The provincial government is moving nine privately run ServiceOntario outlets to Staples Canada stores this year, the minister of public and business service delivery said Monday.
Todd McCarthy announced the impending changes at a morning news conference in Oakville, where he said the move will mean longer operating hours and better parking for Ontarians who need to access government services.
Six locations will open by Feb. 1, with three additional outlets expected in Staples stores within the coming months.
The first six locations are:
Oakville, 2460 Winston Churchill Blvd.
Newmarket, 17810 Yonge St.
Toronto (Scarborough), 1980 Eglinton Ave. E.
Strathroy, 425 Caradoc St. S.
Tillsonburg, Tillsonburg Town Centre, 200 Broadway St.
Welland, Seaway Mall, 800 Niagara St.
The three further outlets will be in Hamilton, Keswick and the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto, according to the province.
McCarthy confirmed earlier reporting by CityNews that the government covered 100 per cent of the costs of retrofitting the Staples stores with ServiceOntario kiosks, though he would not provide specific figures for those expenses. He said that the province always covers the one-time capital costs of retrofits in any privately-run ServiceOntario outlet to "ensure common branding and consistency with protocols."
Including those costs, the plan is expected to reduce operating expenses between $900,000 and $1 million over three years compared to if the service centres had remained at their previous locations. McCarthy attributed the projected savings to Staples assuming responsibility for leasing costs.
Opposition criticizes sole-source contract
The contract with Staples was sole-sourced, McCarthy said. He added that ministry staff reached out to dozens of potential partners but it was Staples that met key criteria including "community presence and scalability."
Don Valley West MPP Stephanie Bowman submitted a request Monday on behalf of the Ontario Liberal Party to the province's Financial Accountability Officer to consider providing analysis of the province's move to "award contracts without a competitive bidding process … to privatize parts of ServiceOntario."
"We ask that you undertake to estimate the financial costs and benefits of these outsourcing arrangements," the letter reads.
"Your analysis would shed much-needed light on the costs and benefits to the taxpayer from these arrangements; the impact, if any, on unionized jobs in the civil service; and other potential implications."
In a statement, the opposition NDP zeroed in on the agreement, noting that before taking office, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was critical of the previous Liberal government's use of sole-source contracts.
"This decision clearly has nothing to do with saving taxpayers' money, and everything to do with finding a way to give public dollars to private corporations ... leaving ServiceOntario operators and workers in the lurch," said MPP Tom Rakocevic, New Democrat critic for consumer protection.
LISTEN | Why the province is moving some ServiceOntario locations to Staples:
Ontario Greens Leader Mike Schreiner similarly called out the government on its move to award contracts without a competitive bidding process.
"Instead of providing some badly needed transparency, this government is busy defending yet another backroom deal designed to help wealthy insiders cash in," Schreiner said in a statement Monday.
Meanwhile, McCarthy said the pilot project will be evaluated on customer wait times and the efficiency of service delivery. For the past 15 years, the province has also operated ServiceOntario outlets in some Canadian Tire stores, IDA grocery stores and Home Hardware locations.
The agreement with Staples is part of a broader push to consider new locations for all of the stand-alone, privately run operations of the provincial provider, McCarthy said.
As contracts with remaining privately operated ServiceOntario locations approach expiry, the government will be reviewing them to determine if they should continue to operate in the same way or if they should be closed and moved into retail outlets, libraries or municipal offices.
There are some 190 privately run ServiceOntario outlets in the province, making up roughly 71 per cent of all locations.
No changes are being contemplated for the more than 80 government-run ServiceOntario centres.