TORONTO — More communities in Ontario's north will suffer a huge loss of service as a result of government cuts to ServiceOntario counters.
Starting in February, customer counters in Wawa, Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, and Hearst will have their hours of operation slashed in half from 42.5 hours per week to 16, 22, and 25 hours respectively. The counter in Rainy River had its weekly hours chopped from 42.5 to 16 last November. The ServiceOntario counter in South Porcupine will close Feb. 1. Residents there will have to drive to Timmins for in-person service.
The five counters are among the 22 ServiceOntario sites labelled "low-volume" by the government, 21 of which are in the north. All will see their hours reduced, possibly in the coming months, as full-time permanent employees retire. The additional so-called "low-volume" sites are: Atikokan, Blind River, Chapleau, Cochrane, Espanola, Geraldton, Ignace, Iroquois Falls, Kapuskasing, Manitouwadge, Marathon, Moosonee, Nipigon, Rainy River, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Terrace Bay, as well as Stratford in southern Ontario.
The wave of service cuts started in November when four counters in Oshawa, Newmarket, Toronto and Chatham were closed.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is calling on incoming premier Kathleen Wynne to immediately review this government action and start putting priority to providing good service to all Ontarians, regardless of geography.
"Ontarians must use ServiceOntario to get birth certificates, driver's licences, health cards, and other government identification," Thomas said. "Just because these counters aren't as busy as those elsewhere in the province doesn't mean people should lose what is basically an essential service."
Thomas believes the service cuts are to make ServiceOntario appear more attractive for a private sector buyer since the government announced last February its intent to privatize a service which contributes $2.7 billion to government revenues. Thomas also warns that the loss of government control and oversight will put the privacy of Ontarians' personal information at risk.
"As dedicated public sector workers, our members' only priority is to provide service and protect personal information," Thomas said. "What will happen when a private company takes over and 'making a profit' gets added to the list?"
Warren (Smokey) Thomas: 416-443-8888
Don Ford, OPSEU Communications: 416-448-7442