Ottawa Citizen: 'Independent' councillors call for ombudsman probe of Ottawa O-Train project

At least eight Ottawa city councillors are calling for an investigation by the provincial ombudsman into Stage 1 LRT problems and the Stage 2 contracting.

By JON WILLING  Photo by Errol McGihon/Postmedia

At least eight Ottawa city councillors are calling for an investigation by the

provincial ombudsman into Stage 1 LRT problems and the Stage 2 contracting.

The so-called “independent” group of council members — River Coun. Riley Brockington, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol Anne Meehan — held a press conference in council chambers Tuesday calling for council to support a request for an ombudsman investigation, seek legal advice about the warranty with Alstom to see if the LRT trains can be returned for a refund, ask an outside lawyer about how the city might be able to scrap the maintenance contract with Rideau Transit Group (RTG) and hire an expert to devise an adequate bus and train network.

“It has become clear to everyone that these trains were not well-designed for our winter weather. Something has to change,” McKenney said.

McKenney said their trust in the city’s senior leadership has eroded.

Menard said the councillors have lost trust and faith in the transit system’s ability to get customers to their destinations, requiring an outside expert to help OC Transpo figure it out.

“We were a bus city for a very, very long time. We’re transitioning into being multi-modal, train and bus. This demands this kind of expertise to come in as well,” Menard said.

The councillors have separate complaints about the Stage 1  LRT system and the Stage 2 Trillium Line procurement but are weaving the phases together to highlight potential systemic problems with the O-Train project.

For example, SNC-Lavalin is a partner in RTG and has the Stage 2 construction and maintenance contract for the Trillium Line. City documents have revealed that the company through the Stage 2 procurement process failed the technical evaluation but still won the Trillium Line contract on the strength of its financial bid.

Meanwhile, RTG’s maintenance arm is having trouble providing the necessary 13 trains for peak-hour service on the Stage 1 rail line.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper is also part of the breakaway group of councillors but was unable to attend the press conference.

Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower watched the press conference and later bemoaned the political “theatre.”

Gower, who said he wasn’t invited to be part of the press conference, wanted to see for himself what the renegade councillors had to say.

“I agreed with a lot of what they said and some things that I disagreed with,” Gower said, noting that the ombudsman should investigate, but it might be premature if the city hasn’t exhausted other options.

“It won’t hurt to vote on it and ask for an ombudsman review, but will it fundamentally make any difference? I don’t think so. I would think the ombudsman already has an eye on this.”

The real problem is making sure the city builds the confidence of residents who are counting on Ottawa having a reliable mass transit system, Gower said.

“I fundamentally believe nothing illegal or wrong has been done here. What the real mistake was of our city — and I’ll (include) council and management and the mayor’s office, everybody — is we’ve really bungled the communication,” Gower said.

“We’ve been inconsistent, we’ve been unclear and that’s not fair to the public and it’s no way to build trust.”

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