Province’s financial watchdog launching inquiry into Ford government’s ServiceOntario changes

The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO), the province’s independent financial watchdog, is launching a formal inquiry into the Ford government’s decision to close nine ServiceOntario outlets and convert them into Staples Canada stores, 680 NewsRadio has learned.

The FAO is conducting the inquiry following a request from Liberal MPP Stephanie Bowman, who cited 680 NewsRadio’s reporting.

680 NewsRadio was the first to report in January that the government was closing nine ServiceOntario outlets that were privately operated by small business owners and moving the locations into Staples Canada stores as part of a sole-sourced deal, with taxpayer money going to Staples for store retrofits.

“We understand from news reports that these contracts will provide significant value to these large American companies,” wrote Bowman in her request letter to the FAO.

“However, the government has not been clear on the value to the Ontario taxpayer.”

The FAO inquiry will compare the financial costs and benefits of the government’s contract with Staples Canada with the alternative of continuing contracts with independent private operators and will aim to answer several key questions, including how Staples Canada will be compensated during the three-year pilot program, what financial arrangements are included in the agreement, and will consist of a financial analysis of re-locating the ServiceOntario centres.

Government officials said using Staples locations will lead to an estimated $900,000 in savings over three years, but the business case has never been made available to 680 NewsRadio.

In February, CityNews spoke to the owner of one of the 11 ServiceOntario locations that shut down. She detailed how she was losing her business.

The results of the inquiry are expected in early 2025.

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