The city says it will encourage drivers to transition to new careers once horse-drawn carriages become illegal on Dec. 31. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
With horse-drawn carriages about to become a thing of the past, the city of Montreal is offering calèche owners $1,000 per horse.
Jean-François Parenteau, the executive committee member responsible for carriage horses, announced the measure at city hall Wednesday.
The administration announced last year that it would phase out the caleches by 2020 after accidents involving the horses raised concerns about their welfare. In June 2018, the city said there had been four accidents since 2014, as well as hundreds of citizens complaints.
“Today’s program is focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of the horses,” he said at a news conference at city hall with representatives of the Montreal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
The cash offer is to encourage calèche owners to place their horses in adoptive homes organized by the SPCA in conjunction with Galahad, a horse-rescue organization.
He said the city will also work with the drivers to help them find new employment, noting that many have valuable expertise as tour guides. Jean-Francois Parenteau, a member of the citys executive committee, said the city does not plan to hire the drivers directly.
Sophie Gaillard, director of animal defence at the SPCA, noted the organization has worked to protect urban horses since 1869.
“We couldn’t imagine a better 150th birthday present than to see the end of calèches in Montreal,” she said.
The city has set aside $30,000 to buy the horses and will increase the fund to $50,000 if needed, Parenteau said.
But while the city is easing the transition for horses, it will not compensate the city’s 47 calèche drivers for the loss of their livelihood beyond the $1,000 offer, he said.
He said the city expects about 30 horses to be sold into the program, while the rest of the owners will sell or keep their horses privately, or set up shop in a city where caleches are still allowed.
Parenteau said the city would encourage drivers to transition to new careers, potentially in the tourist industry, once horse-drawn carriages become illegal on Dec. 31.
“We will work with them to direct them to other forms of employment with Emploi-Québec and with the federal Department of Employment to ensure that there is a humane transition for the coachmen,” he said.
However, Luc Desparois, owner of the Lucky Luc calèche company, which holds seven calèche permits, rejected the offer.
“It’s really insulting,” he said. “It’s like laughing in our face.”
Desparois said his 20 horses are each worth more than $1,000 and his permits to operate a calèche are worth as much as $70,000 each.
Parenteau estimated the owners of 35 of the city’s approximately 50 calèche horses will opt for the plan.
Some of the others might decide to ply their trade in other cities that have not banned horse-drawn carriages, like Quebec City and Ottawa, he said.
Gaillard said the organization doesn’t expect to have any trouble finding adoptive homes for the horses.
The SPCA will carefully screen all applicants and require people offering the horses a home to commit to care for them for the remainder of their natural lives and never to sell or give them away.
Parenteau said the $1,000 offer comes in response to warnings by the calèche industry that horses would end up going to slaughter houses if banned from city streets. It is more than what abattoirs pay, which is between $500 and $800 per horse, he said.
At that time, details will be available at spca.com or ville.montreal.qc.ca for horse owners wanting to apply for the two-year program.
Montreal's calèche owners will receive compensation from the city as the Plante administration moves forward with plans to shut down the industry for good.
Last June, the Plante administration announced it would ban calèches, the horse-drawn carriages operated mostly as a tourist activity downtown and in Old Montreal, as of Dec. 31.
That announcement followed a succession of accidents and complaints involving calèches. Then, five months later, a calèche horse died in the street, reviving public outrage.
Parenteau said the city is partnering with the SPCA and Galahad, an SPCA offshoot organization responsible for rescuing horses.
The city is also planning information sessions in partnership with Emploi Québec and the federal government to help calèche drivers find new jobs.
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