'Unconscionable,' 'egregious:' Scathing Ottawa LRT inquiry report slams senior city staff, RTG
The construction and maintenance of the Ottawa LRT project was plagued by persistent failures in leadership and saw "egregious violations of the public trust," a scathing new report has found.
The sweeping 637-page final report of the Ottawa LRT public inquiry, released Wednesday, found that both the city of Ottawa and Rideau Transit Group lost sight of the public interest during the project.
- 10 takeaways from the Ottawa LRT Inquiry final report
- Read the conclusion of the Ottawa LRT report executive summary
"The people of Ottawa deserve better," Commissioner Justice William Hourigan told a news conference. "There were persistent failures in leadership, partnership and communications in the construction and maintenance of the LRT."
Hourigan was tasked with investigating the circumstances that led to the breakdowns and derailments of the $2.1-billion Confederation Line since its launch in September 2019.
His report lists several reasons for the problems with the LRT. He found that the city chose unproven technology for the trains, RTG didn't coordinate the work of its subcontractors, the city rushed the LRT system into service before it was ready due to political pressure, and RTG and its subcontractors did not provide adequate maintenance.
He also lists several other factors, some of which were beyond the parties' control. And he says until everyone involved in the project understands that their first obligation is to the public, "there is reason to be concerned that the project will continue to suffer problems."
The report makes 103 recommendations to fix the problems with the Confederation Line and ensure the same mistakes aren't made on other large projects.
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he has directed city staff to develop an action plan to implement the report's key recommendations.
"I understand the frustration and disappointment of so many Ottawa residents," Sutcliffe said Wednesday afternoon. "Frankly, I share their disappointment."
Sutcliffe also said he will ensure there is increased transparency and oversight of the LRT, including regular updates to the city's finance and economic development committee and council.
Among the myriad issues that contributed to the LRT's problems, the commissioner lays out two examples of what he calls "egregious violations of the public trust" on the part of both RTG, senior city staff and then-mayor Jim Watson.
RTG gave city unrealistic dates
First, RTG provided the city with availability dates that they knew were entirely unrealistic, Hourigan said.
"It is unconscionable that RTG and its main sub-contractor knowingly gave the City inaccurate information about when they would finish building the LRT," Hourigan said.
He said this was done as a "misconceived scheme" to increase commercial pressure on the city, a tactic which he says backfired.
"This gambit only served to increase and accelerate the mistrust that was developing between the parties," he said.
"The leadership at RTG … seem to have given no thought to the fact that the provision of this misinformation adversely impacted the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
"The people of Ottawa trusted RTG and OLRT-C to be straight with the City and tell the honestly when the system would be ready. The Commission finds that RTG and OLRT-C betrayed that trust."
City manager misled council, report finds
Second, Hourigan says the conduct of Mayor Jim Watson and senior city staff "irreparably compromised" city council's ability to provide oversight of the project.
The commission found city staff generally properly shared information about the LRT project during its construction, but that changed during the problematic trial testing period, during which the testing criteria was changed.
"Most troubling was the deliberate effort by Steve Kanellakos, the City Manager, to mislead Council on the decision to lower the testing criteria and on the testing results," he said.
An August 2019 memo from Kanellakos to council did not seek to provide information to council about testing, the report says. Rather, "it sought to disseminate misinformation and hide critical facts from Council."
Kanellakos abruptly resigned on Monday.
The report also finds Watson had accurate information about the trial running but failed to provide it to council.
Hourigan called the conduct of city staff "part of a concerning approach taken by senior City officials to control the narrative by the nondisclosure of vital information or outright misrepresentation."
"Worse, because the conduct was wilful and deliberate, it led to serious concerns about the good faith of senior City staff and raises questions about where their loyalties lie. It is difficult to imagine the successful completion of any significant project while these attitudes prevail within the municipal government."
Many of the high-profile figures involved in the launch of the system are gone. Watson is no longer the mayor, John Manconi no longer heads OC Transpo, and Peter Lauch is out as the CEO of the Rideau Transit Group.
A statement from a former Watson staffer said the mayor is travelling and hasn't read the report.
"Mr. Watson is out of the city on a long, planned personal holiday and looks forward to reading the full report upon his return," the statement said.
Evidence on train testing 'does not withstand scrutiny'
Hourigan strongly suggests that Manconi, Watson and Kanellakos misled the commission in their testimony about why council wasn't told about the suspension of train testing in July 2019.
After the first three days of testing saw significant problems, Manconi prepared a memo dated July 31 to inform council that testing had been suspended. However, Manconi testified that Kanellakos directed him not to release the memo.
Manconi and Kanellakos both told the commission that the memo wasn't released because they had committed to only advise council on the status of testing once it was finished. Watson also adopted that explanation, the report says.
Hourigan did not buy that testimony, he wrote in the report.
"This evidence from Mayor Watson, Manconi, and Kanellakos does not withstand scrutiny, and the Commission does not accept it as a truthful explanation of what motivated the failure to communicate with Council," the report said.
"On the contrary, the Commission finds that no such commitment was made."
Report gives 103 recommendations
Hourigan makes 103 recommendations to fix the problems with the Ottawa LRT.
"More than three years after opening, some of the LRT's problems still have not been fixed," he says.
Chief among them is that outside safety advisors be retained because of an ongoing issue with the wheel and track interface "that is continuing to cause problems."
"Given…the failure of City Manager Kanellakos to properly update Council, it is recommended by this Commission that the City continue to retain outside safety advisors and that they report directly to Council or the Transit Commission."
However, Hourigan said despite the problems, there is reason for optimism as the parties have begun to work together more cooperatively and the system has shown signs of improvement.
"However, until such time as the private and public entities involved in the OLRT1 project understand that their first obligation is to the public, there is reason to be concerned that the project will continue to suffer problems."
A WhatsApp group that senior staff used to communicate came under particular scrutiny during the inquiry. Hourigan's report called it an "end run around proper governance."
Sutcliffe told reporters Wednesday he plans to take a different approach as mayor.
"My intention is to collaborate with city council and not withhold information," he said.
'Not surprised' by the findings
Former Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said they were "not surprised" by the findings in the report.
"We knew that we had been misled; we knew that that train had not operated for anywhere near 12 days; and we always knew that the culture at the city of Ottawa that had been created by the former mayor was one that left people out of decision-making and that was the majority of council in this case," McKenney told CTV News at Five.
"As I go through this, what surprises me is the strength and the tone of the commission, that's a good thing."
McKenney says the city of Ottawa did not get the "train that we paid for" from Rideau Transit Group and its partners.
Former Coun. Diane Deans says former senior city staff need "to be held accountable" for the findings of the commission.
"I feel like I could have written that report. I had a front-row seat to what was going on, and it was very apparent to me that RTG and the subcontractors were not being honest," Deans told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron.
"It was very, very apparent to me that the mayor and his inner circle, and the senior leaders at City Hall were withholding pertinent information from city council."
Deans wants Coun. Allan Hubley to step down.
"In my estimation, Allan Hubley can no longer sit at the council table and make decisions, he has lost the public's trust," Deans said, noting the former chair of the Transit Commission received updates on the project through a WhatsApp chat that weren't disclosed to all of council.
Deans is also calling on Mayor Sutcliffe and the new council to ask the Ontario government to extend the public inquiry to look into Stage 2 of the LRT project.
Inquiry heard from 41 witnesses
The inquiry, which was called after two derailments on the line in six weeks in the summer of 2021, heard from 41 witnesses over 18 days of public testimony, including top city staff, former mayor Jim Watson, and the heads of the companies involved in building and maintaining the line and the train cars. The inquiry also had consultations with the public and received more than one million documents.
The Confederation Line LRT experienced numerous problems within weeks of its launch in September 2019, including problems with the doors, brakes, onboard computer systems, wheels, tracks, switch heaters, power lines, and within some of the stations themselves, including a noticeable stench in the downtown tunnel.
- with files from Ted Raymond, CTV News Ottawa
NEW THIS MORNING
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Critics say the U.S. and Canada had ample time to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it drifted across North America. The alleged surveillance device initially approached North America near Alaska's Aleutian Islands on Jan 28. According to officials, it crossed into Canadian airspace on Jan. 30, travelling above the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan before re-entering the U.S. on Jan 31.
An Ottawa restaurateur says he was shocked to find his restaurant broken into and even more surprised to discover a giant hole in the wall that led to the neighbouring jewelry store.
Rescue workers and civilians passed chunks of concrete and household goods across mountains of rubble Monday, moving tons of wreckage by hand in a desperate search for survivors trapped by a devastating earthquake.
As preparations are underway for the anticipated health-care 'working meeting' between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada's premiers on Tuesday, new details are emerging about how the much-anticipated federal-provincial gathering will unfold.
Quebec's immigration minister says she was 'surprised' to learn the City of New York is helping to provide free bus tickets to migrants heading north to claim asylum in Canada.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook Turkiye and Syria on Monday, killing thousands of people. Here is a list of some of the world's deadliest earthquakes since 2000.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says a registry to track foreign agents operating in Canada can only be implemented in lockstep with diverse communities.
A U.S. survey found that people who had a personal connection to someone who became ill or died of COVID-19 were more likely to have received at least one shot of the vaccine compared to those who didn’t have any loved ones who had been impacted by the disease.
opinion | Don Martin: Alarms going off over health-care privatization? Such an out-of-touch waste of hot political air
The chances Trudeau's health-care summit with the premiers will end with the blueprint to realistic long-term improvements are only marginally better than believing China’s balloon was simply collecting atmospheric temperatures, Don Martin writes in an exclusive column for CTVNews.ca, 'But it’s clearly time the 50-year-old dream of medicare as a Canadian birthright stopped being such a nightmare for so many patients.'
A former medical student accused of fatally shooting another student during a drug deal says he fired his gun in self-defence after a struggle in his Halifax apartment, saying he didn't call police because he was terrified he would face charges.
While relatively short-lived, the blast of Arctic air in the Maritimes was enough to break some long-standing low temperature records for all three Maritime provinces for both Friday and Saturday.
A Cape Breton councillor feels with a 14 per cent increase now granted to Nova Scotia Power and millions of dollars in profits annually, residents shouldn't be paying out hundreds of dollars to operate a generator to keep the lights on.
European family moves to Toronto in long-term Airbnb. A 'loophole' got them an eviction notice midway
For a Switzerland professor contracted to work in Ontario for a year, Airbnb looked like the right option for a family of five.
Netflix users who have been sharing their passwords with friends and family members who live hundreds – or even thousands – of kilometres away won’t be able to do so for much longer, as the streaming service announced its plans to end password sharing.
'Unacceptable conditions:' Protesters rally for more shelter supports ahead of Toronto council meeting
The high noon sun bounced off City Hall’s two towers, but the ground below was still iced over and cold. Nonetheless, dozens of Torontonians laid down on the frozen square Monday, dramatizing sleeping on the street.
As the search continues for survivors, people in Quebec's Turkish community are doing what they can to help.
Quebec's immigration minister says she was 'surprised' to learn the City of New York is helping to provide free bus tickets to migrants heading north to claim asylum in Canada.
With thousands of children on a waiting list for child care, Quebec is setting up a new government office to deal with the backlog.
A 78-year-old woman from Sudbury, Ont., -- a Harry Styles superfan -- has become internet famous after announcing the 2023 Grammy Award for Album of the Year on Sunday night.
Two men in their 30s from Kapuskasing have been arrested and face several firearms-related charges after allegedly threatening a pedestrian Sunday evening, police say.
A 33-year-old woman from Moosonee has been charged after someone was attacked with a blow torch Feb. 3.
An aggressive plan to address London, Ont.’s housing crisis has been unveiled by city hall, but meeting the construction targets will require doing things differently.
A fatal two-car collision last week robbed the world of what friends describe as a 'shining light.' Friends of Chloe MacKenzie who died in the crash, and Jacob Cloney, who is still in hospital with serious injuries from the accident, have launched a fundraiser to support the families of the two teens.
Karen Cunningham, a 30-year-old woman initially reported as missing late last week, has been confirmed deceased according to police in Woodstock, Ont.
The Winnipeg Police Service said it has linked two recent homicides in the city, with officers alleging the incidents were not random.
An Indigenous-led centre has opened in Kenora, connecting people to social services with an Indigenous approach.
'A step in the right direction': Manitoba premier optimistic heading into Trudeau health-care meeting
As Canada's 13 premiers get ready to sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday to discuss a new health-care funding deal, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said she is hopeful a deal can be made.
A pedestrian has been rushed to hospital with what police say are serious injuries after a crash in Cambridge.
A 44-year-old Woolwich, Ont., man has been arrested for allegedly making death threats against a member of parliament.
Google says on Monday notifications were sent to employees affected by the recently announced job cuts.
Canada's premiers are in Ottawa to meet with the prime minister over access to more health care funding. But that's not all Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has on her mind.
Calgarians at home and abroad are reeling in the wake of a massive earthquake that struck a war-torn region near the border of Turkiye and Syria.
Alexis Lafreniere scored 1:37 into overtime and Jaroslav Halak made 28 saves as the New York Rangers beat the Calgary Flames 5-4 on Monday night.
Indigenous Services Canada’s top public health physician in Saskatchewan is sounding the alarm over growing rates of syphilis in First Nations communities in the province.
The former director of planning with the city is mourning the loss of the city-operated greenhouse and what its absence could mean moving forward.
Connor Bedard has been taking the hockey world by storm, selling out multiple games on the Regina Pats Alberta road trip, but has the Western Hockey League (WHL) reckoned with his impact?
Comedian chomps chili pepper at Edmonton public hearing while arguing climate change is 'not a huge issue'
A local comedian stirred up laughter, confusion and condemnation Monday morning when he ate a spicy prop at a public hearing in Edmonton City Hall as he ranted about how climate change is "not the end of the world."
Alberta's premier was on a week-and-half-long holiday while the province erupted over reports that a member of her staff sent emails to Crown prosecutors in an attempt to interfere in COVID-19 blockade cases.
After using Alberta's education curriculum since the 1950s, the Northwest Territories has outlined the timeline it will use to pivot toward British Columbia's program of studies.
'A largely absent resource': Those who call on Vancouver's police-based mental health team hope funding boost will improve service
There’s so much demand for Vancouver’s mental health emergency teams that people can be left waiting days, and sometimes teams never make it to requests for service at all. It’s hoped a funding boost to hire more staff will increase capacity of the service.
A dog named Kujo will be euthanized after a B.C. judge determined the animal is "likely to kill or injure" if released from the pound.
For more than two years, Canada’s premiers have been asking for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss a new healthcare funding model – and on Tuesday the group will finally get two hours of face time in Ottawa.
A public auction of Saskatchewan liquor store licenses began on Monday. The government is closing its 34 remaining SLGA locations with licenses going to the highest bidder.
Emotions ran high on the first day of trial for a man who allegedly caused the death of his infant son.
Mark Docherty, the Sask. Party MLA for Regina-Coronation Park, has announced his resignation.