No judicial inquiry into LRT, city council decides

Ottawa city council has voted against calling for a judicial inquiry to investigate the process that led to the launch of the Confederation Line and any potential misconduct by members of council, and other matters connected with "good government."

Mayor Jim Watson and 12 city councillors voted against a judge digging into Confederation Line

Crowds of commuters ditched transit after huge Confederation Line delays less than a month after its public launch in 2019. Coun. Catherine McKenney says the LRT has been dysfunctional since day one. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Ottawa city council has voted against calling for a judicial inquiry to investigate the process that led to the launch of the Confederation Line and any potential misconduct by members of council, plus other matters connected with "good government."

Proponents of a public inquiry said it would be the most public venue for getting to the bottom of what has gone wrong with the light rail system, but the majority of council decided against the move in a 13 to 10 vote Wednesday.

Here is how city council voted on the judicial inquiry motion. (Kate Porter/CBC)

They argued there was no sign of wrongdoing or malfeasance to warrant asking a judge to do such a sweeping investigation.

"Basically, we haven't seen anything other than a hunch on this, for call for a judicial review," said Coun. Eli El-Chantiry. "Today, we haven't heard any new information we haven't heard before."

This was the second attempt by Coun. Catherine McKenney to bring forward a motion for a judge to dig into what went wrong with the Confederation Line. Last month, some procedural manoeuvring prevented any discussion of an inquiry and saw council ask the city's auditor general to investigate instead.

While McKenney said Wednesday they have respect for the independence and intensity of the auditor general's own investigation, the councillor pointed out the process and interviews that lead to a final report will not be public.

"The key word here today is 'public,'" said McKenney. "It's not enough in today's environment, given what is happening to our light rail system, not to do everything we can in a public forum."

McKenney said problems with the Confederation Line are not solely from the maintenance deficiencies that have been in the headlines recently, as the "system ... has been dysfunctional from day one."

Coun. Catherine McKenney has been pushing for a judicial inquiry because, among other things, the process would be public. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

'Where there's smoke'

Coun. Carol Anne Meehan voted for the inquiry based solely on seeing the letter sent by outside LRT consultant Brian Guest to former mayor and provincial infrastructure minister Bob Chiarelli, as reported by CBC News. Guest pointed out he would be "screwed" by a public inquiry, and Meehan said people in the city clearly "don't want us asking questions."

"I come from the school of where there's smoke, there's fire," said Meehan.

Coun. Diane Deans, who seconded the motion, agreed that letter signalled the city needed to "understand what has gone on here."

Some have noted a judicial inquiry could cost as much as $20 million, but Deans said to that: "You talk about the cost of a judicial inquiry, let me leave you with this thought: What is the cost of not doing it? And I can tell you right now: it is broken trust. Broken trust in this council and in this administration. And we have to restore that trust."

"We need an investigation that brings sunlight in," agreed Coun. Rawlson King.

Council's debate included mention of an email LRT consultant Brian Guest wrote to former mayor Bob Chiarelli suggesting Guest would be 'screwed' by a judicial inquiry. (Boxfish Infrastructure Group)

AG expects to report on LRT by June

McKenney asked Ottawa Auditor General Nathalie Gougeon about her powers to investigate external contractors and Gougeon said she has the power to question consultants to testify under oath, and to review consultants' work for the city, and whether they had proper oversight.

If she finds any evidence of wrongdoing, she would report it to authorities, she said.

Gougeon is expected to deliver her work plan for next year to council next month, but has already started the audit process, which includes meeting most members of council to hear the questions they want answered.

She said she plans to break the work into segments and said her team has already decided on two reports: one on activities related to the awarding of the LRT contract, construction and launch of the Confederation Line; and a second on the operating and maintenance of the light rail line.

Gougeon told council she hopes to report on at least one segment of the audit by June "at the latest."

Auditor General Nathalie Gougeon said work has already begun on her office's investigation into the LRT, and she hopes to report back on at least a segment of the work by June 2022. (CBC)

Council also heard from municipal experts who indicated a judicial inquiry can be requested if the audit uncovers any concerning details over the procurement and implementation of the Confederation Line.

Coun. Scott Moffatt voted against an inquiry, but thanked McKenney for bringing forward the motion because without it, council never would have decided to ask for an audit of the Confederation Line. 

He also talked about five other judicial inquiries in Ontario where there were "clear signs of misconduct, clear evidence in front of those councils that justified them asking for a judicial inquiry."