Sturgeon Falls’ only taxi company is shutting its doors and the owners are placing the blame squarely on West Nipissing council.
Le Taxi was required to renew all their taxi driver, operator, broker, and dispatcher licenses with the municipality by Feb. 15 to continue operating in West Nipissing. Citing the difficulty in getting vehicles replaced and repaired due to the pandemic and resulting supply issues, Le Taxi owners Pierre and Patricia Deforge wrote to council asking for the deadline to be extended by a month to March 15 so that they could get all their vehicles in order. Prior to that, the municipality had only received paperwork for three taxi drivers to renew their licences.
The requested extension was discussed at council’s Feb. 15 meeting and was defeated by the standard four-four split: Mayor Joanne Savage, councillors Yvon Duhaime, Denis Sénécal and Lise Sénécal voted in favour of granting the extra month; councillors Chris Fisher, Rolly Larabie, Leo Malette and Dan Roveda voted against.
“Sorry for the inconvenience this will cause, but due to some council members and some members of the municipality not giving us the extension needed they have shut us down, we are no longer able to service the public,” read a note posted on Le Taxi’s door from the owners. The Deforges declined the Tribune’s request for comment at this time. “I thank you all for your continued support over the years,” the note concluded.
During the roundtable discussion, Fisher said he was voting against the extension because he wanted to revisit West Nipissing’s Taxi By-law so they could prevent one company from having a monopoly over all the taxi licences in town. The by-law currently allows for one taxi licence for every 1365 people in West Nipissing, as well as five additional licences for wheelchair accessible vehicles. There are 10 licences available and while there were three companies operating in town when the by-law was first introduced, Le Taxi acquired all the licences when the other two businesses shut down.
Discussions veered off track after that, once Coun. Larabie suggested that the taxis were unsafe. “I agree that this is serious and it’s also serious to put passengers in unsafe vehicles. We do have by-laws in place, they have to be enforced and so for that reason, because of the danger of this aspect, I would not support giving any extension,” he said.
The four in favour of Le Taxi’s request took exception to that claim, prompting a debate over whether Coun. Larabie was attacking the company. “I have a hard time when councillors are accusing a company of using unsafe vehicles to carry children or passengers, I think that’s malicious. This company has been in Sturgeon for 13 years I can see and I don’t think they deserve to be put down by councillors in a public forum… if they were unsafe I don’t think they would be on the road, I think the owners are more prudent than that… Why are we being so anti-business here? We should be ashamed really, to cause such harm to a business that’s been here for 13 years. You should look back at your conscience tonight and rethink about this, it’s unbelievable,” charged Coun. Denis Sénécal.