits and turns into the Erie Barge Canal, which leads to the beautiful Finger Lakes. These waterway have spent the last 10 years beautifying the canals and lands to cater to tourists, recognizing that their commercial traffic was going the way of the dodo bird. These canals are absolutely free to use. The communities along the way benefit from the tourist business on land and water. At the same time as this was happening, the Rideau Canal was installing lockage fees, mooring fees, and now parking fees.

So, boaters, being basically quiet and non-political in nature, will wake up one day to find Canada has closed down one of the jewels of the travelling world -- cruising at its very best! If people do nothing, these canals will be abandoned. For heaven sake, write your member of parliament!!

Virtually yours,
Pat [who has canoed, paddled, power-boated, sailed, cruised, bare-boated, cruise-shipped, and just plain floated on the water] Drummond

Write or e-mail your Member of Parliament or send your concerns to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Hon. Sheila Copps, Liberal, Hamilton East Dec/96).