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Canada

Taxi drivers on strike Monday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Quebec’s taxi drivers will be on strike Monday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to protest legislation tabled last week by the Legault government that would deregulate the taxi industry.

The rumoured tactic was confirmed Sunday afternoon when more than 1,000 taxi drivers and owners from all around the province jammed into a hall in St-Léonard. It is the first of other protest gestures to come, said spokesmen for Quebec’s taxi associations – tactics they said will not stop until Bill 17, as the bill tabled last Wednesday is known, is withdrawn. Drivers plan to protest on Monday at sites around the province, organizers said

The bill would deregulate the industry that transports people by removing costly requirements to drive a taxi and by allowing variable rates for their services, as is the case with Uber and other ride apps. Abdallah Homsy, a spokesman for the drivers, said the bill would eradicate the taxi industry in Quebec.

The taxi drivers said that adapted transport trips already reserved through the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) would be honoured on Monday. The STM confirmed this on Sunday but said that other collective taxi rides would not be in place on Monday.

Transport Minister François Bonnardel announced it would give $500 million to taxi drivers as compensation for the bill that would shake up the taxi industry if adopted – an amount derided as “peanuts””by people at the Sunday meeting.

Calling the bill “irresponsible” and “inhuman,” speakers said it would force many drivers and owners into bankruptcy. “We want to protect our permits and the value of those permits,” said one.

Owners  fear that taxi permits that some bought for more than $200,000 could eventually worthless if the law is passed. Already their value has decreased since the introduction of Uber and other ride-sharing apps.

“We have an industry facing bankruptcy and we are here to defend the industry and want this bordel of a bill withdrawn,” said one speaker.

Serge Lebreux, spokesperson for the Association des taxis des régions du Québec, said that, with the bill, the transport minister is attacking a symbol of multi-ethnicity. Many taxi drivers are immigrants.

The minister asked for cooperation of the taxi industry and the Opposition in the National Assembly, Homsy said – but this was after the bill had been tabled.

“Our response is yes. We will meet with the minister. But we want the minister to correct its error: We want him to withdraw the bill.”

Antonella Scalia Arcuri had five permits left to her when her husband died in 2012 at 41 of a brain aneurysm. The couple had been married for 30 months; their son was 17 months old and their daughter four months old.

“I was lucky,” she said. Friends of her husband and the general manager of Taxi Coop de l’Est, Joseph Naufal, “all joined to help me to catch up with the business.”
Shei has five drivers driving for her, some who has been on the job since her husband was alive. The taxis are her only source of income and she has been able to get by. “I don’t live glamorously. No vacations. My priority is taking care of my kids and making sure my drivers are happy,” she said. “My drivers even know my kids. It’s almost like a family bond.”

“One of my drivers just bought a house,” she said. “This is the worst thing the government could do to us. Where’s the humanity? What they are trying to is ruining the industry and families built on it.”

sschwartz@postmedia.com

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