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Service Ontario sell-out – Privatization 101

Left JAB by John Bell

January 12, 2024

Doug Ford’s obsession with destroying Ontario’s good-paying union jobs, and rewarding his corporate friends and donors with public service privatization has a new target.

At least 11 Service Ontario locations, including some in Mississauga, Toronto, Hamilton, Newmarket and London, will be closed and replaced by “kiosks” located in Staples retail outlets.

They call it a “pilot project.” I call it the thin edge of the privatization wedge.

SO is the public service that helps you renew your OHIP card, driver’s license, license plate, car registration, photo ID, and many other forms of documentation needed to live and work in Ontario.

I recently had to go to a SO office in downtown Toronto to renew my OHIP card and update my expired photo ID with my new address. Some services are offered online, but those, like simply renewing a heath card, require a valid driver’s license and I don’t drive. I’m not alone. As of 2018, more than 4.5 million Ontarians were without driver’s licenses. That means taking time and effort to go to a SO location.

The office I went to, the closest to my home, had several hundred seats, every one occupied. There was a line-up out the door to check in at reception. There were dozens more standing or leaning against walls. There were perhaps 40 SO rep desks, but not every one staffed. SO allows you to make an online “appointment” to speed things up, but I still had a wait of almost an hour. Many of the people there had been waiting hours. I spoke to a young Franco-Ontarian who had waited over 3 hours – granted he had a complicated request and needed service in his language, which SO does offer. Just not enough

Many were new Canadians, often whole families. There are older people with their children to translate for them. In a diverse city language is an issue, but SO does offer some translation services. New Canadians, after all, require a lot of new documentation.

The idea that these diverse and complicated service can be met in a store “kiosk” is not only ridiculous, it carries a load of racist assumptions and will inevitably exclude people. 

What I witnessed was an essential public service that requires more diversity support, staffing and resources just to meet current demand. How can this be replaced by a “kiosk” in a Staples store? 

The people working at SO are well-trained union workers. They get decent pay and benefits. Will those staffing “kiosks” have the same level of training and compensation? It isn’t clear, but I have my suspicions. What is certain, good jobs will be lost.

What is clear is that this move is not intended to improve services for us or working conditions for workers. It is intended solely to enrich and empower Doug Ford’s corporate friends and donors to his Tory party.

The main beneficiary is Staples, trying to “diversify” beyond its office supplies/pen and paper past, in the same way Loblaws has diversified into healthcare. Ford granted them the concession without making the decision public, or tendering pubic bids. It was strictly quid pro quo. So much for “free market competition.”

And the big winner is Staples Chairman, John Lederer. Let’s get to know a bit about him.

Lederer was recently hired as Staples’ interim CEO, in charge of re-inventing a fading retail chain. Staples is owned by a US-based holding company called Sycamore Partners that specializes in gobbling up retail outlets and rebranding them. Doug Ford just made Lederer’s job a lot easier, directing tens of thousands of new “customers” into his stores.

Lederer is already a winner in the Ontario privatization derby, as he sits on the board of Wallgreen and Boots drug stores, and stands to benefit from the Tory healthcare cuts. These seem like small potatoes next to the Shoppers Drug Mart behemoth, but are international brands that may have growth potential, especially if they get a good dose of public funding.

He has held a variety of executive positions in food services and distribution. Lederer served for 30 years learning from the master, serving as an exec and board member at Loblaws, helping Galen Weston transform his chain of dowdy grocery stores into the “world class”, billion-dollar shopping experience we know and love today. He is a proud member of the Grocery Business Hall of Fame. Seriously. Records show his “net worth” at a paltry $350 million (as of 2021), but who knows how much he has tucked away today.

He is also a long-time and generous supporter of the Ontario Conservative Party, and more to the point, Doug Ford. Records show he donated $1,600 to Ford’s Tory leadership campaign in 2018. And if there is one thing we now know about Doug, he takes special care of his friends.

So Staples will acquire a huge new amount of walk-in traffic that may have long waits to be served – a ready-made captive audience. And best of all, it won’t cost them a dime. The Tories have also announced the construction and conversion of the stores will be paid for by the very generous people of Ontario. No cost amounts have been mentioned. Remember, when you are standing (no chairs for you!) in a long line to get your health card, to appreciate where your tax dollars are being spent.

Staples is wasting no time looking for ways to cash in on inclusion of SO kiosks. It is already advertising for a new executive position of “Regional Services Manager – Service Ontario”. The position is charged with “the monetization of Service Ontario traffic” and “driving profitable sales growth through traffic conversion and building a consistent world class experience.”

Of course all this reeks of world class corruption, what we have come to expect from the Ford Mafia at Queen’s Park.

Thanks to Doug Ford’s generosity with your money, Ontario will lose good jobs, you will suffer longer waits for essential services, and John Lederer gets to “monetize” you while you suffer: Privatization 101.


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