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More ServiceOntario locations potentially moving to retail stores after Staples deal

The Ford government is planning to move more ServiceOntario locations into retail stores, months after suffering sustained criticism from its opponents over a deal that gave stationery giant Staples the right to run some kiosks.

The Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery has posted a request for qualifications looking for “retailers of all sizes” that might want to host ServiceOntario locations.

An online posting calls for any businesses interested in a “lease model retail partnership with ServiceOntario.”

The man in charge of the file, Minister Todd McCarthy, told reporters on Wednesday there was no cap to the number of businesses he would consider.

“I wouldn’t put an upper limit on it at all,” he said. “We’re going to hear from as many interested potential partners as we can and we look forward to everybody coming forward.”

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The posting for new retailer partners with ServiceOnario specifies interested businesses should be “located in central, convenient and accessible location” and have a “strong community presence.”

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It also calls for parking, “adequate space” and a “cost effective” lease.

The potential expansion to ServiceOntario locations within stores comes months after the government announced, and was forced to repeatedly defend, a plan to open service kiosks inside Staples stores.

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That plan involved shutting down some privately operated ServiceOntario locations and relocating them into Staples locations. Instead of paying on a per-transaction basis, as the government had for the shuttered locations, Staples received an annual fee for the move.

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.

The public process the government is engaged in for new retail partners is in contrast to the deal with Staples, which was agreed without a competitive tender.

The same business case shows the Ford government toyed with moving ServiceOntario kiosks into other major stores, ranging from Loblaws and Metrol to Ikea and Costco.

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A total of six pilots were listed in the business case — including co-locating ServiceOntario at municipal libraries, with First Nations and integration with other government services — as part of “evolving” the province’s delivery model.

The fifth pilot of the six is labelled “retailer” in the business case and includes full ServiceOntario locations and express locations.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles accused the government of “always wanting to privatize everything” when asked about the new request for qualifications.

“I think the public model ensures that people are going to have a certain level of professionalism in the provision of those services,” she said.

The request for qualifications posted online would be the first step in a longer process from the government to identify potential retail partners.

“Are you a retailer or business owner who is interested in partnering with the Government of Ontario to provide space for hosting ServiceOntario centres?” the listing reads.

“This opportunity may be for you.”

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

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