Businesses located near national parks, historic sites and canals run by Parks Canada could be asked to pay fees to help offset upkeep and operating costs.

Environment Minister Peter Kent openly talked about the potential fees this week, while also suggesting that a plan to cut the operating hours of those sites — in some cases by half — could be reversed or scaled back, The Tyee, Vancouver, British Columbia, reported.

Kent made the comments after meeting with municipal leaders from 13 communities along Ontario’s historic Rideau Canal system.

“There are quite a few beneficiaries along the Rideau Canal system, as in our national parks, who in this context pay absolutely nothing for the privilege of operating those businesses,” Kent said. “Whereas in the national parks there are franchise fees to be paid by those who benefit economically.”

One of those attending Tuesday’s meeting with Kent was Doug Struthers, the mayor of Merrickville-Wolford, Ontario. Struthers said the minister never spoke at the gathering about the possibility of charging fees to commercial operators on the canal. And he said such a move could pit local businesses against each other.

“It would be an interesting conversation, I’m sure,” he said. “Nobody likes to have a fee to be in business.”

The meeting focused on the government’s current plan to cut back the canal’s hours of operation, and its potentially devastating impact on local businesses. Kent acknowledged that he heard the concern loud and clear.

“The initial inclination was to reduce operating hours on the shoulder periods, in the early spring and the late fall,” Kent said. “The mayors have been very effective in communicating that there would be significant impact economically.”

No decisions have been made, however, and Kent was merely being frank about his discussions with communities and businesses that would be affected by any changes, said spokesman Adam Sweet, who stressed Thursday that the minister is not advocating charging new fees.

The plan to trim operating hours is still scheduled to go ahead in the spring, Sweet added. A number of measures are also being considered to boost revenues and cut the cost of running the parks and other national tourist attractions.