Wed. May 18th, 2022

Ottawa City Councilors warn that a judicial inquiry into the city’s turbulent light rail transportation system could be a significant drain on resources and only an opportunity to get answers to the project’s shortcomings as the council prepares to consider convening one next week.

City Attorney David White sent out a note before Wednesday’s City Council meeting describing what a judicial inquiry into the Confederation Line LRT could entail, given earnest calls for accountability in the cumbersome system after it derailed twice in six weeks and remains out service on the way into the long weekend.

Councilors Catherine McKenney and Carol Anne Meehan have a proposal at the City Council meeting on October 13 calling for a $ 2.1 billion legal investigation into the Confederation Line LRT.

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A judicial inquiry involves asking a judge of the Superior Court of Justice to investigate a matter of public interest, such as a potential breach of contract or breach of government. It would involve gathering relevant documents and public hearings for key individuals involved in the investigation, with a final report outlining the judge’s conclusions.

But in White’s note, he warns that a judicial inquiry may not get the councils the answers it wants and could end up being a significant drain on municipal resources.

The city supports the bill for any potential forensic investigation, the cost of which could be in the millions of dollars depending on the scale of the work. White outlines a number of recent and ongoing forensic investigation costs in his note, from as low as $ 3.8 million to nearly $ 20 million.

“The municipality pays all costs associated with a forensic investigation, even if it has no control over the process or scope once the inquiry is established,” White writes.

These dollar figures also relate only to the direct costs, not the staff hours required to retrieve documents and the losses in productivity elsewhere in the organization due to distracting attention, the city attorney noted.

There is no set timetable for when a judicial inquiry would end, White noted. He pointed to the study of the Red Hill Valley Parkway in Hamilton, which was launched in 2019 and which has not yet called witnesses.

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Referring to legal reports in the Hamilton study, White wrote that forensic investigations are well-suited to “large-scale complex investigations,” but he also suggested that they are not the only way to incur liability around Ottawa’s LRT system.

He said an inquiry by the Auditor General, Integrity Commissioner or Provincial Ombudsman could produce “potentially more targeted” inquiries into possible flaws in the project, although he did not suggest which of these options would be better suited to the LRT probe.

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“The significant cost and commitment of time and resources associated with a judicial inquiry are factors that warrant careful consideration,” White wrote at the end.

McKenney shot back at the proposals in the memo, tweeting Thursday that residents deserve a judicial inquiry to understand how their tax dollars were spent.

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