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Watson takes 'full responsibility' for LRT failings in first statement since damning report but also blames RTG

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Former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson has issued his first public statement since the release of a scathing report into Stage 1 of LRT.

The sweeping 637-page final report of the Ottawa LRT public inquiry, released last week, found that both the city of Ottawa and Rideau Transit Group lost sight of the public interest during the project. In particular, it found the conduct of Mayor Jim Watson and senior city staff "irreparably compromised" city council's ability to provide oversight of the project.

In his statement, released Friday, Watson said he read the report upon returning from vacation.

“At the end of the day, I take full responsibility for the project's shortcomings,” he wrote. “Since we started planning the LRT system in 2010, my goal was always to ensure that the City of Ottawa delivered a safe and reliable LRT system. Throughout the years, I have never veered from this objective. That said, the system we purchased did not meet our expectations, and for that I apologize wholeheartedly to the residents of Ottawa and to our transit users in particular.”

The report into the LRT found that Watson had accurate information about the trial running period ahead of the launch of the system in 2019, but failed to provide it to council. Justice William Hourigan also strongly suggested that Watson, former city manager Steve Kanellakos, and former OC Transpo general manager John Manconi misled the commission in their testimony about why council wasn’t told about the suspension of train testing in July 2019.

None of these findings was directly addressed in Watson’s letter.

Despite his admission of responsibility, Watson’s statement also laid blame on the consortium that built and still maintains the Confederation Line, Rideau Transit Group.

“The Commissioner found that Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the consortium that won the contract to build, operate and maintain the LRT system, was at fault on many fronts throughout the project,” he wrote.

The report found RTG provided the city with availability dates that they knew were entirely unrealistic, in a bid to increase commercial pressure on the city.

Watson also maintained that train service has been running well since March of this year, and he thanked city staff for their work over the last decade on the LRT project.

He singled out Kanellakos for praise, despite the findings of the report. Kanellakos resigned as city manager just two days before the report was released, anticipating it would be critical of the city.

“Steve is one of the most honest and dedicated public servants I have had the opportunity to work with during my time in politics. His departure is a great loss to the City, and I want to thank him for his close to four decades of service to our community,” Watson wrote.

Watson closed by saying that he still believes the LRT was a good decision.

“Despite the early implementation challenges, I believe that Council made the right decision in unanimously approving Stage 1 LRT given the long-term transit, economic and environmental benefits.”

--With files from CTV's Michael Woods and Josh Pringle. 

FULL LETTER FROM JIM WATSON

December 9, 2022

“Upon my return from a long-planned vacation, I read the report produced by Justice Hourigan following the provincial public inquiry into Stage 1 of Ottawa’s LRT system.

At the end of the day, I take full responsibility for the project's shortcomings. Since we started planning the LRT system in 2010, my goal was always to ensure that the City of Ottawa delivered a safe and reliable LRT system. Throughout the years, I have never veered from this objective. That said, the system we purchased did not meet our expectations, and for that I apologize wholeheartedly to the residents of Ottawa and to our transit users in particular.

I also want to acknowledge the Commissioner for bringing forward a series of recommendations for the City's consideration. Many of the findings outlined in the report are generally complimentary to those contained in the report unanimously approved by City Council on November 9.

The Commissioner found that Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the consortium that won the contract to build, operate and maintain the LRT system, was at fault on many fronts throughout the project.

While there were many challenges that followed the launch of the system, LRT has been running well since March of this year, with a reliability rating of approximately 99%.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all City staff for their tremendous work over the last decade to deliver the largest infrastructure project in our city’s history since the construction of the Rideau Canal. I particularly want to thank Steve Kanellakos for his steadfast leadership, professionalism and integrity, as well as his delivery of numerous city-building projects during my time as Mayor. Steve is one of the most honest and dedicated public servants I have had the opportunity to work with during my time in politics. His departure is a great loss to the City, and I want to thank him for his close to four decades of service to our community.

Despite the early implementation challenges, I believe that Council made the right decision in unanimously approving Stage 1 LRT given the long-term transit, economic and environmental benefits.” 

The letter was repeated in French.

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