Service Ontario closure sparks protest
The closing of a Service Ontario outlet sparked outrage in a small town, even though the close is only temporary.
Residents of Belle River met on Saturday, Feb. 18 to protest the closing of the government office. Although there were more than 100 people in attendance, not everybody in the room knew the building would reopen in June of this year. The closure is part of a province-wide act which includes many small Service Ontario branches as well as some larger ones. The reasons for the closures are vague, leaving many locals angry.
Residents of Belle River wanting to take care of government-related errands will currently have to visit the still-active branches in Essex, East Windsor or downtown, until June when the Service Ontario in town reopens. No Service Ontario representatives were in attendance at the meeting.
Regional vice-president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Len Elliot, claimed the dilemma is the government neglecting smaller communities.
“Although we are talking about Belle River, it is the whole Lakeshore community that suffers. They are taxpayers and as such they deserve services convenient to them,” said Elliot.
The operator of the Belle River branch stepped away from their contract due to illness as the closures came into action, making the branch a vulnerable target. The concern of the public and OPSEU is the branch will not be returned to the public.
“We (the OPSEU) do not want people making money off of public services,” said Elliot. “Public services should be delivered by public servants efficiently and cost effectively to the community.”
The demand from the residents is the branch be returned and operated by public sector employees rather than being privately owned. This would prevent the random closing of this branch again. Public pressure is currently saving Service Ontario branches in Milton, Mississauga, Guelph, Embrun, Morrisburg, Minden, Kemptville and Blind River from foreclosure by the government.
Harry Malhi, the spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Government and consumer spokesperson explained that privately owned branches such as the one in Belle River must give 120 days notice before terminating a contract. During this time the ministry is required to find someone willing to take over, keeping the branch privately owned (to the disagreement of the residents).
“The ministry is targeting the re-opening of a location in Belle River for late June,” said Malhi.
Although there will be a re-opening of a Service Ontario in town, residents and council are still hoping the branch will become open to employees of the public sector.
Essex MPP Taras Natyshak speaks to a crowd at St. Jude Hall in Belle River regarding the closure of the towns Service Ontario// February 18, 2017