Ottawa

It's true: SNC-Lavalin failed the technical scoring for LRT bid

CBC first reported that SNC-Lavalin failed to score the minimum 70 per cent required to win the $1.6-billion contract back in March. Now, documents confirm councillors didn't have all the information when they approved the project.

Council approved $1.6-billion Trillium Line extension without knowing

SNC-Lavalin won the contract to extend the north-south Trillium Line, even though documents show that the struggling Montreal-based company failed to score the minimum 70 per cent on the technical evaluation. (City of Ottawa)

Beleaguered SNC-Lavalin failed to reach the minimum 70 per cent technical score in bidding for the Trillium Line extension, but was still able to win the $1.6-billion light rail contract.

The Montreal-based company, operating under the name TNext, scored 67.27 per cent, according to documents provided by the city under an access to information request CBC filed earlier this year.

SNC-Lavalin's competitors, meanwhile, scored significantly better. Trillium Extension Alliance (TEA) scored 84.91 per cent, while Trillium Link earned a technical mark of 85.78 per cent.

CBC first reported SNC-Lavalin had failed to meet the technical requirement in March 2019. 

At the time, city officials refused to tell councillors, reporters or the public whether SNC-Lavalin had scored 70 per cent. Council approved the giant contract without knowing whether the company had hit that threshold.

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

City's top managers had sole discretion

Since March, CBC has been trying to obtain the scores through an access to information request.

Those scores arrived in the mail from the city clerk's office Friday — the same day the city released the scores to councillors in a memo answering an inquiry from Coun. Diane Deans, a major critic of the LRT Stage 2 procurement process.

The requirements to achieve a minimum of 70 per cent in the technical scoring, therefore, was not an absolute pass/fail.- City of Ottawa's memo

The 37-page memo includes a description of how a bidder could continue in the process after failing the technical evaluation.

According to the memo, subsection 6.5.2(4) of the RFP — a document that councillors didn't see and was refused to CBC — gave the executive steering committee of the procurement process "sole discretion" to allow a bidder to continue to be considered despite not meeting the technical threshold.

"The requirements to achieve a minimum of 70 per cent in the technical scoring, therefore, was not an absolute pass/fail," according to the memo sent to councillors on Friday afternoon.

The executive steering committee — comprised of the city's five top bureaucrats, including the city manager, city treasurer, city solicitor, general manager of transit and the head of rail operations — was not told that it was SNC-Lavalin that had failed to score the minimum, according to the memo. 

As well, the city senior staff appears to have received legal advice on the use of this discretion, although the memo does not say exactly who gave the advice.

SNC-Lavalin highest financial score

After being evaluated for their technical proposals, all LRT Stage 2 bidders were scored for their financial submissions. In this round, SNC-Lavalin did exceptionally well, largely because its bid was the cheapest.

Chris Swail, the city's former director of LRT planning, said publicly a number of times that the SNC-Lavalin bid was "by far" the lowest.

SNC-Lavalin's high score in the financial round resulted in the company having the highest overall score. 

In April, city auditor general Ken Hughes announced his office was launching an audit of the LRT Stage 2 procurement process. That investigation is ongoing.

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

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

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