Uber bill sparks tensions among rank-and-file Quebec Liberals

The Liberal government's plan to clamp down on ride-hailing services in the province may have earned it praise from the taxi industry, but within the party, some say the bill is out of touch and anti-market.

Group forms to unseat Transport Minister Jacques Daoust over bill it claims is anti-Uber

Quebec Transport Minister Jacques Daoust tabled on Thursday his much-awaited legislation on the taxi industry. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government's plan to clamp down on ride-hailing services in the province may have earned it praise from the taxi industry, but within the party there are concerns the bill makes it look out of touch and anti-market.

Internal tensions over the proposed regulations could even disrupt the Quebec Liberals' weekend convention in Drummondville, Que., in what would be a rare display of rank-and-file party members breaking with the government's line. 

Transportation Minister Jacques Daoust tabled on Thursday a series of amendments to Quebec's taxi laws that, among other measures, would force UberX drivers to get a taxi permit.

Daybreak talks to Jonathan Hamel, an avid Liberal supporter, about the province's decision to make Uber X drivers obtain a class 4 license. President of Champlain Taxi, George Boussios, also joins in on the conversation.

Though Uber Quebec says it is studying the legislation, it has in the past indicated that such stringent regulations would force it to shut down its operations in the province. 

That prospect has upset some Quebec Liberals, who worry Daoust has turned his back on the party's foundational principles. 

"We've defended the free market for 150 years, and now we're favouring a single player," said Jonathan Hamel, a long-time Liberal party member who headed the Roberval riding association between 2007 and 2013.

Hamel is part of a small group of Liberals who say that if Daoust's bill goes ahead, they will challenge his nomination prior to the next election.

They're vowing to do the same for Dominique Anglade, the minister of the economy, innovation and digital strategy.

Hamel claims the party was strong-armed into its position on Uber by threats made by Daoust and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who has been a bullish supporter of the taxi industry. 

"Who's leading the party? Is it Denis Coderre? Is it Jacques Daoust?" Hamel said. 

A taxi driver takes part in an anti-Uber protest at Trudeau Airport in February. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

'You're not going to win a bet against the internet'

Hamel believes there is a sizeable number of Liberal members who are uneasy with the party's willingness to protect the taxi industry at the expense of Uber and the sharing economy in general. 

High on that list are members of the party's youth wing. They plan to table a motion at this weekend's convention that will ask the party to allow further developments to the sharing economy.

Hamel said the perception the party is anti-Uber is likely to come back to haunt them. 

"You're not going to win a bet against the internet," said Hamel.

Daoust, for his part, attempted to play down criticism his party was ignoring the economic opportunities opened by new digital technologies. 

He cited, as evidence, the government-sponsored fleet of electric taxis, Téo, which is slowly rolling out in Montreal. 

"The perception that we're not comfortable with new technology is wrong," Daoust told reporters in Quebec City.

"The proof of that is Téo, the proof of that is co-ops in Quebec, the proof is we will have available $25 million to develop and improve technologies."