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Push-back puts ServiceOntario closures on hold

Toronto – Intense pressure from labour, MPPs, mayors and councillors, business owners and concerned citizens has forced the Liberal government to rethink its plan to close nine ServiceOntario centres in communities across Ontario.

On June 3, the government quietly announced that it was going to “take more time and do a further review” of its decision to shut down the offices, all of which are publicly owned and operated.

“I think people underestimate the power they wield when they join forces and push back,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). “Residents in nine diverse communities identified a need to maintain a vital public service – and forced the government to continue providing it.”

Just a month previously, on May 4, the province had announced that it would close ServiceOntario offices in Guelph, Mississauga and Milton, Minden, Terrace Bay, Embrun, Morrisburg, Blind River and Kemptville by February 2017 or earlier.

OPSEU immediately joined a grassroots campaign to save the offices, which included petitions, council resolutions, letter‑writing, leaflets and rallies. Thomas believes the government heard from a large number of angry citizens – and had to retreat.

“Residents, especially seniors, tell me they’re worried about being able to get their health card or driver’s licence,” said Thomas. “Business owners say they depend on having a ServiceOntario nearby. People are concerned about the impact on their community’s life and identity.

“It’s because people pushed back that we’ve been able to put the brakes on the Liberals’ plan to close these ServiceOntario centres. They stood up to the government and said, ‘This is our public asset. We own it! It’s not yours to remove, sell or privatize.’”

But while the people won this round, Thomas warned that the fight was not over.

“It’s critical that folks maintain the pressure on the government to keep the offices open and serving people in their own communities. We’ve got to continue pushing back. We’ve got to make this government finally understand the value that people place on excellent public services.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931