MLA Mohinder Saran says Uber bill is 'discrimination on the East Indian'

An Independent MLA has accused the Pallister government of discriminating against the East Indian population by opening the door to Uber in Manitoba.

Bill 30 dissolves the Manitoba Taxicab Board, transferring responsibility to municipalities

Mohinder Saran sitting by himself at the beginning of the spring session in the Manitoba legislature on March 1, 2017. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

An independent MLA has accused the Pallister government of discriminating against the East Indian community by opening the door to Uber.

During an estimates hearing of Indigenous and Municipal relations Minister Eileen Clarke last Thursday, The Maples MLA Mohinder Saran said that Bill 30, the Local Vehicles for Hire Act, is unfair to the immigrant population.

"This is totally unfair for the owners, especially 90 per cent of people are East Indian," he said.

"It's discrimination on the East Indian and we will fight up to tooth and nail, and we would not let it happen. [It] does not matter if we have to go on hunger strike, we'll do it. We will do everything possible."

Bill 30, which was introduced in March, dissolves the Manitoba Taxicab Board, transferring responsibility for regulation to local municipalities.

It proposes putting power in the hands of Manitoba municipalities to regulate all vehicles for hire, such as limousines and taxis, including those hired by way of a digital network or platform, like Lyft and Uber.

'Not based on culture': Minister

During the hearing, Clarke said the bill only moved the operations of the vehicle-for-hire industry from the province to the city, which is something that is already being done in other municipalities.

"Winnipeg is the only municipality in all of Manitoba that does not have the authority to control and to operate the operations of the vehicles for hire," she said.

Clarke said the decision is "not based on culture, it is not based on population size, it is not based on any other issues."

"It is based on the fact that all other jurisdictions, municipalities in this province, already have the opportunity to make decisions about transportation within their municipality," she said.

"Winnipeg deserves no less."

Saran responded that the government needs to understand the emotions attached to the bill and "how much damage they are doing to the particular community."

"This is not a fun game," he said.

"We can take care of farmers, we can take care of fishery people, but they're only immigrants. Who cares about them?" Saran added.

Saran was first elected in 2007. He played a key role in 2015 in helping then-premier Greg Selinger survive an internal revolt led by five cabinet ministers and was minister of housing and community development. He was kicked out of the NDP caucus in January following accusations of sexual harassment.

During the hearing, after Saran's comments, Elmwood NDP MLA Jim Maloway criticized the government for not giving the taxi industry an option for compensation.

'Discriminatory': Maloway

"They're being given a provision in the bill that says they can't sue. Like, that is incredible that something like that would happen," he said.  

"Let's be clear about this legislation. It's Draconian; it's authoritarian; it's discriminatory; it targets a community, particularly the Indo-Canadian community," Maloway later added.

"This minister didn't consult, no matter what she says."

In an emailed statement, a government spokesperson said the province has listened to Winnipeggers and the industry. 

"Under this legislation, all existing taxicab licenses are protected. In almost every major city in Canada except Winnipeg, decisions about taxi services — from licensing to allowing ride sharing services — are made by the municipal government," the statement said. 

"The accusations of racism are repugnant and undeserving of comment."