Ford government to explore moving more ServiceOntario outlets into private 3rd-party retailers

By Richard Southern, John Marchesan

The Ford government is moving ahead with shifting more ServiceOntario outlets into third-party private retailers, but unlike its sole-sourced taxpayer-funded deal with Staples Canada, the government is putting the deals to open tender and asking retailers to submit their interest.

The Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) “To seek interested parties to pre-qualify for a Lease Model retail partnership with ServiceOntario.” In a notice on the Ontario tenders portal, the government says it’s looking to “Identify retailers of all sizes that can provide space and meet the requirements for hosting ServiceOntario centres.” 

It’s a departure from the approach taken by the government in February when it closed several ServiceOntario outlets that were run as small businesses and moved them into Staples Canada stores in a deal that was not put to open tender and saw the government spend $1.75 million taxpayer dollars to retrofit the locations. The government maintains it did conduct a “market-sounding” exercise at the time that considered other retailers.

Asked by 680 NewsRadio Toronto why the government is now taking a different approach, Minister Todd McCarthy said the method is consistent.

“We always reach out to multiple potential partners,” he said.

In its RFQ, the government says retailers interested in hosting ServiceOntario outlets must be located in a central, convenient, and accessible location, have a strong community and a diverse geographic presence in Ontario, have available and accessible parking, a cost-effective lease, and adequate space.

The move may be a precursor that the government is set to close more privately run ServiceOntario outlets, whose owners currently pay for their rental, and employee costs and who have all paid out of pocket for store upgrades. 

When asked how many more ServiceOntario outlets are moving into existing retailers, Minister McCarthy said that will be determined based on the reaction to the current process.

“I wouldn’t put an upper limit on it at all. I would just say we’re going to hear from as many interested potential partners as we can.”

McCarthy defended the move by saying, “We have a growing population… I have to make sure we have more service, longer hours, more locations.”

In February, CityNews spoke to the owner of one of the 11 ServiceOntario’s shut down who said the government never asked her to keep longer hours.

“It absolutely is concerning,” NDP leader Marit Stiles said to this latest development.

“This government has always wanted to privatize everything. They just want to get out of the business of providing service to Ontarians, and at the end of the day, it’s Ontarians that end up bearing the cost.”

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