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The scrum that never happened...and probably won't

Posted by Alistair Steele

A consultant whose company was hired by the City of Ottawa to help boost its sponsorship program posted this to his blog earlier this month, a couple days after a staff report to the city's finance committee revealed less-than-stellar first year results.

In 2012 the program only raised $773,309, about one quarter of that year's target. When council approved the five-year scheme, staff promised $12.7-million in naming rights, advertisements and other forms of sponsorship. Mayor Jim Watson now says that was "overly optimistic."

Bernie Colterman's firm, the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, works on a commission basis, plus an hourly rate for advice. The company can take credit for only part of last year's sponsorhip revenue; city councillors raised the rest themselves. While some senior staff laud this arrangement, at least one councillor -- Allan Hubley -- wondered whether the City might be better off going it alone.

Anyway, Colterman was a bit put out that no one from the media had contacted him to get his side of the story. Fair point, so I called him earlier this week to ask for an interview. He seemed receptive at first, although he told me he'd have to check with his people (I'm not exactly clear whom, however he assured me it wasn't the city's pathologically obstructive media office). But after I hounded him for a few days, he called me back today to decline, saying he'd rather let his blog speak for itself.

Hole lot of clout: Who's behind the e-mails?

Posted by Alistair Steele

It's a guilty pleasure of all journalists, I think, to catch a glimpse behind the scenes at the havoc we hath wrought. I am no exception. So when, at the end of an arduous (and expensive) access to information process I finally got that envelope of internal memos of e-mails pertaining to last fall's Highway 174 sinkhole, I zeroed in on the correspondence dealing with this story.

There's a trail of e-mails between various players in the mayor's office, reacting to the inspection video that I think it's fair to say they would rather NOT have seen on their television screens and computer monitors that Friday. Also included in the chain is one mystery recipient.

At a few minutes to eight, two hours after the story aired, the mayor's senior policy advisor George Young sent a copy of the web version to his boss Jim Watson, Watson's chief of staff Serge Arpin, the mayor's media guy Ryan Kennery and one other person. That last person's name has been excised from the documents under Section 14(1) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which states the city "may refuse to disclose a record of an individuals's personal information, other than to the individual to whom it relates."

That mystery recipient replied to Young the next afternoon, apparently worried about elected officials being left out of the loop: "And is city (sic) sending something to councillors to explain why this was released while ind study is going on? And when will study be ready. When is 90 days up?" This in reference to the independent report by engineering firm B.M. Ross into the root causes of the incident, commissioned earlier that month.

Four minutes later Young forwarded this concern to city clerk and chief solicitor Rick O'Connor and city manager Kent Kirkpatrick: "We had best send something to all councillors explaining how the report went out during the investigation. I have told Mayor (sic) that east Councillors were personally notified yesterday."

By this time CBC had also contacted those councillors, and interviewed at least one -- Bob Monette -- about the video. Other councillors found out via our newscast and website, along with everyone else. It would be interesting to know the identity of this missing link in the chain of command, and why his or her name was removed before these documents were released. Since none of the other 300+ pages I received excised the names of city employees, it would appear to be someone calling the shots from outside the bureaucracy.

Taking another look at the B.M. Ross report

Posted by Alistair Steele

There's a troubling contradiction in that B.M. Ross report on the Highway 174 sink hole. (See what happens when you release important documents late on a Friday? Journalists who were forced to rush their stories and limit their questions to "high level" have the whole weekend to go back for a second look at the details.)

Among the consultant's findings:

  • Based on the August, 2011 CCTV video alone, "it would not be possible to determine when the pipe might collapse."
  • "...the video image does not indicate well that almost two square metres of material had disappeared from the side of the pipe."
  • The video showed the pipe was still "circular...considering the condition of the pipe an emergency was not warranted" despite the severe corrosion that was clearly visible on the video.

B.M Ross describes the pipe as a "soil metal structure," which is to say the soil and the pipe act as two, interdependent parts of the same machine. The forces created by the loads above the pipe (such as road surface and traffic) are transferred to the surrounding soil. The stability of the entire structure depends on something called "ring compression," or the way the circular pipe interacts with the soil around it. "Loss of soil results in loss of stability. When combined with the loss of pipe strength through corrosion, there is definite potential for failure."

Anyone who's seen the CCTV footage has also seen the large voids in the clay behind the holes in the pipe. In fact, B.M. Ross suggests by the time the collapse occurred one year after the video was taken, those voids were even larger: "Following the failure, one of the Contractor's personnel who was working in the structure commented that the eroded pockets behind the pipe appeared to be larger than indicated by the image in the 2011 CCTV inspection."

B.M Ross draws the following conclusions:

  • "Consideration should have been given to ensuring that the soil erosion outside the pipe was not a concern and that further erosion did not occur,"
  • "The significance of the deterioration in terms of the structural integrity of the pipe was not known. The potential for soil erosion to continue and further weaken the structure was apparently not understood.
  • "Those who viewed the video did not appreciate the importance of protecting the native soil on the exterior of the pipe from erosion."
  • "We believe that individuals with experience in design and/or inspection of larger steel structures would have reacted differently."

So here we have a video which was reviewed by staff in three different offices the very day it was recorded. They clearly recognized there was an issue, because the very next day the City changed the work order from a routine headwall replacement to a complete re-lining. (Why it took the contractor a little over a year to get started is another question that deserved to be asked -- and answered -- last week.) But did they recognize the right issue? It seems none of the City's professionals understood what I found out showing the video to the first engineering professor who would talk to me: Soil erosion leads to structural failure, sooner rather than later.  

So while B.M. Ross notes on one hand that the timing of the collapse couldn't have been predicted by looking at those rusted gaps, he also concludes "although those who saw the CCTV video recognized the need for rehabilitation, they did not translate what they observed into potential instability that needed to be immediately investigated further and acted on." So it's not so much what that video didn't show; it's what was shown, but wasn't seen.


Working out Ottawa's LRT jobs gain

Posted by Alistair Steele

I don't know whether Dalton McGuinty made an honest error, or intentionally embellished the truth when he said this about Ottawa's LRT mega-project earlier this week:

"About 80 per cent of the jobs generated from the project will be local. That's about 20-thousand jobs."

There's quite a bit wrong with that statement. First, other officials, including the mayor, claimed later that 80 per cent of the jobs will be local. Not that 80 per cent of the job equals 20-thousand. But there was more than a mere mathematical mix-up in the premier's statement. Here's the City's official explanation of that 20-thousand figure:

"This number, which was originally presented in the 2009 LRT Business case, was generated using a Statistics Canada input-output multiplier formula relating to the transportation sector for the investment proposed for the OLRT/Confederation Line project. The output provided estimates of the direct and indirect employment impacts of the capital investment in Ottawa.

Rideau Transit Group has provided a more detailed accounting of direct job estimates. It is anticipated that the construction of the Confederation Line will generate over 3,200 direct person-years of trades' employment in the Ottawa area.  Skills employed will encompass the full spectrum of construction trades including road building, civil works, tunnelling, track work, and bridge work; structural, architectural, electrical and mechanical work.  Expertise in systems and communications will also be required.  Highly skilled technical staff will be hired, leading to an additional 700 person years of employment in Ottawa.  Also, 375 person-years of engineering employment will be created.  As referenced above, these direct jobs will create a multiplier effect in the local economy which is anticipated to generate over 20,000 people years of employment in indirect or induced impact over the construction period."

So it's not really 20-thousand new jobs, is it? It's 20-thousand "person-years." That's the same as one year of employment each for 20-thousand people. Or longer-term jobs -- maybe even full-time, permanent ones -- for far fewer folks. That seems to be the vision for some of the 200 or so skilled workers who will assemble the trains at that new "Centre for Excellence" on Belfast Road. Rideau Transit Group says the plan is to turn them into maintenance workers after the Confederation Line is finished. There's a couple thousand "person-years" right there, measured over time.

In fact, very few of those LRT-related jobs will be long-term ones. Rail office boss John Jensen says some will last the duration of the project; others will be short-term contracts. Even those will only make up a fraction of the overall employment gain: As the Rideau Transit Group confirms, only about four-thousand "person years" will be aportioned to tradespeople, skilled technicians and engineers. As fast as Ottawa's universities and Colleges can churn those professionals out, there remains a shortage of them here. So a good many of the local jobs -- that 80 per cent we're being promised -- will likely be those that are indirectly related to the project, the 15- or 16-thousand "person years" of work for parts suppliers and service industry workers.

As Carleton University professor Ian Lee points out, politicians love to throw around big employment numbers. But while locals will undoubtedly benefit from this massive project, Lee says the real economic benefit for the city isn't in short-term employment, but in the long term, in ways that are harder to sell from behind a podium.

Marketing Lansdowne: Get your dish towels here!

Posted by Alistair Steele

I suspect this is de rigueur these days when setting up a multi-million dollar, multi-faceted business venture. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group has registered the trademarks and Domain names for the same brands have also been reserved.

And if you're looking for Christmas presents, mylansdowne has you covered. Under "Wares" associated with the new trademarks:

"Toys and games, namely educational toys, plush toys, stuffed animals, puppets, building and construction toys, playing cards, balloons, stuffed toys, beach toys, battery-operated toys, kites, flying discs, toy watches; sporting goods and recreational equipment, namely golf balls, golf markers and tees, baseballs and bats, baseball hats and gloves, baseball sweaters, soccer balls, hockey sticks, hockey nets, hockey pucks, basketballs, headbands, wristbands; clothing and all climate clothing, namely shirts, t-shirts, aprons, bibs, tank tops, swimsuits, toques, scarves, neckties, ties, belts, uniforms, suspenders, gloves, handkerchiefs, turtlenecks, sweaters, woven shirts, jogging suits, sportswear, athletic wear, overalls, jumpsuits, shorts and pants, blouses, coats, jackets, parkas, warm-up suits, bathrobes; footwear, namely shoes, boots and socks; shoelaces; baby clothing, baby towels, baby bibs, baby headwear, namely baby hats; printed goods, office and stationery supplies, namely calendars, calendar pads, agendas, photo albums, two-dimensional stickers, three-dimensional vinyl stickers, envelopes, greeting cards, bulletin boards, note pads, writing paper, posters, post cards, guest books, invitations, letter openers, memo pads, note books, paperweights, bumper stickers, crests, heat-sealed badges and emblems, iron-on decals, stickers, adhesive seals, vinyl stickers, pressure-sensitive labels, heat transfers, iron-on transfers, self-sticking transfers, ballpoint pens, felt pens, crayons, rubber stamps, name tags, luggage tags, trading cards, stamp pads; school kits, namely binders, bookmarks, book covers, note paper, desk sets, pencils, crayons, diaries, erasers, pencil cases, pencil boxes, pencil sharpeners, rulers, gummed labels, decals; packaging and wrapping materials, namely gift wrapping, paper, ribbons, bows, string and stickers; publications namely books, children's books, cut-out books, pop-up books, read-along books, comic books, periodicals, souvenir books, colouring books, story books, magazines and newspapers, coffee table books and tabloids; posters, cardboard auto windshield shades, prints, paintings, brochures; luggage, luggage tags, beach bags, sports bags, duffle bags; watches and umbrellas; souvenir items, namely pennants, flags, banners, balloons, statuettes, bottle openers; match books, souvenir albums, sculptures, Christmas ornaments, licence holders, sew-on badges, name badges, car emblems, piggy banks, plaques, carvings, figurines, teaspoons, mascot costumes and toy replicas thereof, trophies, baskets, nail clippers, crests, trinket ornaments, binoculars, novelty buttons, key chains, key fobs, key tags, lighters, flashlights; jewellery, namely earrings, lockets, medals, medallions, money clips, necklaces, pendants and tie tacks, watches and straps, wrist bands, watch chains; fridge magnets, craft magnets, paper weights, lunch boxes and pails, coasters, place mats, napkins, serviettes, table cloths, paper towels, dish towels, tray tables, clocks, cushion; pitcher sets, bud vases, swizzle sticks; cameras; glassware namely drinking and decorative glasses; cups, mugs, beer mugs, steins, shotglasses, shooter glasses; porcelain ware namely coffee mugs, beer steins."

So OSEG considers this both a belt and suspenders merchandise plan then...