Ottawa

United council demands LRT bid documents, outside review

In a unanimous vote, Ottawa city council has asked senior staff to produce documents related to the controversial SNC-Lavalin light rail bid, and is calling for an independent review of the procurement by fall.

SNC-Lavalin won $1.6B Trillium Line extension contract despite low technical score

Councillors want to know more about how SNC-Lavalin won the $1.6-billion contract to extend Ottawa's Trillium Line despite scoring poorly on the technical portion of its bid. (City of Ottawa)

In a unanimous vote, Ottawa city council has asked senior staff to produce documents related to the controversial SNC-Lavalin light rail bid, and is calling for an independent review of the procurement by fall.

How SNC-Lavalin came to win the contract for the Stage 2 extension of the Trillium Line has been under scrutiny since CBC News reported last March that the engineering giant's bid had failed to meet the minimum 70 per cent technical score.

Last month, the city released documents showing why technical evaluators found the proposal lacking, including the revelation that SNC-Lavalin appeared to believe it was bidding on an electric system rather than a diesel one.

Now, Ottawa city council has asked for all Trillium Line Stage 2 procurement documents to be released before the next meeting of the finance and economic development committee on March 3.

Some councillors wanted assurances they would see how SNC-Lavalin amended its bid after the technical scorecards and assured evaluators it could build a good train system.

"We plan to release everything, so everything will be in the public domain. You'll be able to see it all," said city manager Steve Kanellakos.

Among those documents will also be the legal opinion provided by Norton Rose Fulbright on Oct. 23, 2018, about the evaluation of the Trillium Line Stage 2 bids. Council is asking to waive solicitor-client privilege so the letter can be released.

Council also wants to hire an independent consultant to produce a lessons learned report about Stage 2 procurement, building on the findings of the auditor general's investigation.

In an apparent detente, Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Shawn Menard presented the motion together. Menard had previously prepared his own motion calling for a third-party review, possibly by the provincial ombudsman.

"I appreciate the mayor and the rest of council moving in this direction. The public is demanding accountability on this now, and this [motion] gets us closer to that," said Menard.

For his part, Watson said he still has confidence in the procurement of Stage 2, but said it makes sense to answer questions ahead of further LRT expansion, such as why the law firm could work for both SNC-Lavalin and the city.

"These are the kinds of things we need to examine in the review, bring an outsider to the table that would actually offer that unvarnished, unbiased, point of view and see if we can't do better in the subsequent procurement of Stage 3," said Watson.

Twenty-two councillors voted in favour of the motion. Councillors Diane Deans and Rick Chiarelli were absent.

Council also decided that a review of its general policy on public-private partnerships should happen during the usual governance review at the mid-point of the 2018-2022 term.

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