Over the past two weeks, Ottawa City Councillors have been put in an extraordinarily difficult position. We were presented with two contracts to extend the LRT system into the East, West and South ends of the city, at a cost more than a billion dollars higher than the original estimates.
At the same time, we received evidence that the first stage of LRT construction filled with issues – trains that aren’t working in winter, track ploughs that are damaging the equipment, and yet another delay to the system’s full operating capacity.
Despite all this, Councillors were given only 12 days to understand the details and implications of the contracts and were told firmly that if we delayed or refused the contracts, we might lose provincial and federal funding; that re-negotiated contracts would cost even more; that the LRT extensions might never be built.
It’s no secret that I’m a big supporter of public transit. I want to see an extended LRT to give suburban commuters a good alternative to driving downtown. Transit is good for cities, and a complex light rail system will be good for Ottawa. But I also want to make sure we are getting the best system we can get.
As you are likely aware I moved a motion to defer the vote to give us more time, which many of my colleagues supported but which was voted down overall. I asked our senior staff detailed questions and received assurances about the checks and balances that would provide Ottawa residents with better safeguards than we’ve had with the first phase.
With no option for more time, I made the decision to trust our staff’s expertise and to place my vote in favour of public transit. Voltaire wrote, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. This may not be the perfect deal, but more transit for Ottawa will be good and I could not stand in the way of that.
As we go forward, I will watch the development of Phase 2 carefully, and I will remind staff of their promises and hold them accountable where the work falls short. And I will work with Councillors to ensure that major decisions are made with appropriate review, analysis, public consultation, and necessary time.