Uber drivers hope to find ally in Quebec's new, younger transport minister

Uber drivers are reading into the decision to name a youthful André Fortin as Quebec transport minister just days before a looming deadline that could see Uber cease operations in the province.

Ride-hailing service has said it will leave province on Oct. 14 if government doesn't change rules

At 35 years young, Quebec Transport Minister André Fortin is a symbol of hope for Uber drivers, who have faith he'll be more lenient about the requirements for a renewed Uber pilot project than his predecessors were. (CBC)

Uber drivers are optimistic about the future of the ride-hailing service in Quebec after the premier's appointment of a youthful André Fortin as transport minister.

Premier Philippe Couillard said Thursday Fortin would hold talks with representatives from the ride-hailing company.

Uber has threatened to would leave the province on Oct. 14 if the government didn't back down on stiffer requirements it's imposing on the service in order to renew its pilot project.

Then-transport minister Laurent Lessard said Uber drivers would have to undergo 35 hours of training — the same number of hours required of traditional taxi drivers  — and submit to a criminal background check by police.

Drivers for Uber told CBC News they have yet to receive any directive from the company about what to expect this Saturday. 

But they're convinced the decision to name a younger cabinet minister is a sign Philippe Couillard's government is ready to play ball.

Jean Caron, who's been driving for Uber for the past 10 months, said he's confident the 35-year-old Fortin will see their case more favourably than his predecessor did.

"He's the right person for it. Mr. Lessard, no offence, he was always shocked when we told him anything. He's not on the same planet as this guy," Caron said.

"This guy [André Fortin] knows his cellphone. He uses it every day. He knows what apps are and how they work."

Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, Uber Quebec's general manager, said the service will cease operating in Quebec if the province doesn't rescind new rules. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Fortin mum on Uber for now

Fortin has so far avoided making any definitive statements on his plans for Uber.

When asked directly if he had any thoughts on the topic, he replied, "Not yet."

Despite that, Uber drivers seem to have faith they'll find an ally in the newly appointed minister.

It's all about timing, said Eric Eno.

"If a few days before Uber leaves, they appoint a new minister, he has to work. He has a few days to do something," Eno said.

Eno has worked for two and a half years as an Uber driver in Montreal and relies on the app for income.

"I spent about $17,000 [on a used car], but I do Uber full-time, so each week my profits from Uber [are] enough for me to pay for the car," he said.

"But without Uber, that's it for me. No more work."

Eno said he has a permit to drive a truck, so he hopes to find employment that way if Uber does shut down for good.

However, he doubts it'll come to that. 

Taxi drivers protested on Wednesday, arguing that if the Uber pilot project isn't cancelled, they deserve to be compensated for a loss of income and the decreased value of their permits. (CBC)

Taxi drivers on defensive 

The new appointment also sent ripples through the taxi community.

Cab drivers demonstrated outside the transport minister's Montreal office on Wednesday, asking the government to stand up to Uber.

Protesters and union members said they were worried that the newly appointed Fortin would give into Uber's demands and strike a deal at the last minute.

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