Province’s Backslapping Over Uber a Bit Much

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With no shortage of political fanfare, the ride-sharing service Uber was launched outside Saskatoon City Hall on a frigid day (aren’t they all lately) last week. 

Stepping out of a sedan with the Uber logo in the corner of the windshield, SGI Minister Joe Hargrave declared that he had just taken the first Uber ride in Saskatoon and enjoyed it immensely. 

He hadn’t taken the first Uber ride, to be clear, but we’ll let him have this one. The vehicle was actually driven by Michelle Okere, MADD Canada’s regional manager, and Hargrave was accompanied by Michael van Hemmen, Uber’s general manager of cities for Western Canada.

All three were there to participate in the media event. Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark was not in the vehicle, however, which is odd given it was his leadership and city council, not the province, which moved quickly to get the necessary bylaws in place for the launch in our city. 

Uber serves a portion of the market in Saskatoon that prefers ride-sharing options and that’s a win

Any time our city moves forward on the inevitable, especially regarding technology and the marketplace, it’s a good thing. Uber is slated to provide a more efficient and cheaper alternative to taxis, which at times could be considered overpriced.

For example, a trip from my house on the east side to the airport costs $30 with tip, while it only cost me $25 to cab from the Vancouver airport to Granville Island which is miles further. That said, the driver immediately got a fare upon dropping us off, whereas drivers in Saskatoon are often left waiting for their next call. 

There was once a taxi supply issue as well, with travellers at the Saskatoon airport left stranded, sometimes waiting for hours for a cab after a late-night flight arrival. I can tell you from personal experience that is no longer an issue; I routinely arrive on flights that land after midnight and there is always a huge lineup of taxis waiting for passengers. 

Regardless, Uber serves a portion of the market in Saskatoon that prefers ride-sharing options and which was previously unserved, and that’s a win. 

Before the City of Saskatoon was able to proceed with implementing ride-sharing bylaws, the Government of Saskatchewan hustled to get to the provincial regulations tabled and passed, which was undoubtedly a lot of work.

It was also its job, which is why I was a little taken aback at the overt politicization of the Uber launch. The Sask. Party’s social media accounts were in overdrive, with self-congratulatory graphics and messaging blaring at us hours before the actual launch event. 

When I questioned the politicking on Twitter, here was former Premier Brad Wall’s response (keep in mind it’s truncated to account for the character restriction in a Tweet): “It was featured in the last Throne Speech I was a part of — fall of 2017 —  b/c it took prov regulatory changes and public encouragement to Regina and Stoon.  Greater ride sharing options have been a Gov’t priority for some time. Why wouldn’t they highlight it? It’s good news.”

Sure. Here’s the thing though — the commercialization of cannabis in our province also took provincial regulatory changes and public encouragement, and succeeded despite the heavy grumbling and foot-dragging of the Saskatchewan politicians in government responsible for those changes. 

In fact, Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan went so far as saying, “it would have been better for our province had it not happened” on the day commercial cannabis became legal in Saskatchewan. That’s a stunning statement from a high-ranking minister in a government that isn’t supposed to pick winners and losers, and overall should be championing an addition to the free market in our province. 

The opening of retail outlets across the province equalled new jobs and investment in the economy of each community, and investors in the growing and wholesale side of commercial cannabis are making a mint as big corporations battle it out over that lucrative side of the business. 

Yet not once did I see SLGA (which governs the regulation of commercial cannabis) Minister Gene Makowsky turn up to cut a ribbon at a new retail outlet. There was little to zero recognition of the economic influx from the Sask. Party or the Saskatchewan government on the day retailers were finally allowed to open their doors. Look no further for evidence than the fact that the provincial government is refusing to share cannabis taxation revenue with municipalities.

So, to answer Wall’s question, there’s no reason the provincial government and the Sask. Party shouldn’t highlight, or even trumpet, the introduction of Uber to Saskatoon. The problem is the selective treatment and acknowledgement of industries contributing to the economy of our province.

If Hargrave can step out of an Uber in front of cameras in minus-50-degree weather, Makowsky can cut a ribbon in a reefer shop. 

Otherwise, this selective treatment of which industries they’ll pose for pictures with is the embodiment of winners and losers, something the Sask. Party government has claimed it would never do. Seems that ship has sailed, or the Uber ride has pulled away from the curb. 

Or something.