'Highway robbery': Tourism operator slams Ontario's fee hike for highway signs

A London, Ont.-area golf club owner has taken issue with an upcoming price increase that will more than double the cost of advertising along Ontario highways.

Fees to advertise on blue tourism signs to rise in 2020

The blue and white tourism signs found along Ontario highways are almost ubiquitous. (Ken Watson)

A London, Ont.-area golf club owner is slamming an upcoming price increase that will more than double the price he has to pay to advertise along Ontario highways.

Brian Girard, owner of the Dutton Meadows Golf Club, says he's paid approximately $600 a year for two signs on Highway 401 for more than 17 years.

When the Progressive Conservative government's tourism sign price hike comes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, Girard said he'll be expected to pay approximately $1,500 — roughly $750 per sign each year — to advertise his business on one of North America's busiest highways.

"This is highway robbery," said Girard.

Ontario first announced a price hike was coming in April 2018. The province agreed to delay the increase for one year after outcry from small business owners and tourism operators, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism.

It's impossible to do business like this.- Brian Girard, Owner, Duttown Meadows Golf Club

"The government heard these concerns and decided to defer the prices changes for one year until Jan. 1, 2020," said Tourism spokesperson Denelle Balfour in an email to CBC News.

According to Balfour, the price increase reflects "safety requirements that require that some larger wood sign posts be converted to steel supports."

She added that sign prices likely won't increase again until Dec. 31, 2029.

Girard remains concerned the price increase will negatively affect his bottom line, explaining that he can't afford the new cost. 

At the same time, he said a lack of signs will mean fewer people know about his business, further harming his income. 

"It's impossible to do business like this," said Girard.

Girard said he wouldn't mind paying more for highway signs if the province — and Canadian TODS Limited, the company that manages the signs — had gradually increased costs over time.

"We're really for the program itself. We were always for it," he said. "If they raised it gradually, it would make the difference. But they didn't. They're just whacking us all at once." 

... Annual costs for users have not increased in 20 years ...- Denelle Balfour, Media Relations Officer, Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture

When asked why the price increase wasn't a gradual process, Balfour said the government deferred the price increase "to give businesses time to adjust their budgets."

"In addition, annual sign costs for users have not increased in 20 years despite the fact that the consumer price index has increased 50 per cent since that time," she said.

Listen to Brian Girard discuss Ontario highway signs with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre:

After a one year reprieve, the cost of those blue tourism signs on Ontario highways is set to more than double in 2020. We asked Brian Girard what it means for his business. He owns the Dutton Meadows Golf Club with his wife, Judy. 8:16

Randy Nichols, general manager of Canadian TODS, said the price increase was in part a result of the cost of "the federally mandated requirement to upgrade structures to steel support columns, and the requirement to improve the visibility of the signage through the use of a higher grade reflective material."

"Additionally, installation, manufacturing, highway safety procedures, maintenance and labour costs have increased by over 70 per cent since the program was initiated in 1997," he said. 

With files from Jonathan Pinto


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