CBC: Decision day: Councillors brace for LRT vote

Group of 6 demanding more time to ponder 'biggest decision in the city's history'

Kate Porter

Ottawa city council is on track to approve the $4.66-billion expansion of its light rail system on Wednesday, despite learning just a day earlier that the project's first phase won't be ready until as late as June.

As CBC News has reported, the Confederation Line has experienced significant issues during testing in winter weather.

Top managers at the city spent much of Tuesday reassuring councillors that those problems are minor.

But councillors are also feeling the pressure of having to sift through hundreds of pages of documents they received just 12 days ago — documents that detail how the cost of Stage 2 ballooned by $1.2 billion, among other surprises.

Six councillors — one-quarter of council — will try to buy time by asking that a decision on Stage 2 be put off until March 27. The group includes councillors Catherine McKenney, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Jeff Leiper, Diane Deans and Shawn Menard.

The road to awarding the expansion contracts has taken years. City rail planners say Ottawa has already committed $600 million to Stage 2, including buying the trains and building a garage. Backing out now would also see each of the three companies involved — SNC-Lavalin, Kiewit and Vinci Group — awarded a $12 million stipend.

Here's how some councillors are approaching Wednesday's vote.

Keith Egli, Knoxdale-Merivale

I'm feeling good about the vote. We had a previous council step away from a procurement process. That cost us almost $40 million to settle a lawsuit, years of delay, and other dollars in terms of preparation for that procurement process.

We're very far along this road, and I think we need to continue with it. To pull out of this would mean a much greater delay, certainly means more cost.

We're going to have part of a train system sitting there for God knows how many years if we don't proceed, which is not the goal. The goal is to have a system that serves the city and serves the bulk of the residents. That's what we're trying to do here.

Catherine McKenney, Somerset

I feel that I have a real obligation to residents I represent to ensure that I understand this Phase 2 contract as well as I possibly can, that every question I have is answered. And not in a public forum, not with a five-minute time limit.

I need more time to understand Phase 2 and how we will have any confidence that we are entering into the right agreement. I would like to see, and will probably be working with some of my colleagues on a motion, to defer to March 27.

There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't be afforded two more weeks. It allows us all that time to really do the due diligence that we're here to to provide for our residents.

Theresa Kavanagh, Bay

I don't want to see it delayed, I really don't. I think it's really important to Bay ward.

We're all frustrated. We're all upset about not just the delay but the cost overrun. However, we really really want it.

I guess there's still a mystery in terms of those comments that came up from that article. And I'm still pondering it, but my heart says I want this.

Jan Harder, Barrhaven

You heard [Tuesday] a lot of questions were asked. Mr. Manconi was rock solid on his responses and I had absolutely the confidence that he was telling us all the facts as he knew it. I've known him for 30 years and I know how he works, so I have lots of confidence in that.

I know the people that I represent, by huge numbers, understand that Stage 2 to Baseline means [eventually light rail to] Barrhaven. Stage 2 to Moodie means [eventually] Kanata. And that's what we've been on board all this time for. That's what we're waiting for.

We've had a miserable winter. We've had our trains tested through a miserable winter. I will be supporting [Stage 2]. We need to move forward with Stage 2, and very quickly we need to move forward Stage 3.

Diane Deans, Gloucester-Southgate

Thirteen days was never enough time to give council the opportunity to do their job. That's just not enough time on a $4.7-billion decision. 

One of my colleagues said that we're given more time on decisions about placement of a play structure in one of our parks than we are on the biggest decision in the city's history. 

And we all know that the devil is in the detail, and the details are unclear to us.

There does appear to be a real rush to get this thing inked, and none of us really know why that is. But I think the public are sending a message to city hall loud and clear that they want their elected officials fully informed. They want their elected officials to have the time to do the due diligence, and they don't believe that's happening right now. 

Catherine McKenney