Pressure to speed up Ottawa LRT launch felt in earliest days, inquiry hears
The first day of public hearings in the inquiry into Ottawa’s trouble-plagued LRT system heard testimony that there was pressure from the mayor and council to have the system launched as quickly as possible.
The inquiry looking into everything that went into Stage 1 of LRT heard from former rail director John Jensen Monday morning. After some prodding, Jensen gave an indication that politics was pushing the LRT deadline as early as 2011, shortly after Jim Watson was elected mayor and before the contract was awarded in late 2012.
Co-lead counsel John Adair asked Jensen whether pressure to launch the system in 2017, in time for Canada 150 celebrations, was coming from expert advice or from city council.
“You were spending millions of millions of dollars on experts to advise you about matters like scheduling and engineering, and what the order of operation should be, and how long things should take, and it wasn’t those experts who were directing the schedule to be accelerated and attempts to hit July 2017 that was coming the mayor and council.” Adair said.
Jensen said part of the reason for aiming for 2017 was to make sure that downtown Ottawa was in a good position to host sesquicentennial celebrations, so that there was good mobility and few disruptions.
Adair pressed him.
“My point simply is that the desire to accelerate the schedule to that degree, or at all, as the case may be, was not coming from the experts who you were paying to advise you, it was coming from the mayor and council,” Adair said.
“It was not coming from the experts,” Jensen said.
Adair asked a third time.
“If you could please just confirm that where it was coming from was the mayor and council,” he said.
“That’s correct,” Jensen replied.
The 2017 target was never reached, with the city eventually opting for 2018, with the slogan "On Track 2018" postered across the transit system.
2018 also came and went without a launch date. City Manager Steve Kanellakos testified in interviews prior to the public hearings that the repeatedly missed launch dates became an embarrassment.
"People stopped believing us, in my sense, in terms of when this thing would get launched," he said in an interview on April 28.
The Ontario government called the public inquiry into Ottawa's Confederation Line LRT in November 2021, after two derailments in six weeks last summer, including one that kept the system shut down for nearly two months.
The inquiry, led by Justice William Hourigan, has a mandate to investigate the commercial and technical circumstances that led to Stage 1 breakdowns and derailments. It will look at the decisions and actions that were taken in determining the procurement approach the city selected for Stage 1, the selection of Rideau Transit Group to build the system and the awarding of the contract.
Forty-one witnesses will testify before the public hearings, which run until July 8. Mayor Jim Watson, city manager Steve Kanellakos, former OC Transpo general manager John Manconi, and representatives from Alstom—the train manufacturer—and the Rideau Transit Group, which built and now maintains the Confederation Line.
COUNCILLORS HOPE FOR ANSWERS
City councillors say they are hopeful the inquiry will answer long-held questions about why the system launched when and how it did, and why it failed so frequently in its early days.
Speaking on CTV Morning Live, Coun. Catherine McKenney, who sits on the transit commission, said they are concerned about the future of the system.
"My concern is always what happens moving forward. We’re spending a lot of money, this is a very expensive system, and we want to make sure that, as we enter Stage 2, Stage 3, et cetera, and moving forward, that we know what went wrong here and we don’t repeat those same mistakes," McKenney said.
The councillor for Somerset ward twice attempted to have city council call a judicial inquiry into the procurement process of Stage 1 of LRT, but council moved instead to have the city's own auditor general investigate. The AG investigation was paused after the provincial inquiry was announced, due to redundancy.
"I’ve always asked for an inquiry, mostly to understand what happened through the procurement, through the awarding of the contract that led us to a system that was almost entirely dysfunctional," McKenney said. "Certainly, the first six months we saw one breakdown after another."
Coun. Diane Deans told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron that she believes there was pressure from the mayor’s office.
“I can tell you it wasn’t all of council that was applying that pressure,” Deans said. “We had a mayor that we all know for many months had a mantra that was ‘on time and on budget’ and was pushing really hard to keep it on time and on budget.”
Deans, who has announced an intention to run for mayor this year, but who has yet to register, said she believes there were private conversations between the mayor and staff, especially in the months leading up to the official launch in 2019.
“My strong sense is that it was political pressure from the mayor’s office, the mayor and staff, that were pushing to get this thing handed over and running,” she said. “I think it was through private conversations. It will be interesting to hear Mr. Manconi testify because I’m sure he was under intense pressure to get this thing handed over and get the trains running.”
CITY, ALSTOM, RTG TAKE SHOTS AT EACH OTHER AHEAD OF HEARINGS
The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Commission collected more than one million documents—identifying more than 10,000 as relevant—and conducted more than 90 witness interviews ahead of the public hearings.
Last week, the inquiry released opening statements and interview transcripts. Opening statements from Alstom said that the city of Ottawa and RTG knew there were issues prior to the September 2019 launch.
However, Mayor Jim Watson told the public inquiry that city staff were "satisfied" the LRT system was substantially complete and ready for launch. The Rideau Transit Group, meanwhile, criticized the city of Ottawa for launching the system at full capacity, and said it was "let down" by Alstom.
Witness Schedule (subject to change)
DAY 1 – June 13
- John Jensen (City of Ottawa) – Morning
- Riccardo Cosentino (Rideau Transit Group) – Afternoon
DAY 2 – June 14
- Rob Pattison (Infrastructure Ontario) – Morning
- Marian Simulik (City of Ottawa) – Afternoon
DAY 3 – June 15
- John Traianopoulos (Infrastructure Ontario) – Morning
- Nancy Schepers (City of Ottawa) – Afternoon
DAY 4 – June 16
- Yves Declercq (Alstom Transport Canada Inc.) – Morning
- Manuel Rivaya (OLRT Constructors) – Afternoon
DAY 5 – June 17
- Antonio Estrada (Rideau Transit Group) – Morning
- Rupert Holloway (OLRT Constructors) – Afternoon
DAY 6 – June 20
- Remo Bucci (Deloitte) – Morning
- Michael Burns (Thales Canada Inc.) – Afternoon
DAY 7 – June 21
- Lowell Goudge (Alstom Transport Canada Inc.) – Morning
- Jacques Bergeron (OLRT Constructors) – Afternoon
DAY 8 – June 22
- Bertrand Bouteloup (Alstom Transport Canada Inc.) – Morning
- Parsons/Delcan Panel – Thomas Fodor, Mike Palmer, Jonathan Hulse – Afternoon
DAY 9 – June 23
- Richard Holder (City of Ottawa) – Morning
- Monica Sechiari (Altus Group/IC) – Afternoon
DAY 10 – June 24
- Matthew Slade (OLRT Constructors/Rideau Transit Maintenance) – Morning
- Yang Liu (Alstom Transport Canada Inc.) – Afternoon
DAY 11 – June 27
- Michael Morgan (City of Ottawa) – Morning
- Brian Guest (Boxfish) – Afternoon
DAY 12 – June 28
- Thomas Prendergast (STV Inc.) – Morning
- John Manconi (City of Ottawa) – Afternoon
DAY 13 – June 29
- Peter Lauch (Rideau Transit Group) – Morning
- City of Ottawa Panel – Catherine McKenney, Allan Hubley, Sarah Wright-Gilbert, Diane Deans – Afternoon
DAY 14 – June 30
- Derek Wynne (SEMP) and Sergio Mammoliti (TUV Rheinland/ISA) – Morning
- Jim Watson (City of Ottawa) – Afternoon
DAY 15 – July 4
- Steve Kanellakos (City of Ottawa) – Morning
DAY 16 – July 5
- Larry Gaul (STV Inc.) – Morning
- Troy Charter (City of Ottawa) – Afternoon
DAY 17 – July 6
- Richard France (Alstom Transport Canada Inc.) – Morning
- Brandon Richards (City of Ottawa) – Afternoon
DAY 18 – July 7
- Mario Guerra (Rideau Transit Management) – Morning
- Nicolas Truchon (Rideau Transit Group) – Afternoon
--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle and Leah Larocque.