Ont. Liberals plan service guarantee

Ontario's governing Liberals are promising to make it easier to renew your driver's licence or health card, The Canadian Press has learned.

Ontario's governing Liberals are promising to make it easier — and faster — to renew your driver's licence or health card, The Canadian Press has learned.

If they win the Oct. 6 election, the Liberals plan to introduce a service guarantee to refund any provincial fees if people have to wait more than 20 minutes at a ServiceOntario outlet, sources said Thursday.

The clock would start ticking when a person checks in at ServiceOntario. If the person isn't called back to the counter within 20 minutes, all fees will be waived.

The guarantee would apply to any personal transactions at ServiceOntario, including applying for a birth certificate or changing your address.

It costs $74 to renew a licence plate sticker for a passenger vehicle in southern Ontario and $37 in northern Ontario, while fees for registering a newborn range from $25 to $35.

The Liberals also plan to allow families to change renewal dates for health cards and driver's licences, usually each person's birthday, so everyone in the family can renew their cards at the same time and "avoid multiple visits to ServiceOntario," said one source.

"The birthdate for one parent would serve as the benchmark, and all other health card and driver's licence renewals for that parent, their spouse and their children up to age 16 would be co-ordinated to match that date."

Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne confirmed the service guarantee plan late Thursday.

"Well I think it's just the next step in improving service to people," said Wynne. "It can be very frustrating to wait in line and not to know when you're going to be served."

However, the New Democrats were not impressed with the Liberal plan, questioning why it took them eight years to offer a service guarantee.

"If this is the best they can pull out before an election in terms of promises, we clearly see that what we've had for the last eight years is what we're going to get for the next four years under the McGuinty Liberals," said NDP critic Cheri DiNovo. "Clearly this government is not in a position to make any significant promises."

The Progressive Conservatives said they don't expect anyone will ever get a fee refunded by ServiceOntario.

"Nobody believes Dalton McGuinty will ever put any money back in the pockets of Ontario families," said Tory critic Elizabeth Witmer.

The service guarantee would take effect early next year. There would be no cost associated with co-ordinating the renewal dates, said the source, and the Liberals are still determining the cost of offering the service guarantee.

"We've worked hard over the past eight years to deliver important services to families when they need them," said the source. "We created online service guarantees for birth, marriage and death certificates in 2006, the first of their kind in North America."

Before those guarantees, many Ontario parents waited up to 20 weeks to get a birth certificate. Now, more than 99 per cent of birth, marriage and death certificates are delivered in 15 business days or less, according to the Liberals.

The promise of new ServiceOntario guarantees came one day after Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a service guarantee for GO Train commuters in the Toronto area.

GO passengers will get a refund for their trip if their trains are more than 15 minutes late, but there are several exceptions where there would be no refunds if the train is late, including bad weather or a police emergency.

The GO 15-minute guarantee is expected to cost the province about $7 million, but the goal is to have the trains run on time so refunds are not needed.