Ottawa

Mayor knew SNC-Lavalin failed to meet technical bar before $1.6B LRT vote

Mayor Jim Watson was the only member of city council who knew that SNC-Lavalin had not reached the minimum technical bid threshold the day before the vote to approve the $1.6 billion contract.

Jim Watson was the only member of council who knew before voting yes

Mayor Jim Watson was briefed the day before voting to approve the $4.66 billion LRT expansion, including that SNC-Lavalin didn't receive the minimum 70 per cent technical score on the Trillium Line Stage 2 evaluation. ( Jean Delisle/CBC)

Mayor Jim Watson was the only member of city council who knew that SNC-Lavalin had not reached the minimum technical bid threshold the day before he voted to approve the $1.6 billion Trillium Line contract, councillors heard late Monday night.

The revelation came at the back end of 12 hours of meetings at City Hall during a question-and-answer session over 2,100 pages of previously confidential documents about the rail line's expansion.

"When was the mayor's office informed, prior to the council meeting of March 6, [2019] that SNC-Lavalin had failed to meet the technical score?" asked Coun. Shawn Menard.

As the mayor was no longer there to answer for himself, city manager Steve Kanellakos confirmed that he briefed the mayor on March 5 in part because of "a media inquiry" about the technical scores. That inquiry came from CBC.

A couple weeks later, CBC first reported that SNC-Lavalin had not hit the minimum technical bar.

Council refused answers about score

It was a little more than a year ago that council had to vote on the giant LRT Stage 2 contract, also including the east and west expansion of the Confederation Line. 

When Coun. Diane Deans and several others asked if the proponents had all met the minimum technical score of 70 per cent, they were told they weren't allowed to know.

Nor would city senior staff or its outside legal advisers from Norton Rose Fulbright tell councillors during that March 6, 2019 meeting whether there was a way for a bidder not to meet the 70 per cent grade, but still somehow be able to win the contract.

A year later, we know not just that SNC-Lavalin twice failed to score 70 per cent, but that city officials had used a discretionary power in the procurement rules that allowed them to wave a poor score through the process and into the financial round of evaluation.

Because SNC-Lavalin's bid had a lower price — and price is weighted so heavily in the scoring — the giant engineering company ultimately won the contract.

The city's technical evaluation team said SNC-Lavalin's bid was "a poor technical submission" and should be thrown out. So how did the company win the $1.6-billion contract anyway? City affairs analyst Joanne Chianello explains. 3:33

Council didn't have any of this information before it had to vote to approve the project. 

But the mayor did.

Kanellakos said Watson only first heard about the unusual procurement the day before council.

"At no time before that had there been a conversation with the mayor … dealing with the conversation of the application of the discretionary clause or any other matter related to the confidential process that was taking place among staff and its advisors," said the city manager.

City manager Steve Kanellakos told reporters in late January that the written bid submitted by SNC-Lavalin for Trillium Line Stage 2 was terrible, but that it "isn't a big part" of the procurement process. (CBC)

That day Watson and most of council voted to approve the three projects, totalling about $4.66 billion in deals.

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

In August, after the city had admitted that SNC-Lavalin hadn't hit that technical bar, CBC asked the mayor whether he knew the company didn't meet the technical threshold.

He said only that he was "usually briefed a day or two" before major reports are made public. 

Watson has not been available for comment on these new details about that March 5, 2019 briefing.

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