This May long weekend will be more expensive for campers and other provincial park users. (FILE)
Enjoying Manitoba's provincial parks this long holiday weekend will mean a deeper dig into the wallet.
For the first time since 2008, the Victoria Day weekend - considered the major camping kickoff of the spring and summer season - will see the Manitoba government charge entrance fees at all of its provincial parks. And the newly reinstated vehicle permit charges for the parks, slated to remain in place, have risen from four years ago.
"I thought it was a good idea they had before, when you didn't need to pay. We pay taxes on so much other stuff - surely they can afford to have free weekends," Jake Derksen, a resident of rural Manitoba, said on Thursday outside a Cabela's outdoor equipment store in Winnipeg.
"That's kind of what you expect," he added of the provincial government. "If they can milk a cow somewhere, they will."
NEW FEE SYSTEM
The new fee system kicked in on May 1, putting park permits at $8 per vehicle for a three-day period - up from the $7 charged in 2008. A pass to cover a year of park visits has been raised to $30 per vehicle, up from $28.
"The government is also creating a new option for a daily pass, which will cost $4," provincial spokesman Jean-Marc Prevost pointed out, noting that the new fees are expected to generate between $2.5 million and $3 million a year.
The governing New Democrats say the revenue will be funnelled into the provincial parks to cover the costs of maintenance and improved facilities.
Some other parks-goers picking up gear at Cabela's suggested that they'll perhaps not enjoy paying the hiked fees, but live with them.
"I'm not sure exactly what the money is used for, but I assume it's all about maintenance. That being the case, I suppose it's acceptable," said Beck Jorgensen, who drives to provincial parks several times a year for day trips.
If "every penny goes back into the parks," Mike Bailey said he's OK with the reinstated and increased charges.
"It's reasonable, it's affordable. It's money well spent, if it's spent at the parks," said Bailey, an occasional camper. "If there are costs associated with a park being there, those costs should be borne by those using it."
Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the NDP government "should clearly demonstrate" that the new fees will be used for what it says they will. He added that the timing of the reinstatement of the park fees indicates at least some political manoeuvring.
"They were trying to encourage people to camp in Manitoba, rather than go outside the province," Craig, the CTF's regional director, said of the removal of the fees between 2009 and 2011 - the year the New Democrats won another election to maintain a majority government.
"I think that was their initial thinking. Now that the election is over, they probably want those dollars back."
GAS TAX HIKE
Provincial park entrance fees aren't the only new cost pressures Manitobans are running into this holiday weekend.
A tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, raised earlier this spring by 2.5 cents per litre as part of the latest yearly budget tabled in April by the NDP government, comes as Manitoba's 7% provincial sales tax is being expanded this year to services such as hairstyling and manicures.
The opposition Conservatives charged Thursday that the gas tax jump is part of a "post-election cash grab" totalling more than $180 million in tax increases levied through the New Democrats' financial blueprint, only months after Premier Greg Selinger's government won another four-year mandate.
"Now that they're done with the votes of Manitobans," the Tories said in an e-mail to QMI Agency, "they're breaking promises by raising taxes by $184 million, hiking daycare fees and making everything more expensive - from getting married to going camping."
But Jean-Marc Prevost, spokesman for the NDP government, pointed out that the province indicated publicly as far back as July 2009 that the park entrance fees would return after 2011.
"It's rather disingenuous," he said, "to suggest that we were keeping this secret and announcing it only after the election."
A further dent in Manitoba drivers' wallets is a $35 increase in vehicle registration fees, put in place through the provincial budget.