ONTARIO - Ontario Premier Doug Ford called out the city of Barrie at a press conference on Friday about the recent hike in its parking fees to dissuade out-of-towners from using the city's beaches.
In an effort to combat overcrowding at the Barrie waterfront, councillors voted to hike the city's waterfront parking rates from $3 to $10 hourly and from $20 to $50 for a maximum daily fee.
However, the premier called it “price gouging” and said he would reach out to Attorney General Doug Downey, who represents the area as Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP.
“I can’t stand when companies or governments take advantage of people in a crisis,” Ford said at his press conference. “People can barely put food on their tables, they can barely pay their rent, barely pay their mortgage. People are barely holding on by their fingertips and some municipal government wants to gouge you?
"It’s disgusting, in my opinion," he added.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman was not happy with the premier's comments and made his feelings clear in a statement provided to BarrieToday.
"Perhaps the premier is not aware of the overcrowding problem on Barrie and Simcoe County beaches that has resulted partly from the province’s decision to proceed with a phased reopening," Lehman said. "Otherwise, he would have understood that the parking prices are not an attempt to profit, but an attempt to deal with the lack of distancing and overcrowding we have seen, as well as help recoup some of the costs associated with these problems."
The mayor stressed that it's not about revenue from the tickets.
"We don’t want people’s $50 and we don’t want to issue a ton of parking tickets or bylaw tickets – we want to reduce the crowds and help make sure people stay safe," Lehman said. "During COVID, all levels of government have had to be creative and use the limited tools we have to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. We have typically all worked well together and so these comments are disappointing. I’d be pleased to invite him to Barrie to view the situation and discuss this issue if he would like."
When reached by BarrieToday, Downey confirmed that he had spoken to the premier since the remarks were made.
Downey said he believes that the premier “understands the issues” as they pertain to the fees being an attempt to curb overcrowding and hopes there's a way to balance all that is needed for the area to thrive economically and health-wise.
“I think people recognize that we need to find a balance between bringing business to our city and what municipal council is trying to do, which is drive behaviour that they feel is appropriate for their area,” Downey said. “We have put a lot of effort into bringing people to our downtown and spending money in our region.”
According to a recent report from city staff, in other municipalities around Barrie the hourly rates are $10 in Innisfil, $5 in Georgina, and $3 in Wasaga Beach. Full-day rates are $50 in Innisfil, $25 in Georgina, $20 in Oro-Medonte Township, and $15 in Wasaga Beach.