Editorial: Unacceptable cuts to local access

The announced closure of the Morrisburg office of Rideau St. Lawrence Distribution is yet another loss of local access to services for South Dundas residents. The utility company made the announcement on its social media platforms and in a letter to the Municipality of South Dundas December 6. The office will permanently close on December 31.

RSL president and CEO Simon Wu told The Leader that usage statistics for the office were very low and the cost to maintain the office was high. Morrisburg is the only community outside of Prescott served by RSL to have a full service office. In Westport and Edwardsburgh-Cardinal, municipal staff accept payments on behalf of the utility, but other issues are dealt with by the main office in Prescott. That is not an option to be available in South Dundas though.

This is the second such permanent closure of a locally delivered service in the past three months. SDG Counties council agreed to close the satellite Provincial Offences Act courts located in Morrisburg and Alexandria. Criminal and Civil provincial courts remain in those locations. The justification to permanently close the two satellite POA courts was the cost to upgrade the courts. In both instances, the loss to the local community is another loss of local access.

For many people, the closing of these services has no impact. Online banking has – for many – made paying bills effortless. Calling Prescott when you have a service issue instead of Morrisburg does not change the type of response you receive. However, what is easy and accessible for many, does not mean it is for everyone. There is a significant portion of the population who do not have easily accessible internet, use the internet for banking, or feel comfortable – or are able to – use a credit card to pay their bills. Others lack transportation resources to go to Prescott to handle their utility bills, or in the case of POA Court, going to Cornwall to deal with a traffic ticket. Having access to these services in South Dundas benefits all residents.

The decisions made are cost-cutting measures to services provided by arms of the government. South Dundas is one-sixth of SDG Counties, and RSL is partly owned by South Dundas. It is one thing when a private company decides a market is not viable, or too expensive to operate. The Bank of Montreal closing its branches in Williamsburg in 2003 and Iroquois in 2018 is a prime example of this. Customers can choose to stay or go if they are unhappy with the service reduction. Government-run services and utilities are not the same. These are public benefits operated for residents. Cost considerations should not trump right to access.

Specifically to RSL, why are similar arrangements not offered to South Dundas residents that Edwardsburgh-Cardinal and Westport have? Losing access to services increases the divide between those who can, and those who cannot. Remaining silent about cuts speaks volumes.

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