Toronto Uber legalizing vote could have implications across Canada

Published: September 24, 2015

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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As the most populated city in Canada, Toronto has significant sway over the province of Ontario and the nation as a whole; what happens in Toronto one day may well happen across Canada tomorrow. That will be the case regarding drive sharing company Uber and its UberX program according to David Plouffe, Uber’s chief adviser (who you may also remember masterminded Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign).

The Toronto City Council is set to vote on legalizing the controversial drive sharing company next week, a sharp turnaround from when the city tried to ban the company outright. Ahead of that vote next week, Plouffe has been in Toronto to encourage the council to vote to make Uber legal, and he says Toronto doing such a thing would have a “cascading effect” throughout Canada.

“If Toronto were to move forward here, we’ll have a cascading effect throughout the country,” Mr. Plouffe said Wednesday. “I think other municipalities will certainly look at what Toronto did. I think it will provide some momentum.”

Uber has courted controversy since its inception. The service lets customers use GPS via an app to find a nearby car, like a taxi service on demand. However, the company is not a legitimate taxi service and therefor is not subject to clear regulations, while there is a murky grey area regarding auto insurance for Uber drivers.

The company’s early approach was to defy law makers around the world, and Canada’s governing bodies have taken the fight back to Uber more than most. Plouffe was recruited as “campaign manager” and head of communications, his remit was to spearhead Uber’s softer approach where the company is looking to work with lawmakers.

“Fourteen months ago, [Uber regulation] was nowhere in the world. So the debate was really: ‘Should we deal with this?’ ” Mr. Plouffe said. “Now, I think in most places around the world, the question is: ‘How should we deal with this?’ ”

The United States have led the way in regulating Uber, creating the transportation network companies (TNC) across 60 cities, formally recognizing drive share companies as different from taxi services. Canada has yet to adopt that kind of model or reach any concrete plans to regulate UberX or overcome the auto insurance conundrum. Toronto could be about to pave the way with next week’s vote.

“It’s a very difficult task for smaller municipal governments to grapple with this issue,” said Ian Black, Uber’s general manager in Canada. “If we get a good framework here in Toronto that supports the safety and innovation, then the benefits of ride sharing open up for the smaller communities as well.”