By Warren (Smokey) Thomas
(TORONTO, ON) – I write in response to Robert Tuomi’s column of February 20 regarding the recent community meeting held to discuss Belle River’s ServiceOntario centre.
Tuomi gets it all wrong; right from the start.
He asserts that the meeting was held to protest the closing of Belle River’s ServiceOntario centre. No. It was held to demonstrate community support for opening a publicly operated ServiceOntario centre.
A number of ServiceOntario centres are privately run and for profit. The government pays owners a fee for every transaction. The owner reaps the difference between the amount of the fee and their expenses.
The other centres are staffed by professionals working for the Government of Ontario.
Only publicly operated centres offer a full slate of services. Tuomi duly informs readers that the Belle River ServiceOntario provided driver’s licences, but fails to mention the services it could not provide.
“After the government rescinded the closure of a number of Service Ontario (sic) offices across the province … the Ontario Public Service Employees Union organized the protest at the town’s St Simon and St Jude Hall.”
The meeting was planned weeks before the announcement.
After his errors and omissions, Tuomi presumes to assure readers that the situation is “under control.”
Ask the Belle River residents, especially the elderly, those with reduced mobility, those without cars, who have had to get to Windsor and back since January 20 whether they think things are under control.
Tuomi brandishes government policy stating that owners must give four months’ notice before closing; a policy that obviously failed to stop the Belle River centre from shutting down a month ago. On the contrary, this just demonstrates one of the flaws of privately operated centres.
One wonders if Tuomi even attended the meeting or talked to anyone who did. Because, then he would know that even before the office closed, customers would arrive to find the lights out. That is the owner’s right, and another failing of privately operated centres.
Only with a publicly operated ServiceOntario centre can residents be assured that the office will be open at the advertised hours to offer a complete line of services provided by a professional staff committed to the public good, not to a fattened bottom line.
It’s time to make Belle River’s ServiceOntario centre public. This community needs and deserves it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas is the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.