Cutback in hours at Service Ontario will be detrimental, says Gore Bay businessman

GORE BAY—The cutting back of hours at Service Ontario counters, including the one in Gore Bay, will mean the community will suffer a huge loss of service, says a major Gore Bay employer.

“We have received official notification from you (Service Ontario) that your service from the Gore Bay office, effective February 11, will be reduced to four hours a day. This will be very detrimental and costly to our business,” stated Doug Smith, chairman of Manitoulin Transport, in a letter to Service Ontario.

“I’m not too surprised with the announcement,” said Gore Bay Mayor Ron Lane. “Other Service Ontario centres in small communities have already seen cuts in service, and I understand the cuts are made based on the volume of walk-in customers. That seems to be their rational for making the cuts.”

“No, we are not happy with this decision—our preference is that they would be open five days a week from 8:30 in the morning until 4 pm, after all they provide hunting licences, driver’s licences, health cards and many other services, and these cuts will definitely impact the services being provided,” said Mr. Lane. “As I recall from articles in papers down south, what the government found is that they rolled out all these services that could be provided under the Government Services offices in every community in Ontario, and then they found out they couldn’t afford to provide all these services.”

“This is not something that we want, and not only the services but it will impact employment here in town,” said Mr. Lane. “This type of thing is happening across the province.”

Service Ontario has announced that as of February 11, its hours will be changing in Gore Bay. The new hours will be Monday to Thursdays from 9 am to 1 pm and Fridays from 12 pm to 4 pm, a reduction of 22 hours per week as compared to what it had been—42.5 hours per week.

The Gore Bay Service Ontario counter is among three that has had its hours cut back in this latest round of cuts. They are among 22 Service Ontario sites labeled “low volume” by the government, 21 of which are in the North.

The wave of service cuts started in November when four counters in Oshawa, Newmarket, Toronto and Chatham were closed.

Allan Cairns, a spokesperson for Service Ontario based in Toronto, told the Recorder last Friday, “Yes, Service Ontario has decided to proceed with efficiency measures due to low overall demand for customer transactions. The changes are not immediate in some cases for instance in Gore Bay they take place beginning on February 11. Staff will be reduced through attrition—there will be no cutting or job loss, the offices will still have a presence.”

“In this case cuts have been made in business hours to optimize resources and provide for the provincial fiscal restraint policies. Almost 300 Service Ontario counters have been reviewed,” said Mr. Cairns. He noted another reason for the cuts “is because Service Ontario has initiated over- the-counter online services, which has provided efficiencies and services. Currently we have over 40 services available online, and have a full list on our website.”

“In terms of Gore Bay as of February 11, the office will be open 2.5 days a week from five,” said Mr. Cairns, noting the local office currently averaged 57 (customer service) transactions a day, 14,153 annually.”

“When these measures are taken it is based on community consultation,” continued Mr. Cairns. “We talked to staff and shareholders and our decisions are made depending on what is needed in a particular office, as well as what customer needs and demands are.”

Mr. Cairns said no decisions have been made concerning the Mindemoya or Manitowaning Service Ontario counters. “For instance, Manitowaning at this point is open on a part-time basis, and everything is based on attrition.” He pointed out that employees in Gore Bay would be working part-time as compared to full-time. “No one is going to be losing their job. No, we have no plans to close any of the Service Ontario counters on the Island. The only thing that is changing is in terms of the hours of operation, the services will be the same.”

Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, told the Recorder, “we have been battling this issue for a long time. In Gore Bay the full-time staff persons will be cut to part-time. Where do you find those kind of full-time jobs in Gore Bay, or other small communities? This decision will have a huge impact on jobs and services being provided in a timely fashion when they are needed. And the people who work at these Service Ontario offices have undergone extensive training, and not everyone is able to afford being cut down to a part-time job. This is ludicrous, all with the idea of modernizing services.”

“And it is hard enough for people, especially those who work during the day to get into a Service Ontario office and now it will be a lot more difficult and be more of a hardship,” said Mr. Mantha, pointing out the Gore Bay office is the only one on the Island besides Williamson’s in Mindemoya to handle new or renewed hunting and fishing licences.

Mr. Smith said in his letter to Service Ontario, “we understand that Ontario must address the large deficit and reduce costs, but cost can be reduced without reducing service. There is a better option. Keep the Gore Bay office open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm with only one person, working from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and the second person working form 12:30 to 3:30 pm, which we have confirmed is acceptable to your staff.”

“We understand that up until November 9, 2012 you had three persons working in the Gore Bay office for a total time per day of 18.5 hours. One person left on November 9 and will not be replaced, reducing the number of paid hours to 11, a reduction of 40.5 percent,” wrote Mr. Smith. “Both options, yours and ours, will reduce the paid hours from 11 to eight, a further reduction of three hours, and further reduction of 27.3 percent, but our option keeps your Gore Bay office open for an extra four hours.”

Mr. Smith continued, “we wish to point out the following: Gore Bay is our head office for the Manitoulin Group of Companies and all administration, including licencing, is done here; licence plates are distributed by our own trucks, which depart Gore Bay at 9 am each morning. Your office must be open at 8:30 am. Delays are very costly, as operating schedules and freight deliveries can be negatively affected. In 2012, we had 256 licence renewals for which you received $246,740, plus 222 units sold from our fleet, for which you received a further $2,220 for a total of $248,960. Based on your 30 percent increase, this will increase to roughly $325,000 in the calendar year 2013. Using the online service is not an option for us. Apart from our business, other dealerships and the general public from the entire West End of Manitulin, east to Kagawong and south to Spring Bay, need your office to be open eight hours a day. We understand in 2011 and 2012 both the MTO and MNR business revenues have increased substantially.”

“We have struggled to keep our National Trucking Company’s head office in Gore Bay, where 200 people are employed,” he continued. “To have some essential government services available, at times when we need it, makes it a lot easier. Please give our request your favourable consideration.”

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 Service Ontario to get birth certificates, driver’s licences, health cards, and other government identification,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. Thomas said he believes the service cuts are to make Service Ontario 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. He also warns that the loss of government control and oversight will put the privacy of Ontarians personal information at risk.

 Tom Sasvari