Small towns in Ontario win fights to keep public services

Belle River residents tell MPP to restore ServiceOntario as a public service

Belle River residents tell MPP to restore ServiceOntario as a public service

MINDEN KNOWS HOW TO WIN. The ServiceOntario office there is still open—even though the Ontario government planned to close it.

Minden is not alone. Another 10 small towns in Ontario fought to keep their ServiceOntario offices open—and won. Community unity was the key to all their wins.

Planned cuts spark community action

On May 4, 2016 the province announced that ServiceOntario offices in 11 small towns would close by February 2017 or earlier. The offices make it easier for country folks to access provincial government services. The closings came as a shock and insult. Not only would getting service from government be more difficult, but, the government had treated them all as if they didn’t matter. 

It was a colossal blunder by the government. They had kicked the hornets’ nest. 

In every targeted community people started talking about their loss of services. They got people to sign petitions online and at the grocery store, gas station, union office, municipal office and Beer store—anywhere and everywhere in town. It got so a visit to any of these towns would include a request to sign the petition.

Town and township councils passed official motions condemning the planned closings. Local media kept the citizen pushback a headline story.

In the end the government capitulated completely and announced all 11 offices would stay open. 

Many ways to win

In Minden it was civic and community activists who lead the charge to keep their of-fice open. Minden Hills Reeve and Haliburton County Warden Brent Devolin called the decision to keep their ServiceOntario office open, “a great new story.” He told the Minden Times that he thought the public blow-back played a large part in getting the government to think again and finally change their mind on the closings.

Union activists led the community campaign in Ignace and Atikokan.  The campaign was so effective the government caved in by January and announced the ServiceOntario offices in the two towns would stay open.

Ignace town council members with OPSEU Local 726 members
Ignace town council members with OPSEU Local 726 members

In Ignace, OPSEU Local 726 president John Coady worked to get the Ignace town council and the town’s business association on board. He pointed to the many neg-ative impacts the cuts would have on employees, residents, and businesses, particularly those that rely on tourism. It was enough to convince them to give the cam-paign their full support. 

In Atikokan OPSEU Local 725 president Twila Smitsnuk led her local’s tireles effort to keep their ServiceOntario office open. A key element was her convincing presentation to the town council. Smitsnuk talked about how vital it was for the life and economy of the town to have a ServiceOntario centre open five days a week.

Far stronger than we imagine

Smokey Thomas, OPSEU president, pointed out the deep significance of the many citizen victories. “What we are witnessing is the incredible power that ordinary people can wield,” he observed. 

“We are far stronger than we imagine. All it takes to harness that power is to come together in a common cause. When the people present a united front, there’s no limit to what can be achieved.”

For more information about the Ontario efforts to maintain and strengthen public services you can visit the Ontario Federation of Labour or check out the OPSEU We Own It campaign.


Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.