Sat. May 21st, 2022

Article content

The city council’s decision to hold a judicial inquiry into the LRT project comes down to a battle over two costs: the cost of bankrolling a public inquiry and the cost of not shedding more light on Ottawa’s multi-billion dollar transit system.

Advertising

Article content

“We have spent over $ 6 billion in this city on a rail system, but we do not have a train on a track today, not one,” Catherine McKenney said in an interview ahead of a council meeting Wednesday when the councilor will ask colleagues to request about a query.

“My proposal is about accountability. My proposal is about transparency. The call for a judicial inquiry is to reveal how we got here. People who paid for this system across the country, throughout the province and here in this city, demand to know why Ottawa did not get a system that they paid for. ”

The Phase 1 construction contract cost $ 2.1 billion, but the city spends more than $ 100 million more on contingency-related expenses, such as attorneys’ fees in the fight against contractor Rideau Transit Group (RTG). The ongoing Stage 2 O-Train construction project costs DKK 4.6 billion. Dollars and has Kiewit / Vinci to expand the LRT system and SNC-Lavalin to expand the Trillium line.

Advertising

Article content

The Confederation Line LRT system has been out of service since September 19, when an Alstom Citadis Spirit train derailed near Tremblay Station. It was the second derailment in so many months, but the problems date back to the construction period with the late delivery of the transit system and subsequent maintenance problems, which has led to the city issuing two notices of breach of contract to RTG.

Phase 1 LRT, whose construction and maintenance contract received the unanimous approval of the Council in December 2012, has only been in operation since 14 September 2019.

The Ontario Municipal Act allows counsel to request a judge in the Superior Court to investigate possible breaches of trust, the municipality’s business or “any matter related to the good governance of the municipality.” The municipality pays the bills.

Advertising

Article content

McKenney and the movement’s seconder, Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, is against the powers of the council, which often control the political direction of the town hall.

Mayor Jim Watson does not like the idea of ​​a judicial inquiry.

“Mayor Watson believes we need to focus all of the city’s resources and efforts to make LRT run reliably and safely for our transit users, while ensuring we use the project agreement to protect Ottawa taxpayers from RTG and Alstom’s inability to perform, “said press secretary Patrick Champagne.

Mayor Watson is looking forward to the debate on Wednesday, but he believes a judicial inquiry, which can be expected to cost in the range of $ 10 (million) to $ 20 million dollars and take years to complete, would not contribute to the safe and reliable relaunch of transit service, as Ottawa residents expect. ”

Advertising

Article content

Coun. Allan Hubley, chairman of the Transit Commission, also fears the potential cost of an investigation. He will have the newly hired independent consulting firm carry out its work of assessing the return service plan for LRT.

“What I support is getting the independent review done and making any changes that are recommended to get the trains running as quickly as possible,” Hubley said. “That’s what most people say to me. They want this system fixed and working safely and reliably, quickly. ”

Coun. Glen Gower said a judicial inquiry could be “overkill for the answers we need”, suggesting there are other options to investigate, e.g. A request to the Auditor General or the Provincial Ombudsman.

Other councilors have been quick to throw their support behind McKenney.

Advertising

Article content

Coun. Rawlson King said “in line with my support for stronger oversight of Ottawa’s light rail transit system”, he would support both the proposal to request a judicial inquiry and a separate proposal from Coun. Diane Deans asks staff to report back on the possibility of concluding the 30-year maintenance contract with RTG.

Deans, who recently went on national television to tell Canadians about Ottawa’s grim LRT system, also supports McKenney’s call for a judicial inquiry.

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said she supports McKenney’s proposal and Coun. Shawn Menard said his mind is still open, “but there has been a lack of accountability given the problems we’ve experienced in Ottawa with railroads.” Menard said a study would provide an independent study of “a very opaque” public-private partnership.

Advertising

Article content

Some councilors were still on the fence as the weekend approached.

Laura Dudas said she still has more questions for staff. Jan Harder said her priority is to get LRT running safely again, but she will ask questions and listen to the debate before deciding how to vote. Keith Egli said he gathers information on the potential cost, duration and overall process of an investigation before making a decision. Eli El-Chantiry said the city’s focus should be on getting the train running safely, but he wants to hear what his colleagues have to say.

Councilors recently received information on legal inquiries from City Hall’s top legal adviser.

“The call for a judicial inquiry is to uncover how we got here. People who paid for this system across the country, across the province and here in this city are demanding to know why Ottawa did not get a system that they paid for. , “says Coun. Catherine McKenney. Julie Oliver / Postmedia Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

At the end of the note under the heading “Conclusion”, City Attorney David White wrote, “the significant costs and commitment of time and resources associated with a judicial inquiry are factors that warrant a thorough consideration before invoking a request. in accordance with “The investigative provision of the Legal Act in the Local Government Act.

Advertising

Article content

McKenney said they were confused with the city attorney’s note, which they called a “political note.” The councilor also challenged the city’s apparent fear of the potential cost of an investigation.

McKenney said they believe a “gimmick” proposal from Hubley and Watson to open Transpo box offices and turn off box office tickets in December – an idea that would cost about $ 7.2 million in unearned revenue – would be roughly the same. the same cost of a judicial inquiry.

No one will be able to give an accurate projection of what a query would cost municipal taxpayers in Ottawa, as it is impossible to tell how much exploration needs to be done to answer questions asked by a judge.

Two recent judicial inquiries prompted by the decisions of the Ontario City Council may be instructive.

Advertising

Article content

The City of Hamilton requested a forensic investigation in April 2019 regarding safety and friction levels on the Red Hill Valley Parkway. A judge was appointed for the investigation in May 2019, but public hearings have not started yet. Still, a staff report in April 2021 said $ 6.6 million had been spent by then, and the total cost of the investigation could hit $ 12 million, prompting Hamilton councilors to call for financial assistance from the province.

In February 2018, the Collingwood Town Council approved a proposal to request a judicial inquiry into the sale of part of the municipality’s electricity supply, and a judge was appointed commission of inquiry in April 2018. The final inquiry report was published in November 2020. The inquiry cost about $ 8.2 million per. 31 August 2021 according to information published by the municipality. The costs have been significantly higher than the estimate of DKK 1.4 million. $ -1.6 million $, As municipal staff made in April 2018.

Advertising

Article content

Going back several years, a City of Mississauga judicial inquiry into possible political interference in a land deal cost $ 7.5 million, with council voting for the inquiry in November 2009 and a judge publishing the final report in October 2011.

A City of Toronto forensic investigation into computer leasing and contracts was established in February 2002, and the final report came in September 2005. The investigation cost $ 19.2 million.

In Ottawa’s case, the most likely source of funds to pay for a query is the tax stabilization reserve, which is largely used for unexpected expenses or expenses in emergencies.

The most up-to-date projection for the balance of the tax stabilization reserve came in the spring, when staff predicted there would be $ 54.6 million in the account by the end of 2021.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

    Advertising

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to appear on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications – you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, which is an update of a comment thread you follow, or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on adjusting your email settings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.