Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey did not take the premier’s comments about recent increases in waterfront parking rates for visitors to Barrie and Orillia as a finger wag.
“I think the premier is expressing frustration that this balance we are trying to strike between getting our small businesses open and attracting tourists appropriately, and then on the other side the city is saying we have limited tools on what we can do in terms of keeping people safe. So they are using the tools that they have. It’s a complicated situation and a bit of a balance.” said Downey, MPP for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte.
On Friday, Premier Doug Ford was asked whether he felt Barrie’s move to increase per-hour parking rates to $10 was an example of price gouging. The premier emphatically agreed and called it disgusting. “When you’re charging three dollars, and all of a sudden it jumps up to fifty, that’s absolute price gouging.”
Barrie city council agreed in June to boost the hourly parking rate along the waterfront for non-residents to $10, up from $3, while the daily rate climbed to $50 from $20. There is no charge for Barrie residents who display a resident pass.
Since the premier’s remarks, Downey has been working the phones, speaking to both Doug Ford and Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman.
“I think that continued dialogue is always critical to getting the right balance. I think we all have the same goal. We want people to enjoy the amazing things we have in our area and at the same time keep people safe. It will be continuous dialogue on a whole bunch of fronts. It’s this one issue that has caught people’s attention.”
Lehman wasted no time after the Premier’s comments to respond.
“We’re not trying to make a profit, this is not about gouging people or anything like that,” Mayor Lehman told Barrie 360 Friday afternoon. “We’re trying to recoup some of the additional costs that have resulted from the crowding, perhaps, but the primary purpose here, as it has been, is to try and deal with the crowding at the beaches, and that is a concern.”
Lehman pointed out the issue of overcrowding might be something of which Premier Ford was previously unaware. “It’s less about whether they’re open or not, but the very practical fact that the beaches can’t take the volume,” added Lehman. “We’ve been talking about this now for over a month, so it’s too bad the premier didn’t hear about that before he made his comment.”
As for the mayor’s invitation for the premier to see Barrie’s beaches for himself, Downey said he didn’t know the answer to that but added “it wouldn’t shock me” if he visited.
Downey said he has discussed in concept with Mayor Lehman about how to affect social behaviour that is ideally beyond monetary.
“There are things they are looking at. I learned when I did work for the federal government on the Trent-Severn Waterway, we explored different avenues of trying to create venues for people to enjoy things safely, whether it be public barbecue locations or that sort of thing.”
Downey said he know’s the mayor and council were open to those ideas. He acknowledged time was so tight in terms of trying to open up and get moving that “they were using the fastest, quickest tools they could use.”
He said some of the feedback he has been getting isn’t so much about the rate that municipal councils are talking about.
“They are talking about the differential rate within close proximity, so that it is pushing people from one municipality to another.”
Downey said it’s great to have these public discussions about how we find a balance and keep people safe.