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Communities in an uproar over ServiceOntario closures

The planned closure of nine ServiceOntario centres has set off a firestorm of protest around the province.

News of the closures has left local residents, business owners and politicians hopping mad in Blind River, Embrun, Kemptville, Minden, Morrisburg and Terrace Bay. And the citizens of Guelph, Mississauga, and Milton aren’t happy either.

In recent years, ServiceOntario – an integral part of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services – has been systematically shutting down offices. All of the centres to be closed are publicly owned and operated, meaning fewer than one third of all ServiceOntario offices will remain in public hands. The rest are run by for-profit operators.

Local representatives have sprung into action to fight the closures. Municipal councils in Embrun, South Dundas, and Morrisburg have already passed resolutions demanding that the government reverse its decision. Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark and Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell are mobilizing local residents by launching petitions to save the Kemptville and Morrisburg offices, respectively, while MPP Harinder Takhar – a Liberal MPP – has launched a petition in Mississauga. Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott has called the closure of the Minden office another slap in the face of small-town Ontario.

Local residents have also reacted, launching petitions in Mississauga, Kemptville, Embrun and Minden. Signers have expressed their anger at the cavalier way the Wynne government is treating rural residents. Residents are decrying the loss of both services and well-paying jobs, while business owners fear the impact on economic growth when the services disappear.

Embrun: Non to the closure!

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Warren (Smokey) Thomas with OPSEU Region 4 Executive Board Member Chrisy Tremblay on his left and supporters.

The people of Embrun, southeast of Ottawa, have been battling for years to keep their ServiceOntario centre public. Now they have learned the office will be shut down altogether on November 25.

Embrun has fewer than 7,000 people, many of them seniors. A number of residents do not own a car. Now the government is telling residents to travel 36 km to Orléans or 30 km to Winchester to get essential public services like a health card or a driver’s licence.

But it is not just about denying residents local service. Like the post office, the school and the community centre, the ServiceOntario centre is part of the fabric of the town. By shutting the centre down, the government is striking at the heart of the community itself and compromising its future.

Further, the majority of Embrun residents are francophone. Ontario’s French Language Services Commissioner has warned that the loss of its bilingual ServiceOntario centre leaves a void in small francophone communities. However, the Liberal government has turned a deaf ear both to the commissioner and Ontario’s francophones.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas went to Embrun May 16 to meet with ServiceOntario staff, union representatives, and township officials, including Mayor Leroux. Thomas said the campaign to keep the ServiceOntario centre open had OPSEU’s unequivocal support and hailed the community’s resolve to fight the government’s punitive action every step of the way.

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Warren (Smokey) Thomas and Chrisy Tremblay speak with Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux

“The government couldn’t privatize the centre, so they’ll just shut it down,” said Thomas. “That gives a new spin to ServiceOntario’s slogan, ‘making it easier.

“Well, we’re certainly not going to make it easier for David Orazietti to pull the plug on Embrun’s ServiceOntario centre. I’m putting him on notice that he’s got a battle on his hands. We want Embrun ServiceOntario workers to be able to work in Embrun. We want Embrun residents and businesses to access essential public services in Embrun.

“We’re going to fight this privatization-obsessed government every step of the way to make sure the people of Embrun and small communities everywhere get the services they need – where they want them, when they want them.”