Montreal’s mayor did not mince words – saying “bye-bye. I don’t care” – about Uber announcing it is likely leaving Quebec.
“Frankly, we need to have some regulations, and if they are threatening to leave, I don’t care,” said Denis Coderre, speaking to BNN Tuesday morning.
He later added that Uber was being unreasonable with its threat to pull out of Quebec instead of abiding by minimal safety regulations.
"What's the problem to have some training programs at the minimum level of 35 hours? What's the problem at the same time to have a screening process to make sure that you're protecting the people vis à vis their criminal record?" said Coderre.
That threat became a reality, when Uber Quebec CEO Jean-Nicolas Guillemette announced Tuesday that the mobile app service will pull out of the province on Oct. 14.
"What we are announcing today is that if there is no change made by the government, we won’t be able to continue to operate after Oct. 14,” said Guillemette. "Obviously this is not what we hope, and what we would like the government to consider is to renew the pilot project as is… and give us more days and weeks to come to a solution where everybody will be happy."
Guillemette said the company is not willing to comply with new regulations imposed by the Quebec government, which he referred to as "by far the most restrictive and severe in Canada."
Coderre said he had no sympathy for a company making an ultimatum.
"Now they're saying there's too much training. What is this?" said Coderre. "With all the time that we're passing on Twitter and Facebook, cut it by seven and you can have a virtual training. There's ways to make it happen."
He pointed out that taxi drivers have been going through more extensive training and safety checks for years, and if Uber wasn't willing to comply "Well I'm sorry, tough luck. I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to lose any sleep."
"We all know the condescending tone and the way that they've been acting in the past," added Coderre.
"The reality is this: probably because it's a worldwide organization, they don't want to have too many precedents to work with, and they don't want to be stuck with in other cities."
On Friday, Transportation Minister Laurent Lessard said he would extend the pilot project under which Uber had been operating for the past 12 months, contingent on the company being subject to the same rules as traditional taxis regarding training and background checks.
"A large company like Uber, which has developed an application on mobile technology, is certainly capable of meeting this challenge," said Lessard.
Additionally, Lessard said all Uber drivers will be required to undergo the same number of training hours as do drivers of traditional taxis, which is 35 hours.
“If it’s kind of an illegal taxi industry,” Coderre told BNN. “I don’t have any problem with competition, but at least we need to make sure it’s on fair regulations. Everybody has to follow them.”
Under the new rules, background checks for Uber drivers must be conducted by the police and no longer by private companies.
Under the terms of the original pilot project, Uber drivers were only forced to take 20 hours of training.
Uber is not on board with the training stipulation -- saying 35 hours is too much for drivers who work part-time.
“Is it a problem to make sure we check criminal records? That we make sure people have a minimum of training? This is what we have in mind,” said Coderre.
As for the background check, Guillemette said Uber was willing to work with the government on that.
"Safety is always our first priority at Uber. It’s something we care a lot about. We’ve put tons of technology in place to ensure to the safety of everyone when they use the service. Background checks is the basic of our safety," he said. "That's not an issue."
The extension of the pilot project would have also included an annual inspection for vehicles carrying customers.
Guillemette says the province didn't consult with the company before introducing the new rules, which he says make it impossible for the service to continue in Quebec.
Since the pilot project began, Uber reports that there have been more than 8 million trips and more than 1 million individual users in the province. They also report that more than 10,000 individuals use Uber to generate revenue on a part-time basis, the equivalent of 3,000 full-time jobs in the province.
"We think that shows the population here wants more option in transport and that they want to continue to use Uber and what we want to do is to continue to do that, and we hope that the government will open communication with us and will be able to find a solution," said Guillemette.
Coderre expressed his support for the taxi industry instead, saying, “We have thousands and thousands of people here who paid a lot of money for their permit,” adding that the taxi industry, considered by some to be slow to modernize, is “changing here a lot in a good way.”
He added that the role of a government is to make sure citizens are safe.
The pilot project allowing Uber to legally operate in Quebec went into effect in October 2016 and included the option of a one-year renewal.
Part of the pilot project included a provision allowing the government to collect a small sum from each Uber fare, which was dedicated to helping the traditional taxi industry modernize.
Lessard said the money collected from the program totalled about $7.2 million over the course of the pilot project's first year.
Uber passengers said Monday they didn't understand why the company felt it had to pull out of Quebec.
"My question is why, why are they leaving because they need extra training? Why would they be leaving because of that though?" said one passenger.
Another added that they supported drivers getting more training.
"They should have to train more. They're dealing with people and it's a safety issue as well."
Coderre didn’t hide his beef with the American tech company, saying “the problem with Uber is the way they’ve been conducting themselves. They are very condescending and thinking that they own everything, so, sorry – it’s not my cup of tea.”
The provincial government hasn't responded to Uber's ultimatum.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a co-spokesman for Quebec's fourth party, left-leaning Quebec solidaire, called Guillemette's position, "blackmail."
"If Uber wants to leave Quebec, the reaction of Quebec solidaire is 'good riddance'," said Nadeau-Dubois, whose party is close to organized labour.
- With files from Kevin Gould