Uber seeks 'compromise' with Quebec government

In the wake of new legislation aimed at imposing new regulations on Uber, the ride-hailing company says it's committed to finding solutions that "ensure healthy competition and equitable fiscal compliance for all industry players" in Quebec.

Ride-hailing company says it wants to stay in province despite new legislation

Uber and Montreal taxi drivers have both staged protests in recent months. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Uber says it wants to find a compromise with the Quebec government in the wake of legislation tabled last week aimed at imposing new regulations on ride-hailing services.

Transport Minister Jacques Daoust tabled reforms to provincial taxi laws last Thursday, which, if passed, would force Uber drivers to have a taxi permit and taxi drivers' licence.

"This bill will ultimately shut down our operation in Quebec, but we want to remind people today that we want to collaborate," company spokesman Jean-Christophe de Le Rue told CBC News. 

"We want to come out with proposals and solutions and propose ideas for how to modify this law to make sure we can continue to operate, but also so we can create good competition in the industry and make sure all the players can continue and make sure there's an equity in terms of fiscal obligations."

The remarks are the first from the company since the legislation was introduced last week. Uber also released a statement saying it wants to find a "compromise" with the government.

If the bill passes, anyone offering taxi transportation services without holding a permit would face fines of $2,500 to $25,000. 

Companies could be fined up to $50,000.

Quebec's taxi drivers, for their part, have been largely supportive of the bill. At a news conference on Sunday, a union representing 4,000 drivers — The Regroupement des travailleurs autonomes Métallos — expressed hope the bill would be adopted quickly.

But they also want the government to drop a provision that would require taxi drivers to adopt the surge-pricing model used by Uber, whereby prices fluctuate with demand.

Uber extends an olive branch

In the past, Uber has threatened to take their popular service out of the province if it judges the bill too strict.

On Monday, the company conceded it can do a better job of working with the province.

"We have heard that we were maybe arrogant at some places and some moments and we want to make sure that that won't happen in the future," de Le Rue said.

"We are here to collaborate, we want to stay in Quebec. It's a great place to do business in terms of the sharing economy our products are super popular but we need to be a good corporate citizen."

The Liberal government has faced heat for the legislation, with critics saying the province needs to be more accommodating to new technology and the so-called "sharing economy."

'Fiscal responsibilities'

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard so far isn't backing down from his government's Uber bill. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Daoust has justified the measures by saying they are necessary for the province to tax the revenues of Uber drivers.

As it stands, the majority of Uber drivers in Quebec — about 75 per cent — work less than 20 hours a week and therefore don't make enough to meet the $30,000 threshold required to register and collect tax.

De Le Rue said Uber could be prepared to make some concessions, specifically to make sure sales tax is collected from Uber drivers. The company will offer more details soon, he said.

"We will propose them [concessions] in a few days and hopefully we will be able to go to the parliamentary commission that was announced last week," he said.

In a statement of his own, Daoust said Monday he's looking forward to learning the specifics and said Uber would be welcome to participate in upcoming hearings on the bill.

Premier Philippe Couillard promised to launch a project on the sharing economy, but suggested the government isn't about to re-draft its Uber bill. 

"The sharing economy is many things, both present and future," Couillard said.

"It is also about companies who are good corporate citizens, who behave with equity and justice, and who own up to their fiscal responsibilities."

Other jurisdictions, such as Toronto, have taken a different approach than Quebec, with the city voting to loosen restrictions on UberX, allowing drivers to pick up passengers without a taxi licence.

Calgary, by contrast, introduced rules that led Uber to suspend operations in the city.

with files from Lauren McCallum