GORE BAY—The mayor of the Town of Gore Bay will be contacting local businesses and individuals in aid of putting together a business plan, outlining the problems and concerns stakeholders have with the cutback in hours at the Service Ontario branch office. Meanwhile, a Service Ontario representative says the hours will remain the same but in special circumstances, a regular customer can be accommodated, although this will not be in place for the general public.
“The Service Ontario counter provides health cards, MTO (Ministry of Transportation) service and MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) licences and a whole bunch of other services,” said Mayor Ron Lane at a recent Gore Bay council meeting. “Again, the town had no advance notice of the changes going to be made, which seems to be a pattern for some reason.”
“Some concerns have been raised, obviously. Manitoulin Transport for one does all of its licencing through the office here,” said Mr. Lane. The office had been open roughly 40 hours per week, and this has been reduced to about 20 hours, from 9 am to 1 pm Monday to Thursday and from 12 noon to 4 pm on Fridays.
“So in order to get more information on this I called the regional director of service and had a good discussion with her on this issue,” said Mr. Lane. “She reinforced that what is happening is part of the fiscal restraint policy in place in Ontario. A lot of counters in Ontario have seen their hours reduced or been closed.”
The Gore Bay office, “is the only full service counter on Manitoulin Island,” said Mr. Lane. There are private issuers in Mindemoya and Manitowaning that offer MTO services and health care service, but not the wide range of services the Gore Bay office does.
“I am pleased that they will remain open every day, even with the reduced hours,” said Mr. Lane. “I was told the mandate they have been given is to cut costs, but I was also told the schedule may be flexible, if we can show that they are not meeting the needs of clients with the current schedule. I know Manitoulin Transport has a concern because at 8:30 am they need the licences for their trucks to roll.”
“I’m suggesting we try and canvas some of the users of the Service Ontario counter in Gore Bay, like Manitoulin Transport and the car dealers,” said Mr. Lane. “I think if we canvas some businesses and people who use the service that can’t access services on line, we can build a business case, and she didn’t close the door on extending hours.”
Ciaran Ganley, a spokesperson for Government Services, told the Recorder on Tuesday, “The hours at the Gore Bay Government Services office are 9 am to 1 pm on Monday to Thursday and from 12 noon to 4 pm on Fridays, but when there is a specific and unique service, we try to accommodate customers.”
“There is an understanding that there is actually someone in the shop at 8:45 in the morning, and even earlier at 8:30 am, so if someone who is a regular customer comes to the door at 8:45 am on a regular basis they will be accommodated,” said Mr. Ganley. However, “this is not available for everyone—there would need to be an arrangement made with the office staff,” he said. ‘In special, unique circumstances we try and accommodate the needs of our customers in this way.”
Other local businesses contacted by the Recorder noted the new hours will not be good for business and the customers they serve.
“Oh yeah, it is going to affect us,” said Diane Fogal of Fogal’s of Manitoulin. “I’m not happy, but I don’t know how much we can do about it.”
Sandra Rayner of McQuarrie Motors said, “It’s a pain. Scott Robertson at the Little Current office and I both wrote a letter of concern when we heard they were looking at changing the hours in the fall. They had proposed not opening until 10 am, but as I indicated in our business, we can’t wait around all day to get a licence for a vehicle.”
The new hours haven’t remedied the situation, said Ms. Rayner. “For example, a week ago Friday we had a retired person in town buying a vehicle, but he couldn’t get a licence until the next day.” This is enough of a concern, but if someone from another part of the Island purchases a vehicle but can’t get a licence on the same day, unless they have another means of transportation, they couldn’t drive their vehicle home on the same day because they wouldn’t be able to get a licence. And if someone comes in to buy a vehicle after 1 pm Monday to Thursday, they have to wait until the next day to get their vehicle licenced.
Meanwhile, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha says that Service Ontario cuts unfairly target the North. He made a statement in the legislature on Tuesday in regards to the government’s further cuts to Service Ontario hours and jobs in the community and throughout the North.
“Northerners who rely on these counters in Manitouwadge, Wawa, Chapleau, along the North Shore and on Manitoulin Island will now have their hours of operation cut in half,” said Mr. Mantha. “This government claims that the effected sites were low-volume but of these 22 sites 21 of them are located in Northern Ontario, once again denying Northerners the same access to these services in comparison to the rest of the province. These cuts will have a negative impact on local businesses, local economy as well as employees who will experience reduced hours or job loss.”
“Service Ontario generates $2.7 billion annually in revenue for the province on an operating budget of only $270 million,” said Mr. Mantha. “With these large revenues, why are Northerners made to suffer yet again?”
“The government made its intent to privatize Service Ontario clear last February, something that is cause for great concern,” continued Mr. Mantha. “We know all too well what can happen with privatization. Northerners are not asking for more but will certainly not accept less.”