1. Irreversible change
The restructuring of in-person services originates from the public-sector modernization efforts initiated by the new public management at the beginning of the 1980s. Economic and demographic factors, and the emergence of alternative forms of delivering services made this restructuring process for in-person services irreversible.
Economy and demography
The review of public programs, the introduction of performance, review mechanisms and the transfer of public- sector responsibilities to other jurisdictions are a few of the mechanisms used to reduce public expenditures and to seek organizational efficiency in the public sector. In Ontario, the Drummond report in 2012 on the restructuring of public services also brought to the forefront the urgent need for the government to take measures necessary to reduce the deficit with a volatile economy in the background. Added to these tax and budgetary emergencies was the ongoing aging of the population of Ontario. The government must therefore continue to respond to the needs of the growing aging population while respecting the imperatives of reducing public spending and the efficiency of public service delivery. The development of alternative forms of service delivery offers, to a certain extent, should be seen as an opportunity in light of this irreversible restructuration of public-service offerings.
Alternative forms of service delivery
Alternative forms of service delivery involve the dynamic and creative process through which the government transfers certain responsibilities to provide public services to non-government entities, often through partnerships with the private sector or with non-profit organizations. In this dynamic, digital is a catalyst for their implementation. The new plan reinforces this trend as it aims to contribute to the primary objective of the new public-service digitalization plan, offering simplified, accelerated and improved services within a system focused on individuals, while reducing costs. Now, several public services that issue and deliver licenses and other documents within the jurisdiction of Service Ontario are done online. These include, for example, renewals of drivers’ licences, health cards, or licence plate stickers. In addition, in October 2014, Service Ontario initiated the online processing of security guard permit applications on behalf of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Previously, applications for this type of license had to be made in person or by mail.
Moreover, in September 2014, Service Ontario also initiated a pilot project with the Small Claims Court of the Ministry of the Attorney General. This pilot project, which authorized the online payment of that Court’s fees, was extended in March 2015 to all the courts in the province. The Ministry of the Attorney General also implemented a project that enables parties in a civil proceeding to file many different documents online, a procedure that used to be done in person, which had the effect of extending deadlines for procedures.
These different projects show the importance of digital growth in the offer of services to the public – however, they require the strengthening of access infrastructures to respond to its requirements.
On this point, it is important to improve accessibility, especially for populations residing in rural areas where high-speed Internet access is not as widespread as it is in urban areas. In addition to the growing importance of digital-based services, we must add the use of grouping services or the creation of unique points of access. For this purpose, across Service Ontario, several offices of various ministries, including the ministries of Government Services, Transportation, and Health and Long-Term Care, were brought together in a region to offer unique access points for all of their services. If it is true that this centralization could, in some cases, make it possible to concentrate Francophone resources in one place, it is necessary to ensure that they can still maintain a permanent offer of services in French.