Published In The Great North Arrow, March 2022: A Day Late And A Dollar Short

 jim Young

“I feel like I’m waiting for something that isn’t going to happen.” - anon


The Ontario government is considering scrapping renewal fees for Ontario license plates and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I mean I’m always happy to save a buck wherever I can, but sometimes it seems like I’m always getting the short end of the stick.


You see, I retired in Northern Ontario a few years ago and was quite happy to discover that my license plate renewals were ½ the price of the fees in Southern Ontario. So these savings on what I have paid for license renewals for most of my adult life will be gone.


I shouldn’t be surprised though. The government has been jerking me around with my license plates all my life.


When I was a young, new driver the only cars could afford were old worn out clunkers that someone was getting rid of. I was at the mercy of whatever was available that was cheap. Ontario license renewal fees at the time were priced according to the number of cylinders the engine had with a 4 cylinder car being charged the lowest fee and an 8 cylinder car being charged the most. As luck would have it, every clunker I drove, happened to be 8 cylinders.


After several years of driving 8 cylinder clunkers, I was happy to finally find a second hand 6 cylinder clunker to purchase, which was going to at least save me a bit of money on my license plate renewal fees and maybe even on gas.


That was the year the Ontario government announced they were switching to a flat rate for all cars regardless of their cylinder size so there was no savings to be had for me.


The government “plot” against me didn’t always involve money.


Back in the proverbial “good old days” which didn’t always seem to be so “good” as far as I was concerned, license renewals were always due by the end of February. Like most everyone, I always left renewing my license until the last minute, inevitably standing in long lineups along with everyone else.


Of course that meant lying on the cold, snow covered ground in sub-zero weather on the last day in February, freezing my bare hands as I tried to remove the rusty old bolts  and makeshift pieces of twisted wire hangers from the previous year’s plates to mount my new plates.


Eventually the government came up with a plan to alleviate the lineups at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they announced that license plates would henceforth expire at the end of the month of the vehicle owner’s birthday. In theory, that long line up would just be 1/12 the length that it had previously been.


Given that my birthday was December 27th, this would not help me with lying on my back on the cold, snow covered ground in sub-zero weather to change my license plates with my bare hands, but it would at least shorten the wait time in the lineups to renew my license plates.


Did I mention that this new rule did not apply to truck drivers? Truck drivers, the government in all its wisdom decided, would all have to renew their license plates at the end of December along with the rest of us Christmas babies. And with shortened office hours due to the Christmas holidays, you can bet the lineups were just as long for me as they had always been.


But eventually the government came up with a plan that would benefit me and was foolproof - the “sticker”. Instead of having to lie on the cold, snow covered ground in sub-zero weather to replace my license plates with my bare hands, I would only have to spend about 30 seconds in the cold, attaching a sticker to my plate. I was ecstatic. Finally things were going my way.


Imagine, however, my dismay, after spending an hour or so in my usual line up when the clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles, handed me a new set of plates.


“Where’s my sticker?” I asked as my voice began to quiver. “I thought we were switching to stickers.”


“We are,” the clerk politely explained, “But your current plates won’t accommodate the sticker. So this year you get a new plate that will have a spot for the sticker which you will be issued next year.” She nonchalantly looked past me and called, “Next?”


I tried to console myself that THIS year would be the last year I would have to suffer lying on the cold, snow covered ground in sub-zero weather to replace my license plates with my bare hands.


I could barely wait for the year to pass. I will never forget how excited I was that year, coming home with my first set of license plate stickers. I had even prayed for  snow and record breaking low temperatures that year and for once, my prayers had been answered. This was going to be a quick and easy job. I knelt down with a damp cloth to clear the section of my license plate to ensure the sticker would adhere on the first attempt since there would be no second chance for re-applying it.


Then I stood up to admire my handy work and noticed my headlights were on. Except there weren’t supposed to be any headlights near my rear license plate. To my horror, I realized I had applied the sticker to my front license plate. So there I was once more on the cold, snow covered ground in record breaking low temperatures, switching my front and rear license plates with my bare hands.


In all fairness, I don’t suppose I can really blame the Ontario Government for my faux pas that year, but that did nothing to diminish my despair.


It wasn’t always vehicle license plates that have been an issue. Dog tag licenses have long been a thorn in my side as well.


It just never seemed right to me that I had to pay a fee to license my dog.


Dog tag licensing was introduced years ago as a way to reimburse farmers for livestock lost to stray dogs. Now, given that the City of Barrie bylaws prohibited residents from owning any kind of farm animal within city limits, I’m pretty sure none of the dog tag licensing fees we paid for our chihuahua, Sophie every year ever went to reimburse any farmer for a lost sheep.


And don’t get me started on cats who were exempt from licensing fees. Everyone knows that cats are much more difficult to keep confined to their own yard, creating a nuisance and generally being quite capable of damaging a neighbours property at least as much as most dogs.


The truth of the matter is, a stray cat is much more difficult to catch than a stray dog and I am convinced the reason the city never licensed cats is they knew they would be unable to enforce the licensing as they would never be able to capture an offender.


To add insult to injury, Sophie was a rescue dog that had literally lived the first year of her life in a cardboard box. To say that she was timid would be an understatement. Sophie never even wanted to be let outside and, being such a small dog, it just seemed kinder and easier to keep her as an inside dog that never had the opportunity to roam or be any threat to any farmer’s non-existent livestock.


After faithfully paying Sophie’s dog tag licensing fee for 18 years, the City of Barrie sent us a note stating that they were discontinuing dog tag license fees - the FOLLOWING year. Of course Sophie’s dog tag license fee to cover THAT year was still due and payable.


Sadly, as might be expected of a dog that age, Sophie died that year and for the first time I wished her dog tag license fee was due and payable one more time.


I guess I should be grateful if the Ontario Government does decide to scrap vehicle license renewal fees even if I’m not saving as much as I would like. A bigger concern might be WHY are they doing this? I was always taught “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, but I can’t help but think there must be more in it for the government than there is for me because I was also taught “nothing in life is free.”


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