City council opts to have auditor general investigate LRT over judicial inquiry
OTTAWA -- Ottawa city council has rejected a plan to hold a judicial inquiry into the city's problem-plagued light rail transit system, opting to have the city's own auditor general examine the system instead.
Coun. Catherine McKenney put forward a motion, seconded by Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, to formally request a judicial inquiry into all aspects of the LRT transit system as it relates to the good government of the municipality, or the conduct of its public business, and its impacts on residents and taxpayers.
McKenney's motion was presented in advance at the previous council meeting in September before it was formally debated Wednesday.
However, Coun. Glen Gower put forward a replacement motion, seconded by Coun. Jean Cloutier, which asks the city's auditor general an audit of City staff’s recommended approach that led to the procurement and implementation of the Stage 1 LRT system.
The city solicitor sent a memo ahead of Wednesday's council meeting, saying that judicial inquiries can be incredibly expensive, up to $20 million in some cases, that they may not provide the answers people are seeking, and that there is no timeline for their completion. Gower said an auditor general's investigation could provide answers more quickly and at less cost.
This debate comes after a derailment on the Confederation Line on Sept. 19, the second in six weeks. A train had derailed near Tremblay Station and continued over the Riverside Drive rail bridge before stopping when it hit a switch heater and signal mast that afternoon. The 12 passengers and the operator on board were not hurt.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has said the train derailed before entering the station and continued over the bridge in a derailed state, damaging tracks and parts of the station along the way.
On Wednesday, City Manager Steve Kanellakos told council that the Rideau Transit Group identified a loose gearbox on the train as the cause of the problem. He added that there is no timeline at present for a return to service.
A lengthy debate into the merits of a judicial inquiry versus an auditor general's report prompted Coun. Jeff Leiper to put forward a motion asking council to defer the vote on a judicial inquiry for another two weeks to allow for more public consultation, but his motion was defeated in a 14-9 vote.
Council became heated at times, with Coun. Diane Deans suggesting the mayor and councillors who oppose an inquiry are hiding something.
"What are you hiding? Why wouldn't you want to get to the bottom of this mess that is LRT? Why wouldn't you? To me there is only one reason, because you have something to hide. And this audit will make sure that what you have to hide never gets out in the public because the auditor can't investigate you," she said.
In supporting the Gower/Cloutier motion to have an auditor general's investigation, Watson said the motion would achieve results that improve light rail transit in Ottawa that a judicial inquiry would not.
"The motion gives us tools to go after RTG and Alstom. The companies have failed to deliver on their contractual obligations to the people of Ottawa. The original motion calling for a judicial inquiry does not have a single action aimed at getting better performance from RTG or Alstom," he said.
"I do not believe that asking for a multi-year, multi-million dollar inquiry is the way to go. There is one single guaranteed outcome of a judicial inquiry: a lot of lawyers will get really, really rich. And such, an inquiry will do absolutely nothing to push RTG and Alstom to improve their performance or their contractual obligations, on which they are badly failing."
Council voted 14 to 9 in favour of an auditor general's investigation over a judicial inquiry.