'We're going to fight for our jobs': Taxi drivers clog Montreal streets in protest
Cabbies angry about Quebec's industry deregulation plans demonstrate right across province
Quebec taxi drivers, angry about the government's plan to deregulate their industry, are protesting across the province today.
Drivers from several regions converged upon the downtown core for a demonstration in front of the Transport Ministry offices on René-Lévesque Boulevard near Beaver Hall Hill, blocking traffic with their cars and honking their horns.
The protesters burned the signs they made and chanted "Legault, assassin" and "Bonnardel, assassin," in reference to Premier François Legault and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, as they hung a cardboard taxi driver effigy from a gallows.
Krimed Mokrine, one of the drivers who showed up at the Galeries d'Anjou parking lot ahead of the east-end convoy's departure, said he and his colleagues don't want to be in the streets, causing traffic congestion and disturbing people.
He even apologized pre-emptively for the trouble but said they aren't sure what else to do.
"You know something, we're going to lose everything. We're going to lose [our] jobs," he said.
Check out this scene from Friday's protest:
Mokrine said they want to let Bonnardel know they aren't backing down.
"We're going to fight for our jobs. We're going to fight for investment in what we do."
A retirement fund, gone
Taxi drivers argue Bill 17 would bankrupt an industry already struggling under the weight of competing ride-hailing services. They say they are most concerned about what is going to happen to their permits.
Under the existing rules, all taxis must have a permit, which cost upwards of $100,000. But the new legislation would abolish those permits, making them worthless.
Mokrine said he expects to retire in the next 10 years. Before the CAQ government's moved, he planned to rent his permit to another driver in order to fund that retirement.
But if the legislation passes, he won't have that option.
"What am I going to do? I am confused. I don't understand how the minister [could] do that with us."
The proposed law includes $500 million to cover the losses taxi permit holders would incur if the bill is passed, but drivers say that isn't enough.
George Boussios, president of Champlain Taxi and a spokesperson for Montreal taxi operators, said there isn't much time left before MNAs vote on the bill, so they have to act now.
He told CBC Montreal's Daybreak thousands of families will be affected if the proposal becomes law.
"At the end of the day, if the government can get rid of one industry, who's to say they can't do it [again] in the future?"
One of the drivers programmed the dome of his/her taxi to read “taxi on strike, no to bill 17” <a href="https://t.co/UfhlMbBHIl">pic.twitter.com/UfhlMbBHIl</a>—@katemckenna8
Drivers in Saguenay, Alma, Gaspé, Matane, Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski, among other places, held local protests against the CAQ's plan.
Negotiate with us, government says
Members of the taxi industry and the Transport Ministry were supposed to meet on Thursday, but the meeting was cancelled.
Boussios said the subject of the meeting was to discuss how the money earmarked to reimburse the drivers for their permits would be disbursed.
But they don't want the money, he said — they want to talk about how the taxi industry can coexist with ride-hailing companies.
Legault acknowledged the high cost of the permits, but said that alone is a reason to modernize the industry.
"Is it normal that someone who wants to be a taxi driver has to invest $150,000 or $200,000? There's a problem, and we have to solve it," he said.
The goal isn't to penalize drivers but rather to negotiate with them, he said.
Bonnardel is also defending the bill, saying the government found a balance between keeping the traditional taxi business alive and new technologies.
He invited drivers to participate in consultations about the bill, and said while he understands that they are upset, turmoil often follows change.
With files from Kate McKenna