Ottawa

Councillors shocked by how poor SNC-Lavalin's winning Trillium Line bid was

Some councillors are calling for answers in the wake of revelations that the city's technical evaluation team wanted eventual winner SNC-Lavalin thrown out of the bidding process for Trillium Line Stage 2.

Lack of information in technical submission documents 'startling,' says Coun. Jeff Leiper

Some councillors are taking the weekend to absorb the newly released documents that shed light on why the city's technical evaluation team failed SNC-Lavalin's bid for Trillium Line Stage 2 twice. (Mathieu Fleury/Twitter)

Some Ottawa city councillors are calling for answers in the wake of revelations the city's technical evaluation team wanted SNC-Lavalin thrown out of the bidding process for the second stage of Ottawa's north-south rail line.

Instead, the company was eventually awarded the $1.6-billion contract for Stage 2 of the Trillium Line.

"I was absolutely shocked with how poor the proposal was," said Coun. Carol Anne Meehan. "I was blown away that they really didn't have a clue what they were actually bidding on and that their bid contained so many gaps in what was essential."

CBC first reported in March 2019 that SNC-Lavalin did not achieve a minimum technical score for the project. In August the city finally admitted that the Montreal-based engineering firm failed to reach the minimum threshold not just once, but twice.

But documents released by the city this week revealed for the first time details of the technical evaluation team's report on SNC-Lavalin's bid.

Among other issues, the SNC-Lavalin bid failed to include a signalling and train control system, had no plan for snow removal and, at one point, referenced equipment used on an electric train system as if the current Trillium Line trains were electric, and not, in fact, diesel.

The team had reached a "unanimous consensus that the proposal should not be considered further in the evaluation process," describing SNC-Lavalin's proposal a "poor technical submission throughout."

'Thumb on the scale'

Coun. Jeff Leiper said the documents were "startling in terms of the lack of information that was provided by the bidder that you would expect to see in a professional complete bid."

When looking at the questions from the bid evaluation steering committee, which oversaw the city's procurement process and demanded that the technical evaluators review the bids after SNC-Lavalin originally scored only 63 per cent, Leiper said it's difficult not to think that "someone had their thumb on the scale" for SNC-Lavalin.

"It's hard not to read the bid evaluation committees questions as loaded, as clearly indicating that the technical evaluation committee is going to come up with a different answer," Leiper said.

Leiper said by contrast the technical evaluation committee showed "professionalism" and "clear rigour" in their exchanges.

"I was left feeling very comfortable that the technical evaluation committee took their job seriously," he said.

Coun. Jeff Leiper says SNC-Lavalin's bid for the Trillium Line extension was "startling in terms of the lack of information" it contained.  0:51

Coun. Shawn Menard called for an independent public inquiry.

"It is startling to read the lucid staff descriptions of the [SNC-Lavallin] bid, knowing that our senior leadership ultimately accepted that submission," he wrote in an email.

"I voted against Stage 2 LRT precisely because I was concerned about the procurement and rush to make a decision. My fears have now been confirmed."

 A number of councillors said privately they are taking the weekend to absorb the documents — which were released at 9 p.m. Thursday, after a marathon emergency transit meeting — and may have more to say next week.

Councillors weren't the only ones questioning how the bid was approved. At least one resident on Twitter said he wanted to see city councillors hold city staff accountable.

Staff moved bid forward

Despite the technical evaluators' conclusion that SNC-Lavalin be kicked out of the competition, the city's senior management team used a discretionary power outlined in a secret clause of the request for proposals that allowed the city to move a bidder forward that did not meet the minimum technical threshold.

SNC-Lavalin was then allowed to proceed to the financial evaluation round and because its bid was so much lower than the other two finalists, it came out on top as the preferred proponent. Council awarded the company the contract last March.

The city's auditor-general has already looked at the contract procurement process for the second stage of the LRT line and found that the city had broken no rules, a point made in statements sent out from Mayor Jim Watson and O-Train construction director Michael Morgan on Friday.

No city officials could make themselves available to speak to CBC about this story.

With files from Laura Osman