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Bonavista MHA Craig Pardy calls for local AESL office to reopen

The College of the North Atlantic Bonavista campus.
The College of the North Atlantic Bonavista campus. - SaltWire File Photo
BONAVISTA, N.L. —

Amid political turmoil preceding delivery of the 2020 provincial budget, Bonavista MHA Craig Pardy wants revisited a 2016 decision to close the Advanced Education, Skills and Labour (AESL) office in Bonavista.

He says he’d like to see any employees who currently drive back and forth between Bonavista and Clarenville to remain in Bonavista, and do their job via distance technology from there.

In a news release issued on Feb. 14, Pardy called the decision from four years ago, “poor public policy that will reduce access to basic services to people who really need it.”

AESL does frontline work with income support clients as well as students, persons with disabilities, people with literacy challenges, single parents, apprentices, and unemployed or underemployed individuals needing skills training.

According to Pardy the Bonavista AESL office was among the busiest in the province, “with double or triple the number of weekly visitations compared with other locations, proving the office’s services are badly needed and their removal will cause hardship for people.”

The Packet contacted the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour for comment on Pardy's release.

In a statement, AESL says the office had closed on May 30, 2016.

“Budget 2016 saw changes to the delivery of Employment and Income Support services throughout the province. AESL regional services are provided primarily through telephone, email, online and outreach services,” read the statement.

In addition, they say the province committed to provide in-person service where demand warranted through outreach services.

“In Bonavista, staff visit the community once every two weeks to meet with clients, when demand warrants. AESL staff have access to office space provided by the College of North Atlantic’s Bonavista campus.”

Pardy, however, contends online services pose difficulties for many people in the region since they have no access to this type of technology in their own homes.

He added it would be more cost-effective for AESL to use their already leased space for full-time employees, instead of having them commute for in-person service.

“Although the government suggested the closure would reduce personnel expenses, the net reduction of personnel was insignificant, and at least one of the employees must now travel regularly from another centre over a great distance at government expense in order to meet with local clients. How does that save the government money?”

While Pardy called the office one of the most frequented offices of its kind in the province, the AESL department cited a positive trend in income support in the area.

“Since 2016, the Bonavista area has experienced continued economic growth. Over this same period, the Income Support caseload for the area has declined by 10 per cent,” reads the AESL statement.

Pardy says he met with the former department minister Bernard Davis this past fall. Since then, Christopher Mitchelmore was shuffled into the ministerial role. Pardy says he has not yet met with Mitchelmore regarding his concerns in the district.

Jonathan Parsons

THE PACKET

jonathan.parsons@thepacket.ca

@nlpacket

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