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Financial watchdog will review decision to move some ServiceOntarios into Staples

Two weeks after the Ford government revealed plans to expand the number of ServiceOntario kiosks in private retail businesses, the province’s financial watchdog has launched a “research project” into the plan.

The government faced scrutiny after it began shutting down privately-operated ServiceOntario centres, swapping them out for new locations nestled inside Staples Canada retail stores.

A business case for the move, previously obtained by Global News, shows Ontario is expected to pay Staples a total of $1.75 million in one-time costs to set up its nine ServiceOntario kiosks. It also says the stationery giant will receive a total of $8.29 million over three years to run ServiceOntario locations.

Recently, the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery posted a request for qualifications looking for additional “retailers of all sizes” that might want to host ServiceOntario locations

Todd McCarthy, the minister overseeing the change, said he wouldn’t place an “upper limit” on the number of retailers who could eventually host a ServiceOntario kiosk.

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“We’re going to hear from as many interested potential partners as we can and we look forward to everybody coming forward,” McCarthy said.

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As the government faced questions, the Ontario Liberals asked Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer (FAO) to launch an investigation into the costs associated with the change and the government’s purported savings of a million dollars over three years.

In a letter to the Ontario Liberals, Jeffrey Novak said his office would launch a report that would “compare the financial costs and benefits” of moving some ServiceOntario locations into Staples.

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The Ontario Liberals asked the FAO to determine several questions, including how Staples will be compensated over the three-year pilot program and what financial arrangements are included within the agreement.

The ServiceOntario business case seen by Global News shows the government has planned a multi-phase overhaul of how services are delivered, including moving them into retail locations, libraries and mobile hubs.

“We absolutely look forward to the inquiry,” Minister McCarthy said Monday.

“When you look at benefits and costs, we’re saving a million dollars over three years, so there’s actually reduced costs and there’s more benefits because we have the longer hours, more ample parking, the online booking.”

Ontario Liberal MPP Stephanie Bowman, whose request triggered the probe, said in her letter to the FAO that she felt a report would “shed much-needed light” on the Staples move.

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“The government has not been clear on the value to the Ontario taxpayer,” Bowman wrote to the FAO.

“In fact, their story keeps shifting. First, they said this outsourcing would save a million dollars; then they said that it would save a million dollars over three years, and most recently, that it would save $900,000 over three years.”

The FAO’s office said it expected the report to be completed in early 2025.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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