By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 23, 2017
Never underestimate the power of a group of angry people.
Last May, it seeped out into the community that the province intended to close the Service Ontario office along Highway 35 by the end of the year.
It planned to close eight other Service Ontario locations as well, many of them also located in small communities.
The reason, the government said, was that many of the services offered at these locations are now available online.
People were outraged, the story quickly picking up traction on social media. It went “Haliburton viral,” to quote a phrase we sometimes use at the office.
It wasn’t just Haliburton County residents who were angry. People in the other affected communities were just as incensed and soon, thousands of people were signing their names to petitions in protest of the province’s plans, their MPPs taking those petitions to the floor of Queen’s Park.
In June, the province announced it was putting the planned closures of the nine Service Ontario offices under review and last week, it announced that all would remain open.
At a time when many communities, particularly small ones north of the GTA that don’t present much political incentive for the government, often feel ignored by the province, the outcome is a victory that should be celebrated.
Those who took the time to sign their names to petitions should pat themselves on the back. Without those petitions, there would have been no review and the Minden Service Ontario location would have been shuttered in November.
Many of us use the site at least a few times a year to renew our licence plate stickers, driver’s licences, hunting and fishing licences and so on.
Business owners also use the location for services such as the renewal of lottery and gaming licences, etc.
While the province stressed the availability of many of these services online, the reality is that with signal gaps still existent throughout the community, reliable, high-speed Internet at home is still unavailable to many Haliburton County residents.
The reality is the community’s demographics mean it is home to many seniors who don’t use the Internet to begin with.
And even among those who do use the Internet, some people just prefer to do business face-to-face, with another human being, rather than through the cold, blue glare of a computer monitor.
In a community with low wages and high unemployment, the local Service Ontario office also provides a couple of pretty good jobs.
Its continued operation is a small victory.
But we’ll take it.