Six ServiceOntario centres will open in Staples Canada stores across the province by the end of the week.
As of Feb. 1, Ontario residents will be able to access in-person government services at Staples Canada retail stores in Oakville, Strathroy, Newmarket, Scarborough, Tillsonburg and Welland.
The new centres are part of a three-year pilot program launched by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government with the aim of bettering customer service and increasing convenience.
An additional three centres will open later this year in Keswick, Hamilton, and Toronto.
The announcement was officially made by Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Todd McCarthy on Monday morning after weeks of speculation.
McCarthy said the idea of private-sector delivery as a model for public services is “over a century old.”
“Staples Canada now joins three other successful retail partnerships, being Canadian Tire, Home Hardware and I.D.A.”
The government said that expiring contracts provided them with an opportunity to “reassess” ServiceOntario’s service delivery.
Over a dozen retailers were engaged in the selection process, the government said, and factors such as customer service excellence, community presence, cost effectiveness and scalability were considered.
Last week, Ford said the pilot program with Staples Canada would be all about convenience. Government-run stores, Ford insisted, would not be touched in the process.
“Not everyone can make it into one of the outlets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” he said.
“It’s pretty simple. It comes down to customer service.”
According to the sample hours of the new centres provided by the government, the new locations will open at 9 a.m. and close between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays.
On Saturdays they will be open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The nine new ServiceOntario locations will have extended hours of operation. (Government of Ontario)
The move is part of a larger review of ServiceOntario centres in the province. The government has said the review will only impact privately-operated centres, which make up about 71 per cent of ServiceOntario locations.
Publicly-operated centres will not be impacted.
Who will pay for it?
The government has said that putting ServiceOntario kiosks inside Staples retail stores will save taxpayers about $900,000 over three years.
Under their business model, ServiceOntario will provide a one-time payment for all Staples’ capital costs related to initial building and setup, as well as covering labour costs and operating expenses.
Staples Canada will be responsible for the co-design and construction of the centres, as well as lease costs.
In total, operating and capital costs for the pilot will be about $10.2 million over three years. This includes retrofitting retail stores with the ServiceOntario branding; something McCarthy says is normal practice.
The minister would not provide specifics about where the savings would come from when asked publicly by reporters.
After the announcements, officials said the cost differences are primarily from the leases, they say are covered through a funding arrangement with the province. Officials said they were able to negotiate with Staples Canada to get the leasing costs down to a level that enables savings.
The government was able to sole-source the contract because it was a pilot program and therefore they did not need to ask for bids.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, are criticizing the government for its lack of transparency.
“This is just how this government operates,” NDP consumer protection critic Tom Rakocevic said Monday.
“Decisions are made behind closed doors all the time … if they have the opportunity to put money into the pockets of big corporations at the expense of small business, it seems like this government’s always going to jump on that.”
The government has already opened a ServiceOntario location in some municipal offices, as well as an Employment Ontario community hub and a mobile location that operates in the Robinson-Huron treaty area.
They are also exploring another pilot project to put ServiceOntario centres in public libraries. No details or timeline have been provided about this program.