Uber says it's backing down on its threat to cease operations in Quebec starting Saturday, citing a willingness to engage in "constructive dialogue" with the new transport minister.

The ride-hailing company wants the government to ease up on proposed regulations that would require drivers to undergo 35 hours of training and have criminal background checks done by a police force.

But in a statement Friday, Uber said it received information that it would take a few months to enforce the training requirement after the rules come into effect. In the meantime, the company said, it is willing to continue negotiating with the government.

Uber sent a letter, signed by general manager Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, to its drivers and passengers Friday morning to explain the situation and thank them for their support.

Transport Minister André Fortin made it clear Friday morning that the province would be standing firm.

"My job is to put a regulatory framework in place. Whether a specific private company decides to operate within it, it's not for me to be for or against that," Fortin told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

However, he said: "I don't think we can stick our heads in the sand in Quebec and go back to the good old years of the 1950s." If Uber doesn't operate in Quebec, there is room for similar companies to take its place, he said.

Government agrees to minor concession

Fortin said the government is willing to give Uber drivers time to get their background checks done. New drivers, who start on or after Sunday, will have eight weeks, while current drivers will have two years.

He said it was always the government's intention to give drivers leeway on the background checks, since it would backlog the system if every Uber driver went to get background checks as soon as the new rules took effect.

But the way the procedure was written in the proposal didn't make that obvious, so Fortin set out to clear up the confusion, he said.

Fortin says the role of the Transport Ministry is to create regulations that work for everyone and ensure the safety of users.

Que Cabinet Shuffle 20171011

André Fortin has been transport minister for three days. He spent his second day on the job in talks with the taxi industry regarding Uber. (Francis Vachon/Canadian Press)

Taxi owners Kamal Sabbah, Serge Leblanc and Jean Vachon sent an open letter to the minister Friday afternoon, signalling their "discomfort" with the concession.

They said they would like to meet with Fortin to discuss promises former transport minister Laurent Lessard made about taxi licences they said would level the playing field.

The owners called a three-month transition period Fortin said he would give Uber to implement new training "inequitable" because it meant the drivers wouldn't have to take the 35 hours of training during that time. 

"Once again, we feel like the [taxi] industry must always patiently wait while Uber gets compromises and exceptions," the letter says.

Premier Philippe Couillard said early Thursday that while the province will keep talking with the company, it would not "submit to a multinational."

Uber has said it wasn't consulted about the changes, which they consider to be major, and that the training requirement is too much for drivers who only work part time.

Expires Saturday

If the new rules come into effect, Quebec would be the only Canadian jurisdiction where Uber operates that requires drivers to do training.

The old pilot project began last year and expires Saturday. Under those rules, the government required drivers to pass a 4C driver's licence test, and forced Uber to train its own drivers and make sure they did not have criminal records.

But the background checks could be done by a private company.

Fortin, 35, has been transport minister for three days. He replaced Laurent Lessard in Wednesday's cabinet shuffle.

Earlier this week, Uber drivers expressed hope that the appointment of a new transport minister could yield an improved relationship between the company and the Couillard government.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated that under last year's pilot project, Uber drivers had to undergo 20 hours of training. In fact, the pilot project forced Uber to train its drivers and made drivers pass a 4C licence test, but there was no government-mandated number of training hours.
    Oct 13, 2017 10:54 AM ET
With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak