Ford government to use taxpayer funds to retrofit 2 Walmart stores to also host ServiceOntario kiosks

CityNews has learned the Ontario government will be using taxpayer dollars to move ServiceOntario outlets into Walmart and Staples stores. Richard Southern has this CityNews exclusive.

By Richard Southern

Walmart Canada will host two of the soon to be shut down ServiceOntario outlets, and Ontario taxpayers are footing the bill for the retail giant to retrofit its stores, sources tell CityNews.

This is in addition to Staples Canada installing a number of ServiceOntario outlets, something CityNews exclusively reported was a sole-sourced deal that will see the Ford government hand an unknown amount of taxpayer dollars to the US owned Staples for the necessary store retrofit.

CityNews learned last week 11 ServiceOntario locations would be closing across in Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, London, and Newmarket and kiosks would be installed in multiple Staples locations.

An unknown number of taxpayer dollars would also be used to retrofit the US-owned supply stores.

The kiosks, where Ontarians will be able to do things like renew driver’s licences and health cards, are part of a pilot project first announced in December 2023 to “reduce the overall cost to deliver government services to the public.”

All the 11 service Ontario locations being closed by the government are privately owned and run as small businesses. The two service Ontario outlets moving into Walmart are in London South and Keswick.

The provincial government deal with Walmart differs to the one that it has with Staples as the existing private owners of the two ServiceOntatio locations in London South and Keswick will run the new kiosks, not Walmart. Although it’s an arrangement that may change in the coming months.

A sign at the door of a Staples in Leaside designating that it will become a ServiceOntario location. (Daniel Berry/CITYNEWS)
A sign at the door of a Staples in Leaside designating that it will become a ServiceOntario location. (Daniel Berry/CITYNEWS)

In the case of Staples, they will fully own and operate the ServiceOntario locations. It remains unclear how much money the government is providing to the two US big-box chains.

In a statement to CityNews, Walmart Canada said, “We’re proud to be a one-stop-shop for Canadians, which includes welcoming a number of licensees to our stores in dedicated spaces. We’re always open to collaborating with businesses and services that best suit the needs of our customers.”

A spokesperson for the Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Todd McCarthy tells CityNews that no new agreements have been finalized, but added, “We are always looking for ways to deliver better, more convenient service to people across Ontario. As we do, we’ll continue to engage with partners who can help us deliver on this commitment”

Neither Walmart nor the Ford government responded to CityNews questions about the taxpayer money being used to retrofit Walmart stores.

Minister McCarthy’s office has not responded to multiple requests for a CityNews interview with the Minister. It remains unclear why the two US-owned big box chains require taxpayer dollars for the retrofit.

It also remains unclear why there was not an open bidding process.

The province originally said that Staples Canada got a sole-sourced deal to open kiosk locations inside some of its Ontario office supply stores. The deal was not put to tender so other companies were not able to openly bid for it.

CityNews has also learned the owners of the 11 ServiceOntario locations shutting down were asked by the government to sign a nondisclosure agreement. The government is not paying any severance to the small business owners.

In a statement from the Premier’s Office last week, a spokesperson said customers will benefit from having a 30 per cent improvement to current service accessibility hours by moving them to the Staples.

“ServiceOntario is moving forward with ways to improve customers experience, streamlining operations, and ensuring a sustainable and cost-effective way to meet the needs of Ontario communities.”

They added employees of impacted private services providers are also being provided opportunities to continue employment with Staples Canada. “Small businesses will continue to be part of the ServiceOntario in-person network moving forward,” continued the statement.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she is questioning what the government priorities were and how they came to this decision.

“Why couldn’t they have made this a [Request for Proposal]? What were they trying to avoid? What kind of secret backroom deals have been made again with Walmart and Staples so that the government could divert all those public dollars into those companies at a time when our small businesses, our Canadian-owned businesses are really struggling to make ends meet,” said Stiles.

She added Staples and Walmart will be gaining the advantage of driving customers into these stores, away from smaller businesses.

“Those are customers who we want to be out on our main streets visiting those small businesses in our communities, those people are going to be dragged out of those community businesses and into those big companies again and again and again.”

One of the kiosks has already been constructed at a Staples in Oakville and signs say it will be ready to open on Feb. 1.

A ServiceOntario kiosk retrofitted inside a Staples Canada location in Oakville. TWITTER/@BelaContessa

Bonnie Crombie, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, released a statement saying Ford is “catering to wealthy Conservative insiders”, rather than protecting services people of Ontario rely on. 

“These sole-source contracts are just another example of the desperate and shady practices taken by this scandal-plagued government, all in an attempt to change the channel away from their failures in healthcare and housing affordability,” continued Crombie in the statement.

“The Premier needs to come clean and explain to Ontarians why they are footing the bill to retrofit multi-billion-dollar American businesses.”

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