Montreal·Analysis

Has the Uber debate exposed a generational divide among Liberals?

It would be an easy narrative to write about. Plucky Liberal youth and millennials upset at their party's anti-Uber taxi bill, while older cabinet ministers say they have no choice given the context and have to maintain the status quo.

No, the divide runs deeper

Liberal youth wing president Jonathan Marleau (left) tabled a bill in favour of Uber, a move that could be interpreted as a condemnation of transportation minister Jacques Daoust's (right) bill aimed at cracking down on the ride-hailing service. (Radio-Canada)

It would be an easy narrative to write about.

Plucky Liberal youth and millennials upset at their party's anti-Uber taxi bill, while older cabinet ministers say they have no choice given the context and have to maintain the status quo.

At their party's general council meeting in Drummondville on Saturday, a majority of grassroots Liberals voted in favour of a resolution that many interpret as a condemnation of transportation minister Jacques Daoust's bill and the Couillard government's approach to Uber.

The resolution, tabled by the party's youth president Jonathan Marleau, essentially calls on the Liberal government to be more accommodating of companies from the so-called "sharing economy," such as Airbnb and Uber. The focus of the debate though was the controversial ride-hailing service.

On Thursday, Daoust tabled a bill that would force Uber drivers to have a taxi permit and taxi drivers' licence. Those are costly new rules and the multi-national company has threatened to take their popular service out of the province if it judges the bill too strict.

But the reason why Liberals here oppose Bill 100 runs deeper than a generational divide. Party militants who voted in favour of the resolution cut across all age ranges.

In fact, one of the delegates who gave the most impassioned defence of Uber and the sharing economy was 80-year old Casper Bloom.

The anglophone vice president of the party's executive committee has never taken an Uber trip.

But for him, and many who spoke in favour of the resolution, it's about more than just one company.

It's about what they believe is a fundamental principle of their party.

A free-market economy.

"The party has taken a position that is opposed to its own principles," says Bloom, who is also a member of the Westmount-St-Louis riding association. "That's what bothers me. It's not part of the principles of the Liberal Party to be against the opening of competition to others and other innovative and technological advances."

Daoust says he's listening and he's open to making changes to the bill. But for now, Bill 100 is the best solution on the table.

The next best solution would involve buying back a billion dollars-worth of taxi permits in order to open the floodgates to more competitors and that's not the best use of a billion dollars he says.

But party members like Bloom believe the Couillard government simply has not worked hard enough to find a solution that works for the new economic reality and to accommodate new players such as Uber.

"I know that where there issues, where there are problems, there are solutions. You just have to work at it. I don't think we worked hard enough at it to find the proper solution," he says.

And according to a majority of people here, Bill 100, as it stands, is not the right solution for the economy of today and that of the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Hicks is in his final year as a law student at McGill University and is a former Quebec political correspondent for the CBC. In 2018, he won the Amnesty International Media Award for his reporting from Guatemala about the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.

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