Open a public ServiceOntario office in Belle River: OPSEU

BELLE RIVER, ON, Jan. 19, 2017 /CNW/ - The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is calling on the province to open a publicly run ServiceOntario centre in Belle River following the closure today of the privately run office there.

"This is just more proof that rural Ontarians are being left behind by Kathleen Wynne. Small communities deserve the same access to public services as larger centres," said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. "Public services shouldn't depend on whether private owners feel like delivering them."

According to Tom Bain, Mayor of Lakeshore, neither the town nor the Business Improvement Association has been able to convince anyone to take over the busy Belle River location from the current private operator. Local area residents will now have to drive up to half an hour or more to Essex, Windsor, Tillbury, or Leamington to get their driver's licence, health card, and other government documents.

"The solution is obvious," said Thomas. "The Ontario government needs to staff and run the Belle River ServiceOntario office so the community can have reliable public services and good local jobs. This is what holds communities together."

Mickey Riccardi, president of OPSEU Local 154, which represents public service employees in the region, recalls what happened when the Belle River centre changed private owners in 2013 and moved to a larger location.

"At that time, the government sent in ServiceOntario employees who staffed the counter for well over a year during the transition," Riccardi said. "Public service employees have the most knowledge and experience to run ServiceOntario offices in Belle River – and everywhere else in Ontario."

ServiceOntario centres in small and rural communities around the province are under threat of closure and reduced hours. The northern Ontario communities of Ignace and Atikokan have had their ServiceOntario office hours cut drastically.

Last spring, the government threatened to close nine ServiceOntario centres across the province. After a grassroots protest by concerned and angry citizens, the government was forced to put their plans on hold and keep these ServiceOntario locations open.

"Only the public should own ServiceOntario," concluded Thomas. "When we own it, we run it right."

SOURCE Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)

For further information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; Mickey Riccardi, 519-981-7748


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