Toronto

'Put up or shut up' Metrolinx's message to Bombardier, says transit advocate

Is Metrolinx playing a game of chicken with Bombardier? Transit advocate Steve Munro says yes. The provincial transit agency has filed a notice of intent to the Quebec company to cancel a $700 million contract to build light rail vehicles.

Bombardier's inside track on building transit vehicles in Ontario may be no longer

A transit advocate says Bombardier's lock on providing transit vehicles in the province may be loosening after Metrolinx files a notice of intent to cancel its contract for light rail cars for the Eglinton LRT. (Metrolinx)

Is Metrolinx playing a game of chicken with Bombardier?

Transit advocate Steve Munro says yes.

"Metrolinx is basically saying to Bombardier, 'This is your last chance. Put up or shut up.'"

The provincial transit agency has filed a notice of intent to the Quebec company to cancel a $700 million contract to build light rail vehicles for the Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West lines. And while it may not cancel the contract, the agency did take the required steps should it need to ask a court to rip up the deal.

"It signals a more important and interesting change in Ontario government policy because Bombardier has had the inside track on building vehicles for years and years and years and could count on that as a way to ensure they got the business no matter what they did," says Munro. "In effect Ontario is saying, 'Hi guys, we may be going to cut you loose.'"

In July, Metrolinx signalled its concerns over Bombardier's delay in delivering the LRT test vehicle. It was supposed to be delivered in 2014. The transit agency still has not received it.

'Blown out of proportion'

Metrolinx representatives are in Thunder Bay this week to inspect "the progress on the pilot," Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, wrote in an email to CBC News.

She would not comment on what the next steps are if it cancels the contract.

"Given that Metrolinx is in a legal process with Bombardier, we are not in a position to offer further comment at this time," wrote Aikins.

She said the agency has never cancelled a contract for vehicles.

But Bombardier says the focus on the pilot vehicle has been blown out of proportion.

"Bombardier is in no way in default of its contractual obligations in this project," spokesman Marc-Andre Lefebvre said.

"We have a contract to deliver and supply 182 cars and that is what we are going to do."

Bombardier has acknowledged that its performance has disappointed the public and its customer, but the company said it has taken steps to rebuild trust. Production of the vehicles isn't set to begin until early 2018.

A game of chicken?

If it cancels the Bombardier contract, NDP transportation critic Cheri DiNovo says the public will be paying more, in legal fees.

"You can bet this is going to cost taxpayers litigation fees. You can bet this contract is not going to be cancelled without time in court," says the MPP for Parkdale-High Park.

DiNovo says Ontario's Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, needs to address the delays.

"Is this resolvable? How much is it going to cost to resolve it? And if it isn't resolved how much is that going to cost and where in the world are we going to get light rail vehicles to meet our deadlines?" she asks.

On Friday, Del Duca said the move does not necessarily mean a cancellation of the contract is imminent.

"We're in the process of working closely with Bombardier to make sure that we're able to deliver on those transit priorities," he said. "Everyone understands how high the stakes are here."

While the contract is relatively small for Bombardier, industry observers say continued delays, coupled with delivery problems with Toronto streetcars, raise the public's concern about the company as it is seeking US$1 billion in assistance from the federal government.

Bombardier has also struggled with delays and cost overruns for its CSeries commercial jet program. Last month, it announced plans to lay off 7,500 workers around the world, mainly in the rail division.

As for the light-rail vehicles in Toronto, transit advocate Steve Munro says there are international manufacturers who could step in, such as Siemens and Alstom. Alstom is already supplying the transit cars for the new line in Ottawa.

A Bombardier spokesperson has said the notice of intent is a "normal" part of the contractual process.

With files from The Canadian Press

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