Brian Guest is back at Ottawa's rail office — where his brother-in-law's the boss

Consultant Brian Guest, who worked on the initial stage of the Confederation Line, is back at the rail office for Phase 2. But this time, Guest is working for his brother-in-law.

Consulting firm Boxfish awarded Phase 2 rail contract worth up to $2M

Brian Guest is a familiar face around Ottawa City Hall. His firm, Boxfish Infrastructure Group, was recently awarded a contract worth up to $2 million for work with the city's light office, where Guest's brother-in-law in in charge. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

At a special presentation at City Hall Friday morning, we'll get our first detailed look at plans for the $3-billion light rail expansion, the most expensive infrastructure project in Ottawa's history.

But the briefing isn't likely to include details about who exactly is planning Phase 2 of the LRT project.

It's not easy to count heads in the light rail office. There are about a dozen city managers on the file, but also a slew of hired guns from various engineering, financial and legal firms.
Brian Guest is a principal at Boxfish Infrastructure Group, where his specialties include large public-private partnerships such as Ottawa's light rail project. (Boxfish Infrastructure Group)

One of the consultants is Brian Guest, a principal at Boxfish Infrastructure Group.

That Guest is working on the rail project is likely no surprise to City Hall watchers: Guest and his firm specialize in planning transportation and transit projects, especially ones that involve public-private partnerships like Ottawa's.

Guest worked on the initial stages of the Confederation Line. As a city spokesman once put it, "Boxfish is a vital and integral part of the light rail implementation team."

Guest officially left Ottawa's rail office in 2013. Then last year his firm was awarded a new contract worth up to $2 million to consult on light rail.

There's been one significant change since the last time Guest worked in the light rail office: his brother-in-law is now in charge.

Family ties

Chris Swail, director of O-Train planning, used to be second-in-command in former deputy city manager Nancy Schepers's office. Around the time Schepers retired from her senior role at the city in 2015, Swail was put in charge of managing the plan for Phase 2.

I totally get how it could be perceived as a conflict.- John Manconi, GM of transportation services

Swail is married to Robyn Guest, who used to work in former city manager Kent Kirkpatick's office. In the city re-organization last year, she was moved to the protocol office, but was later transferred to Mayor Jim Watson's office, where she is a policy director.

That makes Swail the brother-in-law of Brian Guest, as well as the manager overseeing Phase 2 of LRT.

Lucrative contracts

In 2015 Boxfish was subcontracted by Deloitte to write an 18-page "lessons learned" report on the planning and procurement for the first phase of LRT.

According to city officials, Boxfish was paid $265,000 for the work, which included interviewing 19 stakeholders in the project, as well as federal and provincial officials, and coming up with recommendations on how to better plan Phase 2.

And last October, Boxfish won a competitively tendered contract for a wide range of consulting services worth up to $2 million. The tasks are shelled out in phases, and so far the city has approved $700,000 worth of work for Boxfish.

In an email Guest said he doesn't generally speak publicly about the work his firm does for its clients. But he did say he's "proud both of the team and value we offer. Our group has some of the most experienced people in the world at delivering LRT projects under an [alternate financing and procurement] model."

Recently Schepers — who was in charge of the rail office for a while, and was kept on as a special adviser for several months after she retired in 2015  — has appeared on the Boxfish website as a consultant. But city officials have said she is not working on the LRT project.

No conflict, GM says

According to John Manconi, the city's general manager of transportation services, the fact that Guest is a consultant in the office managed by his brother-in-law does not represent a conflict of interest.

Swail was not part of the selection team that scored the Boxfish bid for the work, nor does Swail decide whether Boxfish is awarded the next phase of work, said Manconi.

Nevertheless, Manconi said, "I totally get how it could be perceived as a conflict."

So much so that city solicitor and clerk Rick O'Connor was brought in to make sure the arrangement was not breaching any conflict of interest rules.

Manconi confirmed that Swail is "working actively with Brian." Swail is often at the same table with Guest — and, on occasion, with Robyn Guest as well — in meetings.

Manconi emphasized that while he understands the possibility for a perceived conflict of interest, "I absolutely think he's the right person to be on this file."


Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at or tweet her at @jchianello.