Ottawa city councillors want clarity around LRT contract

Some Ottawa city councillors want clarification around who is responsible for expenses tied to the delay of the light rail transit project.

'It is at odds with what I was led to believe'

Coun. Diane Deans says she learned on Tuesday morning that the city would not be receiving $1 million for the delay of the light rail transit project. (CBC)

Ottawa city councillors want details around who's financially responsible for costs tied to the delay of the light rail transit project.

City officials said the LRT delivery date would be pushed back six months, from May to November 2018. Many councillors had believed that by not making its May 24 deadline, the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) would be obligated to pay the city $1 million.

Unbeknownst to city councillors, RTG was able to unilaterally move the date without penalty because they gave the city notice. That new deadline is Nov. 2.

"I was very surprised," said Coun. Diane Deans. "It is at odds with what I was led to believe — and I think my colleagues were lead to believe — throughout this entire process."

Deans was told of the news at the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO) meeting on Feb. 6.

"[The city manager] said that we would get the million dollar payment on May 24 and then after a short consultation with the city solicitor he revised his answer. So I think there's a lot of confusion," said Deans.

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum has asked city staff to identify where in the city's LRT contract the provisions regarding delay penalties are laid out. (CBC)

Getting contractual clarity

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum said he was also taken aback to learn that RTG would not be on the hook financially for the delay. 

"I think I was as surprised as everybody else was in light of the fact that the briefing material, which the public had received over the last couple months — and a lot of the public statements — had suggested that if the deadline beyond May 24 were passed that there would be a fine levied at a million dollars."  

Earlier this week, mayor Jim Watson said the city would impose penalties on RTG for delays, but Nussbaum said councillors need clarity around what exact operational costs are covered.

"I'm asking staff for them to identify, in the contract, where those provisions are," he said.

"I haven't found anywhere in the contract where we have a clear case of being able to recoup the additional operating costs of running busses through the OC Transpo system for that period beyond May 24. And I've heard those assurances publicly, but I have yet to see the evidence that we actually have a very solid case, in contractual terms, to recoup those costs," said Nussbaum.

Coun. Deans said she also wants to know if the sinkhole is the only contributing factor for the delay and where in the contract it states who's responsible for additional costs incurred. 

"I have many more questions that I think need answers and I think we're going to have look at some way to have a public information session — a public forum of some type. So the public can better understand the details of all of this," said Deans.

"We have high-priced lawyers and they're there to protect the city's interests. Members of council don't have contract law as one of our prerequisites for the job. That's why we hire lawyers. But we expect them to protect [our] interests and we expect them to share with us current information."