The acting head of Montreal's Bixi bike-sharing service, Michel Philibert, is among the employees laid off today, in a surprise move that comes two weeks after Bixi filed for bankruptcy protection.
Reached by CBC News by telephone this afternoon, Philibert sounded as though he was holding back tears, however, he refused to be interviewed, referring a reporter to Bixi's media relations officer.
Bixi's media relations officer, Fabrice Giguère, said, "I'm no longer with Bixi," and referred CBC back to the non-profit company's main line before hanging up.
The company that owns Bixi, the Société de vélo libre-service (SVLS), released a written statement Monday evening confirming that 12 people lost their jobs.
"Given the slowdown in activity, the SVLS is putting austerity measure in place...In the next few weeks, SVLS will inform you of Bixi Montreal's plans and of its activities worldwide," the statement said.
Opposition demands councillor sit on Bixi’s board
Opposition leader Richard Bergeron of Projet Montréal called the layoffs ‘good news’.
"The real mess — the financial mess — we're in right now is due to these people...The next thing to do was to fire Mr. Philibert. It's done. Good news."
With Bixi owing the city of Montreal about $30 million, Bergeron said it's time the company become more open about what's going on with its finances.
The opposition leader is demanding that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre appoint a city councillor to sit on Bixi's board of directors.
“If they don't agree at Bixi, that is not my problem. Mr. Coderre has to force them to accept the presence of a city councillor, because I want good information. As the leader of the official opposition, as members of city council, we have no information,” Bergeron said.
Montreal’s mayor Denis Coderre shot down Bergeron’s demand to have a councillor sit on BIXI's board, saying talks are already underway to restructure the company.
“We won't need that because in the future weeks we will be able to make already some decision for the future of BIXI Montreal,” Coderre said, adding that Montreal’s executive committee with have a decision about Bixi in the coming weeks.
“We are in a phase of [restructuring], so we're rebuilding everything. My role as creditor is to save our asset and protect Montreal's interest, and we'll pick it up from there."
Coderre is promising that Bixi service will still be running this summer.
“My main goal now is to make sure — and we will do it — we are saving BIXI Montreal for this summer season."
Bixi bonus scandal
Last week, Philibert defended Bixi's decision to hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses — just weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy protection.
Bixi paid a total of $232,000 to 39 permanent employees in December, including $14,000 to Philibert.
Philibert said the payments were written into the employees’ contracts and approved by the board of directors.
Still, Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron called the move "scandalous," and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said Bixi officials should have handled the situation differently – although he acknowledged the bonus payments were perfectly legal.
Montreal took over Bixi's assets
Earlier in January, SVLS filed for protection from its creditors. It owes $50 million to various lenders, including the City of Montreal.
Coderre said at the time rather that sinking more money into the SVLS, a private company, the city would take over Bixi's Montreal assets.