City defends process that awarded SNC-Lavalin LRT contract

City officials are defending the process that awarded SNC-Lavalin the contract to extend and maintain Ottawa's north-south Trillium Line, even though the Montreal-based company failed to meet the minimum technical threshold to win the light rail bid.

Company failed to meet technical bar for $1.6B Trillium Line extension, sources say

SNC-Lavalin won the contract to extend the north-south Trillium Line even though the company didn't meet the technical requirements laid out in the bidding process, sources have told CBC. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

City officials are defending the process that awarded SNC-Lavalin the contract to extend and maintain Ottawa's north-south Trillium Line, even though the Montreal-based company failed to meet the minimum technical threshold to win the light rail bid.

"It was approved by the fairness commissioner, approved unanimously by the selection committee, and most importantly it's the best deal for taxpayers," Mayor Jim Watson said Friday, the same day CBC News reported the development.

"It saves taxpayers money, so I'm quite satisfied with the recommendation, and this was done by staff, not by politicians," he said.

The contract is valued at $1.6 billion over three decades.

While the SNC-Lavalin bid still came in at $230 million more than the city had initially planned to spend, the company promises to save Ottawa $100 million over its 27-year maintenance contract.

City officials and their hired experts overseeing the procurement process have steadfastly refused to confirm whether SNC-Lavalin met the technical threshold, citing issues of commercial confidentiality.

'I have full confidence'

3 years ago
Duration 1:13
Mayor Jim Watson and city manager Steve Kanellakos say they have no doubts about the procurement process that resulted in SNC-Lavalin winning the $1.6-billion contract to extend and maintain Ottawa's north-south LRT line.

But city manager Steve Kanellakos said Friday the process was "solid."

"The whole thing is monitored by an independent party that sifts through every meeting and every discussion, and if anything is going off the rails or outside the process, it's that person's job to raise his hand and stop the process," Kanellakos told reporters Friday.

"That never happened," he said. "I have total confidence in the process."

Councillors demanding answers

A number of councillors including Jan Harder and Jean Cloutier refused to speak to CBC on Friday, while others, including transit commission chair Allan Hubley, said simply that they agree with the mayor.

A few councillors told CBC they'll be asking questions of senior staff or the mayor's office about the bidding process.

This is madness.- Coun. Shawn Menard

However, Coun. Diane Deans, who asked about SNC-Lavalin's technical score during the March 6 council meeting where the contract was approved, said the CBC story confirms her "worst suspicions."

"We need to have confidence in this process. We need to ensure that it's open and fair and transparent," said Deans, one of only three councillors who voted against the Stage 2 report.

"Right now there's a lot of questions about the fairness and integrity of the process … and the mayor of the city has a duty to compel the city staff to speak to council and compel the city staff to speak to council and explain how SNC legitimately won this bid."

'We need to have confidence in this process'

3 years ago
Duration 0:39
Coun. Diane Deans is calling on city staff to explain to council how SNC-Lavalin won the $1.6-billion contract for the expansion and maintenance of the LRT's Trillium Line.

In a statement sent to CBC earlier this week, SNC-Lavalin said: "We are very proud of the proposal we submitted and look forward to getting started." The company also said it did not know the details of how its bid was scored.

Coun. Shawn Menard also voted against the contract because he said he didn't have enough information to make such a big decision. 

"In my short time at city hall, it's become painfully obvious that transparency will play second fiddle to mega-project showcasing, regardless of the very pertinent questions that demand answers before approval," he said.

"Yet here we are, approving the largest infrastructure deal in my hometown's history, and I have to hear about shoddy procurement processes from [the media] despite the question being asked multiple times at the council table, with zero answers.... This is madness."

'Very frustrating'

Coun. Riley Brockington said he trusts the process that oversaw the procurement of the LRT expansion bid evaluation, but doesn't understand why city staff can't answer questions about the technical scoring more directly.

The city's outside lawyers have said that by simply saying whether SNC-Lavalin met the minimum technical score, it could open up the city to litigation. 

"But you have to weigh that versus all of the concern that the media and the public have by not getting some very direct, one-word answers to a question that's either yes or no," said Brockington. "So far our members of council have not been able to get those direct answers. That is very frustrating."


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