Ottawa's light rail deal dead for good

Ottawa's cancelled light rail contract will not be considered again, city council announced Friday.

Ottawa's cancelled light rail contract will not be considered again, city council announced Friday.

Councillors emerged from a meeting Friday afternoon with the announcement that the $778-million contract for a north-south electric light rail line from Barrhaven to downtown Ottawa, cancelled in December, is done for good.

The meeting was called to discuss a motion tabled Feb. 14 by Coun. Diane Deans asking council to consider reinstating the contract.

That day, the city received two letters from the companies contracted to design, build and maintain the line.

The first letter from Siemens-PCL/Dufferin offered to accept a $175.3-million settlement for the cancellation of the contract, while the other alternatively offered to go forward with the contract for an extra $70 million.

Shortly after that, Mayor Larry O'Brien ruled, based on advice from the city solicitor, that the motion was not allowed, according to council regulations.

Council then entered a two-hour closed-door meeting to discuss a possible settlement with Siemens.

When they emerged, councillors would not comment specifically on what had been discussed, but even those such as Deans who had been strong backers of the light rail plan seemed to have changed their minds.

"I think you'll find that there's a greater degree of consensus coming out of the room today than there was going in," said Deans.

The contract was approved by the previous city council in July, but the current city council, elected on Nov. 13, cancelled it in December.

O'Brien poll showed scant support for line

Earlier that day, O'Brien, who has always publicly opposed the rail line, released the results of a poll that showed little public support for reviving the deal.

The poll of suburban south-end residents who would have benefited directly from the rail line, commissioned by the mayor's office and conducted Feb. 19 to 21, found 52 per cent of the 803 respondents disagreed with council's decision to kill the light rail contract, but barely more than a third support reviving and going forward with the deal for an extra $70 million.

Meanwhile, only five per cent support paying the $175-million cancellation settlement.

Almost half (47 per cent) thought the city should find an alternative plan to improve the city's transit system.

When asked what transportation issues should be city council's focus right now, 37 per cent chose improved bus service, 30 per cent chose more roads, and only 28 per cent picked reviving the light rail plan.

The poll, conducted by Praxicus Public Strategies, is considered accurate to plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The mayor's chief of staff, Walter Robinson, said the poll, paid for out of the budget for the mayor's office, cost $7,000 to $8,000.

He added that its release on the day of the light rail vote was coincidental and arose because the offers from the Siemens consortium arrived only last week.