Group of 8 seeking provincial review of LRT decisions

A group representing one-third of Ottawa city council is asking the Ontario ombudsman to look into some of the decisions leading to the launch of the city's new Confederation Line, as well as the awarding of the contract to expand the 20-year-old Trillium Line.

Councillors will ask ombudsman to look at Stages 1 and 2

Councillors lay out plan for independent review of Ottawa’s LRT system

2 years ago
Coun. Catherine McKenney, alongside seven other councillors, announced a plan to request an independent investigation into the Confederation Line and the Stage 2 procurement process. 1:08

A group representing one-third of Ottawa city council is asking the Ontario ombudsman to look into some of the decisions leading to the launch of the city's new Confederation Line, as well as the awarding of the contract to expand the 20-year-old Trillium Line.

In a draft letter to the ombudsman made public Tuesday morning, the eight city councillors point to the Confederation Line's rocky launch, and question how a bid by SNC-Lavalin that twice failed to pass a technical test came out on top for the Stage 2 contract as areas for investigation.

"We have been frustrated in our attempts to learn more about the contracts, the technical reports and the overall management of the system due to contractual obligations to protect the vendors' proprietary information," the councillors wrote.

"Elected representatives cannot carry out their duties on behalf of residents if they don't have all the facts."

The councillors want a lawyer who is completely independent from any of the parties involved in either of the LRT projects to look at the warranty for the Confederation Line trains and the 30-year maintenance contract with Rideau Transit Management. They also want to bring in a mass transit expert to help design a better integrated bus and train system.

The requests come after previously classified documents released Monday revealed the city was wary about being sued if it didn't allow the SNC-Lavalin bid to proceed.

The eight councillors behind the push for an investigation are:

  • Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh
  • Capital Coun. Shawn Menard
  • Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol Anne Meehan
  • Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper
  • Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury
  • Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King
  • River Coun. Riley Brockington
  • Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney

The group said it will seek endorsement from full council on March 25, but will send the letter to the ombudsman with or without the support of their council colleagues.

Loss of trust

Councillors appeared to want outside eyes on the two LRT systems because they don't believe in the processes at city hall, or the answers they receive from senior staff.

"I have lost trust and faith in senior management. The city has operated since 2010 under what we called a strong mayor context, and staff respond to that," McKenney said.

"But we're not in that anymore. In my estimation, we actually today have a weak mayor and staff continue to function under a system that doesn't have the required respect for all of council."

Seven of the eight Ottawa city councillors who penned a letter to Ontario's ombudsman about the city's rail network speak to reporters on March 3, 2020. Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper was sick. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower told reporters that hadn't been invited to take part in Tuesday's news conference, and while he thought the event was "a little bit of theatre," he said he'd support sending the ombudsman a letter.

"It won't hurt to vote on it and ask for for an ombudsman review, but will it fundamentally make any difference? I don't think so," Gower said, adding that he believes a number of residents have already complained to the provincial office.

He's also in favour of seeking independent legal advice.

"We take the information from staff, if we have any doubt we seek counsel from the outside — if that involves hiring a firm I'm all for that." Gower said. "So, great idea. That's something practical within the scope of what council can do."

Councillors will also discuss the situation at a special meeting of the finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) scheduled for Monday.

The Stage 2 bid has already been checked by ethics and fairness experts at the city level, and council had approved a third-party review to write a "lessons learned" report on the Trillium Line Stage 2 procurement. Ontario's ombudsman investigates complaints and systemic issues that are under provincial control.


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