Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre wants stricter rules for calèche industry

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says he wants to reinvent the calèche industry by introducing a new set of rules aimed at better protecting the horses and improving service to passengers.

New rules would impose mandatory breaks, prevent horses from working on days hotter than 28 C

Montreal introduced new rules to govern its horse-drawn carriage industry today, a year after Mayor Denis Coderre tried and failed to impose a moratorium. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The health and safety of calèche horses is the main focus of a proposed City of Montreal bylaw to govern the controversial industry.

The new rules, presented at an executive committee meeting this morning, include provisions about the treatment and well-being of the horses, but also target drivers, subjecting them to training.

They come a year after Mayor Denis Coderre tried and failed to have the horse-drawn carriages banned from the streets of Old Montreal for one year, following several high-profile incidents that appeared to show the animals getting hurt.

9-hour work days, 10-minute breaks

If passed, the regulations will require that horses:

  • Will have to be examined twice a year by a veterinarian, who will have to attest that the animal is in good health.
  • Won't be harnessed more than nine hours a day, including the travel time between the stable and Old Montreal.
  • Will get obligatory 10-minute breaks after every ride.
  • Won't be on the road when the temperature reaches 28 C.
  • Are microchipped, which will allow them to be tracked as they work.

Calèche drivers will have to undergo training on customer service, the tourism industry and all the rules related to their jobs.

They will also have to comply with a dress code and to get a permit from the SAAQ. It was not specified what kind of permit.

Fines for breaking the rules will be increased, though it's unclear by how much.

The new rules were presented to the executive committee during a meeting Wednesday. The bylaw will be tabled at city council next week and will go to a vote for adoption at the next council meeting in August.

At Wednesday's meeting, Coderre said horses are part of Montreal's heritage and that the calèche industry is an asset.

"I think it is a tremendous springboard to go further, to learn from the history of the horses — their contribution into our lives and the heritage attached to it. They are part of the DNA of the city," Coderre said.

He added that last year's moratorium was meant to come up with new rules to oversee the industry, which the city has now done.

Drivers take issue with temperature, uniform rules

Driver André St-Amant, a calèche driver for 43 years, said he knew the bylaw was coming but was taken by surprise by the 28 C temperature rule.

The horses used to have to be taken off the road when the temperature reached 30 C. St-Amant said he is worried about losing more days of work.

"It's so bad for us because when it rains I don't work, when it's too cold I don't work, if you have too much activity down in Old Montreal, you have to finish early," he said.
Horse-drawn carriage owner André St-Amant tends to his horse Duke in Old Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Dominique Pelletier, who's been a calèche driver for 15 years, said there is no need to lower the temperature limit by two degrees.

"The horses don't work in extreme heat already, so that's just cutting down the time we're allowed to work in the summer in nice weather, which is not very favourable to us or the industry or the horses — because horses are very comfortable working in weather up to 30 degrees and even above 30 degrees."

She said that besides the new temperature rule, the bylaw isn't proposing anything new.

"We already do get vet checks twice a year, mandatory, and also we get surprise vet checks on the stands. When the inspector comes, they come accompanied by a veterinarian," Pelletier said.

Dan Leclair, another driver, takes issue with the uniform. He said he likes to dress up in 19th-century garb while he works to match the "spirit" and architecture of Old Montreal. 

"With the uniform they want us to wear, we'll look like we're [in the] military," he said.

He also thinks 10 minutes between rides is a lot to ask, since they sometimes sit around for hours, waiting for clients.

Calèche driver Dan Leclair poses with his horse Sally at a stable in Griffintown. Leclair likes to dress up in 1800s-style clothes while he works, and is concerned about drivers having a dress code. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

'Nothing new'

Last December, the industry received $500,000 from the city in order to improve services for calèche operators and regulate the safety of the horses. 

"What I want to know is where the $500,000 went that Denis Coderre allocated to this issue," said Anne Streeter, a board member of the Animal Alliance of Canada.

She said except for the temperature rule, Montreal's proposed bylaw doesn't offer anything new.

"The horses will still suffer from respiratory problems from the pollution, leg problems from pounding the pavement, the filthy barns. There will always be accidents — they're a regular occurrence.... They should simply not be in an urban environment."

String of highly publicized incidents

Coderre led the public charge last year on getting the carriages banned from Old Montreal for one year, after a horse was hit by a car in Griffintown and an image of a horse who appeared to stumble on a metal plate made the rounds on social media.

Just weeks ago, two incidents involving calèche horses in Quebec City led to new calls to shut down the industry in that city.

But the Montreal drivers protested against the one-year moratorium, eventually taking their case to court.
The two accidents in Quebec City are the latest in a series of incidents putting an unflattering spotlight on the industry. (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec Superior Court slapped an injunction on the proposed moratorium. Coderre decided not to challenge that ruling, and carriages were allowed to operate as usual last summer.

With files from Lauren McCallum