It’s Monday morning in September, just minutes after question period, and NDP MPP Michael Prue is making his way to the foot of Queen’s Park to meet with taxi drivers, who are calling on the Ontario government to reverse its decision to remove restrictions on Airport Limousines from picking up fares within the limits of the City of Toronto.
During question period, Prue asked Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Jim Watson how he could unilaterally turn around and break a deal he had made with Toronto cab drivers to end “scooping” fares at Toronto International Airport on condition that the City of Toronto would be given authority under the City of Toronto Act to license cabs.
The deal meant that Toronto cabbies couldn’t take fares from limousine drivers at the airport while limousine drivers would be unable to take fares from cabbies in Toronto.
“But the people at the airport got exactly what they wanted because they contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party of Ontario,” says Prue. “We all know it’s true. We’ve seen it in newspapers. We’ve seem people bragging about it. The people of Toronto aren’t going to put up with the unfairness to the cab drivers who are our best ambassadors.”
Prue asked Watson why he was doing this.
“He gave me the same stupid, tired answer,” says Prue. “That it’s not fair for a limousine driver to drive someone downtown and then waste all the gas driving back (without a fare).”
So Prue asked Watson about cab drivers who take someone to the airport and waste gas driving all the way back to Toronto for nothing.
“He stupidly, stupidly answered that every cab driver can stay at the airport and pick up a fare provided they have somebody who’s asked for it and pay ten dollars,” says Prue. “When are the limousine drivers going to start paying ten dollars and he doesn’t have an answer for that.”
Prue vows the fight is not over and promises to ask more questions of Watson later this week. He asks cab drivers to keep up the pressure. “I want the cab drivers to tell everyone who gets into their cab how unfair this is,” he says. “We have to make the government change.”
Prue promises cab drivers that if he’s sitting on the government benches after the next election, there will be a law that protects Toronto cabbies, many of whom live below the poverty line despite working twelve to fifteen hours a day.
“And it’s not fair for them (the Liberals) to take actions favouring those who live much better than you – the limousine drivers,” says Prue, who encourages cabbies to organize and speak from one voice. “When you speak together, there is no power greater that’s going to stop you.”
With that, several cabbies get back in their cars and circle Queen’s Park for the next twenty minutes honking their horns.
“These guys (the Liberals) figure they can make any law they want and they can screw anybody they want,” says Randy Hillier, a Conservative MPP, an electrician by trade and a former member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “The law that they’re doing creates injustice. That is not acceptable except in a totalitarian system.”
This injustice creates a situation, cabbies allege, that means customers have to wait a long time to get a ride at the airport (because there aren’t enough limousines) yet in the city of Toronto there are more than enough taxis to handle the demand.
But the airport limousine industry is a strong lobby group with close connections to (Liberal) politicians so they get what they want, say taxi drivers.
“Let’s show McGuinty what we think of his answer,” says Peter Leibovitch, iTaxiworkers Association Executive Director, “and tell him that this is only the beginning. The iTaxiworkers will continue this fight and do whatever it takes.
“Maybe one day this city will know what it’s like not to have any cabs on the street and see what happens.”
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