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Campbell questions moves to cut Service Ontario hours

Editor's Note: This is an open letter written by MPP Sarah Campbell.

October 26, 2012

Hon. Harinder Takhar
Whitney Block
4th Floor, Suite 4320
99 Wellesley St. West
Toronto, ON M7A 1W3


Dear Minister,

I am writing with regard to the recent changes to the hours of operation and closures of Service Ontario Centres in my riding.
For weeks I have acted in good faith, waiting to confirm these cuts with your office before speaking publicly. To this point I have not received a response. This is unacceptable. Under normal circumstances I would raise your department’s failure to respond in a timely manner in person, however, your government’s decision to lock out MPPs has made this impossible.
Service Ontario is not only the face of the Ontario Government in many communities, but their offices provide a vital link that members of the public rely on to access essential documents and services, such as OHIP Cards, Birth Certificates, Drivers’ License renewals and Vehicle Registration. It is a government requirement that residents of Ontario have these documents and, as a result, the province must offer fair and equitable access to communities across Ontario.
These cuts limit access and, as a result, treat northerners as second class Ontarians. Past comments of yours, regarding cuts to Greyhound service to our region where you stated Go Transit could take up some of the routes (Hansard Dec. 14, 2004), suggest that you are ignorant to the realities of Northwestern Ontario and your cuts to smaller offices in our region confirm it.
Minister, it is not reasonable to expect northerners to travel an hour or more to receive the nearest Ontario government services, especially in the winter, when traveling even 40 KM to a nearby centre can take an hour on a hazardous northern highway. As I have raised a number of times since being elected, online services are not a sufficient substitution for storefront locations as many communities in our region are under-serviced by the current Internet infrastructure that is available. While I understand your ultimate goal is the privatization of Service Ontario, you have to understand that your department has an obligation to ensure that these services, whether privatized or not, are accessible to Ontarians living in all communities.
What immediate steps are you willing to take to ensure that smaller communities across the north and all of Ontario are able to obtain Ontario Government Services in a fair and equitable manner and without undue hardship, regardless of their geographic location?
A prompt reply is greatly appreciated.
Sarah Campbell, MPP
Kenora-Rainy River