Why must I pay the GNWT a ‘cost of living fee’ for a fishing licence?

Last modified: June 9, 2022 at 6:30am


Go to buy a fishing licence as an NWT resident this year and you’ll be charged 40 cents on top of your regular 10 bucks and the accompanying GST.

Considering some of the price hikes residents face right now – gas, heating fuel, even shipping on barges, you name it – 40 cents may not seem like the biggest deal.

But it shows up as “cost of living fees” when you go to pay, and that’s rubbing some people the wrong way.

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What kind of government charges its residents a fee for the pleasure of having a high cost of living?

The territorial and federal governments insist that’s not how they mean it, even if that’s how the wording comes across to many purchasers.

As one resident put it online: “When did this cost of living tax happen? Isn’t it expensive enough to live here already?”

Several residents got in touch to ask us what this fee was, so we asked the territorial government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“The fee you’re referring to is a federal fee implemented under the Service Fees Act. We are required to collect it,” said a spokesperson for the department. They linked to a page on the website of federal agency Fisheries and Oceans Canada that explains more.

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That page makes clear that the federal government now adjusts its fees annually to account for inflation. Legislation passed a few years ago “requires we make annual adjustments to fees collected for services, goods, facility use, licences, permits and other authorizations,” the page states.

But, confusingly, the page then adds: “The increase in the service fee will automatically be included in the cost to obtain your licence in a given year. The service fee increase is not a separate charge.”

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Yet the “cost of living fees” showing up on GNWT webpages are clearly shown as a separate charge.

Not clear how money’s used

Back we went to Environment and Natural Resources at the GNWT to ask about this.

“The decision was made to list the fee increase driven by the federal Service Fees Act as a separate charge for folks purchasing fishing licences in the NWT so they could see where the additional cost was coming from,” the territorial spokesperson replied.

So now we know why this fee exists. The “cost of living fees” are in response to federal legislation that requires annual increases to fees like fishing licences in line with inflation. The federal government says it should all just show up as one fee, but the GNWT – to illustrate that the increase wasn’t the GNWT’s fault – chose to show it separately.

But why on earth call it a “cost of living” fee? If anything, it’s an inflation adjustment. Calling it a cost of living fee, some residents have argued, makes it sound like residents are paying the territory to help the territorial government cope with the higher cost of living.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in a statement to Cabin Radio, made it abundantly clear that the phrase “cost of living fee” was nothing to do with the federal government.

“The Government of the Northwest Territories refers to this annual adjustment as ‘cost of living fee,'” that statement read.

The territorial government, asked why it chose this name, did not respond to the question.

Lastly, you might be wondering where your 40 cents is going.

The federal government stated: “The revenue collected remains with the GNWT and is not transferred to the federal government.”

The territorial government, asked what the money from this federally mandated increase will go toward, did not answer the question. We also asked how much money the territory is expecting from 40 cents on 10-buck fishing licences this summer, but did not receive an answer.