A plan to move nine ServiceOntario outlets into Staples Canada stores is part of a broader push by the government to consider new locations for all of the provincial supplier’s independent and private operations, The Canadian Press has learned.
Todd McCarthy, minister of public and business service delivery, will make an announcement Monday, but details provided to The Canadian Press in advance show a variety of models the government is considering through pilot projects.
As contracts with the remaining 134 privately operated ServiceOntario locations approach expiration, the government will review them to determine whether they should continue operating in the same manner, or whether they should close and move to retail outlets, libraries or municipal offices. For example.
No changes are planned for ServiceOntario’s more than 80 government-run locations, and some of the independent locations will remain part of the mix, McCarthy said in an interview.
“We have to look at Ontario, as a province of 15.4 million people, as a whole and how different the communities are… It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he said.
Six of those free-standing locations will close and move into Staples Canada stores on February 1, while three others will open later this year, plans that have already attracted considerable public attention via CityNews reporting.
The news outlet reported on a job posting from Staples for a ServiceOntario regional services manager, which said successful applicants will be expected to “drive sales and profitability by converting ServiceOntario traffic.”
McCarthy and officials said the use of Staples locations is partly about saving taxpayers money: a projected $900,000 over three years, largely by not paying lease costs. The three-year deal with Staples is worth $10.2 million for one-time operational, labor and modernization costs.
The plan also aims to increase consumer convenience as Staples stores are open longer and on Saturdays, in addition to offering shopping opportunities, McCarthy said.
“The issue here is customer convenience, putting the customer first, the convenience of being able to shop while you wait for your virtual spot in line at your ServiceOntario…while you shop at Staples and because they have a presence in the community, you can shop at other retailers,” he said.
“That’s what the customer expects in 2024. That’s the modern world. Gone are the days when you walked into some cathedral-like building to access government services and products, from 8:30 to 4:30, only Monday to Friday.”
CityNews also reported that the deal with Staples was sole-sourced, which officials confirmed, saying the project was granted an exemption to public procurement rules, in part due to time constraints. The ministry had been in talks with about a dozen other retailers, they said, but none else met all the criteria such as “profitability” and “scalability.”
Some of the private operators whose businesses will close told CityNews they received a 70-day notice.
Placing ServiceOntario locations in Staples stores, as well as some existing locations in Canadian Tire, Home Hardware and IDA stores, is one type of pilot project of the six models the government has in the works.
Ontario is considering expanding the retail pilot project, including to other big-box stores, officials said.
Three pilot locations in municipal government offices opened last year, as did one location with an Employment Ontario community center and a mobile location operating in the Robinson-Huron treaty area. Another arm of the pilot project is partnering with First Nations and a location will open in northern Ontario in 2022.
The sixth type of pilot project involves placing ServiceOntario locations in public libraries, although none have yet been identified.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2024.