Ottawa

$4.7B LRT expansion gets green light

Ottawa city council voted 19-3 in favour of the $4.66-billion LRT expansion Wednesday, despite complaints from some councillors that they hadn't had enough time to study the project.

Senior staff refuse to confirm whether SNC-Lavalin met technical bar for Trillium Line contract

Coun. Diane Deans said she was ready to approve the contracts for Ottawa's $4.66-billion LRT expansion until officials refused to say whether bidder SNC-Lavalin had met the minimum threshold before it was chosen to extend and maintain the Trillium Line. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Ottawa city council voted 19-3 in favour of the $4.66-billion light rail expansion Wednesday, despite complaints from some councillors that they hadn't had enough time to study the project.

Stage 2 will add 44 kilometres of track and 24 stations, extending LRT to the east, west and south ends of the city. 

Only councillors Diane Deans, Rick Chiarelli and Shawn Menard voted against the massive project.

Mayor Jim Watson called Wednesday's meeting "a historic day for our city and certainly for our residents," encouraging his council colleagues to vote for Stage 2. 

A number of councillors said they voted for the expansion despite feeling that they lacked information, because Stage 1 — the delayed Confederation Line — doesn't make sense without the eventual addition of Stage 2.

"Today for the first time I'm going to be making a decision without having all the facts or being able to describe to residents exactly what the implications of my decision are," said Coun. Jeff Leiper.

"But I want to say to staff that it is the measure of the trust that I am putting in you as a result of four years of working with you on Stage 2, that I'm willing to make that leap of faith this afternoon."

Questions about SNC-Lavalin bid

The meeting took a dramatic turn Wednesday afternoon when Deans suggested SNC-Lavalin, the company chosen to extend and maintain the north-south Trillium Line, hadn't met the minimum technical score required by the city to qualify for the $1.6-billion contract.

Coun. Diane Deans had this exchange with Chris Swail, the city's director of light rail planning, during a council discussion on the LRT Stage 2 project on Mar. 6. 1:38

"Did the bidders achieve the 70 per cent threshold in the technical scoring?" Coun. Diane Deans demanded during Wednesday's meeting at Ottawa City Hall.

But the city's outside lawyer, Geoff Gilbert of Norton Rose Fulbright, said he "cannot share the scores for any of the bids going through, but I can tell you that all three proponents were screened through the technical requirements."

Not our high-price lawyer, not senior city staff, not our fairness commissioner can sit in front of us and answer a simple question.- Coun. Diane Deans

Deans pressed Gilbert again, saying she was not asking for the scores to be revealed, only whether the proponents "all achieved the requirements set out in our bylaws and our project agreements."

Again, Gilbert would only say all the bids had been "screened" through the executive steering committee overseeing the Stage 2 procurement process.

"Well, you give me no confidence, because what I'm hearing is one of the proponents didn't achieve the 70 per cent, and that was SNC-Lavalin," Deans responded.

'A song and dance'

Gilbert replied it's not up to elected officials to know evaluation scores, and that the city hired a team of experts to oversee the procurement process.

"Not our high-price lawyer, not senior city staff, not our fairness commissioner can sit in front of us and answer a simple question: Did all of the bidders meet the technical requirement?" Deans asked as she wrapped up her comments.

"I just need a simple answer, and I was going to vote for it ... but I didn't get that simple answer. I got a song and dance, I got 100 different ways of dancing around it. That led me to believe they didn't meet the technical score. I'm pretty sure they didn't, and I don't know how they got around it and how they got passed through to the steering committee."

Coun. Diane Deans expresses frustration that city staff refused to confirm whether SNC-Lavalin met the technical requirements for the Trillium Line contract. 1:12

Bid to delay vote fails

Earlier in the meeting, Coun. Catherine McKenney moved a motion Wednesday to delay the vote to March 27, two days before the north-south Trillium Line extension bid expires. The east-west Confederation Line bid expires in May. 

"We're not asking for a delay of the contract here.  What we're asking for is two weeks to take more time to consider the report in front of us," McKenney said during Wednesday's council meeting, where elected officials are set to approve Stage 2. 

Coun. Catherine McKenney moved a motion Wednesday to delay a council vote on the LRT Stage 2 expansion by two weeks. The city's outside lawyer, Geoff Gilbert, warned councillors that delaying the vote could cost the city millions of dollars. 1:09

The motion to defer council's vote lost by a vote of 16-6, but not before heated arguments from a number of councillors who don't believe they've had enough time to understand the detailed and complex report before voting on the largest infrastructure project in the city's history.

The city's outside lawyer, Gilbert, told councillors the project would be "plunged into chaos," and warned asking SNC-Lavalin for more time to discuss the Trillium Line extension would leave the city in a weak position.

"It would be like bringing a rubber knife to a gun fight," Gilbert told councillors.

Both Gilbert and Chris Swail, the city's director of light rail planning, warned councillors that delaying the vote could cost the city millions of dollars, even though officials could keep working on the final contract during that time.

Deans said she found "the drama completely off-putting," and demanded to know why senior staff put both councillors and the taxpayers in this position.

"Why did you just set a timeline that took the public and the decision makers out of the equation?" Deans asked.

113-page report

Leiper, who seconded the McKenney motion, implored his council colleagues to take more time.

"You are going to commit our children to a lot of debt," he said. "Is two weeks really going to knock this off schedule? I don't believe it."

Leiper pointed to the surprise move of Cleary station in Westboro — a new detail he actually supports — as an example of how councillors haven't had time to absorb the details of the 113-page report.

The city still has not received the $1 billion in needed funding from the provincial government. Although Premier Doug Ford has verbally assured Watson that the money is coming, the city would need a formal transfer of funds before signing the LRT Stage 2 contract.

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