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$10 fee for 'Spectacular' licence plates

Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 5, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - "Spectacular" is in. "Explore Canada's Arctic" is out. And the polar bear isn't going anywhere.

NNSL photo/graphic

Yellowknife resident Jeff Corradetti says redesigning the NWT's licence plates is a good idea but said people should have some input on what the new plates should look like. -

The Department of Transportation is handing out new licence plates this summer and residents will have to pay for the revamped design.

It will cost an extra $10 to renew each plate, and an additional $25 to keep their existing number or personalized plate.

Earl Blacklock, department spokesman, says these will be one-time costs that will cover the price of the new design. The last time Northwest Territories licence plates underwent an overhaul was in 1986.

Mirroring the NWT Tourism campaign, the plates will feature the slogan "Spectacular NWT." He said the new plates will still feature the distinctive shape of the polar bear and a six-digit identification, but they'll also feature a graphic designed to promote tourism in the NWT.

"It's something that's still very distinctive. There is an image on it that represents the NWT very nicely," said Blacklock. "We're following the lead of other jurisdictions in using the licence plate to promote travel in the NWT."

Blacklock said the design would reflect an image of northern lights, a polar bear and a Northern landscape.

Resident Jeff Corradetti said he was shocked to receive the notice in the mail and said the community should have been consulted. He said people could have offered valuable feedback on what the NWT's plate should look like.

"When people are talking about something, better ideas come up, rather than bureaucrats behind closed doors," he said.

"We should have had open houses where people could give input, 'yeah, I like this,' or 'no, I don't like this.'"

He said the idea of re-branding the polar bear was probably necessary after several decades but imposing a design wasn't the way to do it, especially when residents are expected to shell out extra cash.

"It might look good, it might be great, but because of the way they went about it, it's unacceptable," he said. "It's a tax grab, it's another 'we can't manage our budget, our allowance from Ottawa, we have to take more money out of your pocket.'"

Residents began receiving a notice informing them of the changes on April 30. Blacklock said he was wasn't aware people were receiving letters on Friday as the intended release date was May 3.

"Canada Post must have been a little excitable," he said.

Blacklock said Corradetti's comments didn't merit a response.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins said he thought the plate design should have been updated years ago.

"The NWT identity doesn't quite represent that (Explore Canada's Arctic) anyway and we should have one closer to home," he said.

But Hawkins said news of the notice was a "complete surprise" and he was disappointed with the decision to make people pay for the new plates.

"They're nickeling and diming the average person for a service we already provide," he said.

As a regular MLA, he said he would have liked a heads up and he said residents deserved to know in advance.

He said when the territory switched to new driver's licences before, the cost was factored into the Department of Transportation's budget and individuals didn't pay more. He said it wasn't fair to make residents pay up to $35 more per plate.

"It's a theoretic fee. It's not really based on producing that plate," he said. "It seems like a cash grab for a service."

Hawkins said he hoped the link between the NWT Tourism's strategy with the plates could draw people to create interest about the NWT.

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro said she was disturbed by the $10 fee and didn't like the new design, the details of which she said she saw in a confidential memo to MLAs she read on Monday.

"I don't like the look of it," she said. "Somehow the public should have been consulted."

Blacklock said the look of the plates isn't the only reason for updating the hardware. He said he didn't have an image to show Yellowknifer at press time.

The reasoning behind the change, he said, was the equipment used to produce the current plates was past its prime and the contract with the company that made it was expiring.

"There will be new moulds, new material, and less environmental impact with the process," he said.

Blacklock said the new plates will be reflective, making them safer and more discernible for police.

"It reflects back on the lights from behind," he said. "Virtually every jurisdiction in North America have moved to reflective plates."

Blacklock said the new moulds and plates are expected to last for "quite some time."

The switchover is expected to be $400,000, covered for the most part by the fees. There are currently 31,042 registered vehicles in the NWT.

"It costs $10 to make these things," Blacklock said. He said the fee for specialized plates would cover the administrative cost, which includes the cost of mailing out the handout to every household.

People will still have to pay $72.60 for the sticker to renew their personal plate for a year. That price varies for trailers, motorcycles and commercial vehicles. The added $10 fee is applicable to each vehicle's plate.

The new fees go into effect July 1.

Nunavut and the NWT are the only jurisdictions in Canada that don't have a uniform rectangle plate. The polar bear shape came out in 1970 to celebrate the territory's centennial and has stayed, in various incarnations, ever since.

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