Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
The AGCO continued to ensure the agency was well-positioned to respond to the rapidly evolving situation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The AGCO demonstrated a commitment to burden reduction and increased flexibility for licensees while responding with speed and agility to protect the lives and livelihoods of Ontarians.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AGCO introduced the Registrar’s Standards for Gaming to support the safe re-opening of land-based gaming sites across the province.
Gaming site operators were required to establish re-opening plans that demonstrate their compliance with various public health requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at physical gaming sites. These plans were required to be assessed by an infectious disease subject matter expert and submitted to the AGCO for review by the RAB using the hierarchy of controls. In addition, operators were required to provide on-going COVID-19 pandemic compliance self-assessments in addition to the requirements set out in the AGCO Notification Matrix around COVID requirements.
In November 2020, AGCO inspectors took on expanded responsibility in support of the Province’s approach to enforcing public health measures implemented under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (ROA). AGCO inspectors were designated as Provincial Offences Officers with the authority to enforce measures in place under the ROA. On a regular basis throughout the pandemic, we worked closely with our partners, including police, public health and municipalities, to ensure all licensees were meeting their obligations under the ROA. To further support this compliance work RCB participated in the Provincial Multi-Ministry Teams (MMT) and had 34 inspectors volunteer to participate in the MMT campaigns conducted throughout the province to enforce the ROA.
The AGCO is committed to ensuring that all sectors are operated in accordance with the law, and with integrity and honesty. With respect to the AGCO’s approach during the ROA, CEO and Registrar Tom Mungham set the tone when he said, “The AGCO has zero tolerance for licensed establishments that are not doing their part to keep their customers and staff safe by following public health rules and Ontario’s laws.” During the 2021–2022 fiscal year, the AGCO suspended and issued Notice of Proposals (NOP) to revoke licences for infractions of the Liquor Licence Act, the predecessor legislation to the Liquor Licence and Control Act, to six liquor licence holders.
The AGCO worked quickly and efficiently to analyze the impact of the evolving COVID-19 situation on the AGCO and its regulated sectors and to develop products to support their operations in uncertain times. A dedicated web page was created to provide licensees and operators across the AGCO’s lines of business with up-to-date information on the range of measures in place that were relevant to those particular businesses and sectors. This allowed the AGCO to act quickly and ensure that important messages were delivered to stakeholders clearly and in a timely manner, with additional clarification either through communications, guidance or updates to regulations.
Government initiatives, priorities and mandate letter
As a provincial government agency, the AGCO supports and delivers on the Ontario government’s public policy priorities and fiscal objectives. The AGCO continues to ensure its priorities and operations align with government direction and ensure cost-effective, customer- focused service delivery. Government priorities are embedded in our approach, as evidenced in our work on igaming, liquor modernization and the Auditor General of Ontario Report, which stem directly from the Attorney General’s direction in our mandate letter.
Sustainability and efficiency
The AGCO is committed to good stewardship of public resources and has adopted a comprehensive transformation agenda to modernize its regulatory approach, business processes and workplace environment. The agency’s modernization efforts support and align with key government objectives for enhanced efficiency in delivering public services and reducing regulatory burden.
The AGCO is undertaking a fee review of the liquor and cannabis sectors in response to the Auditor General of Ontario’s recommendation to fully recover costs through the setting of regulatory fees in the liquor and cannabis sectors to become a more self-sufficient regulatory agency. The AGCO will work with MAG to develop options to support increased cost recovery in the liquor and cannabis sectors as part of this review.
Supporting jobs and business
The AGCO seamlessly maintained the delivery of services during the COVID-19 pandemic largely due to the modernization efforts that were already underway, which enabled it to adjust and respond to the pandemic quickly.
The agency introduced a number of regulatory–burden reduction initiatives to support the liquor sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of which have been made permanent and incorporated into the LLCA. In previous years, this included takeout and delivery for eligible licensed establishments, accommodating the business model of food box programs within the liquor delivery service licence, and providing the sale and service of liquor on docked boats. In Fiscal Year 2021–2022, the AGCO permanently allowed for the sale of beer at farmers’ markets.
The AGCO continued to develop and implement an effective process for identifying, assessing and mitigating risks, including planning for and responding to emergency situations. In January 2022, the Senior Management Team undertook an enterprise risk exercise to understand the agency’s priority risk areas, including responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The AGCO continues to develop and make improvements to its business continuity plan.
Over the past year, the AGCO focused on ensuring its structure can support the introduction of igaming in Ontario while regulating its current sectors. As a result of igaming implementation, a number of new job positions were introduced across the agency. The AGCO also developed a shared-service model to streamline functionality and services while mitigating conflict of interest.
In addition, the Business Optimization and Insights (BOI) Branch, with a dual mandate of performance measurement and process improvement and identifying opportunities for innovative practices and improved program sustainability, implemented more than 10 BOI identified recommendations. For example, as of January 2022, automated approvals for renewal licence applications have increased by an average of 29% since September 2021.
Digital delivery and customer service
The AGCO has completed its transition to the web-based iAGCO portal through which people can access online services. iAGCO improves and modernizes AGCO’s service delivery by offering customers an easy, convenient, digital way of doing business. Through this platform, the AGCO ensured the delivery of services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AGCO continued to improve the iAGCO service model and was able to leverage the launch of its igaming services on this platform to establish service upgrades to the system.
Under the AGCO Service Strategy and Experience initiatives, the design and delivery of an optimal service experience for our customers is a multi-faceted endeavour involving a range of areas from across the AGCO.
The iAGCO Product Management Team is working closely with Service Strategy and Experience to understand customer feedback and usage. Insights from customers’ experience with the iAGCO online service delivery portal and the AGCO’s website are routinely reviewed. Opportunities to meet and exceed the customer experience will be considered and prioritized in future system changes. This analysis will provide a roadmap to continue evolving and making quick fixes to address customer issues wherever possible.
To reflect changing customer service preferences and shifts, the AGCO has updated its in- person service model to be by appointment only. All AGCO services are available online, with staff available to assist customers by phone, chat, email and video chat.
The online engagement tool, ConnectAGCO, is one of AGCO’s Digital First tactics. It proved to be effective in engaging fairly and transparently with a wide range of stakeholders, including international organizations and in different time zones. This platform also permitted the AGCO to track its engagement metrics and nimbly respond to igaming project timelines.
Following government direction, an initial analysis has been undertaken to identify opportunities and considerations for the AGCO and its regulated businesses relating to the government’s Digital ID initiative.