Councillor wants City of Ottawa’s auditor general to probe LRT Stage 2 procurement process

The OC Transpo light rail train in Ottawa Friday, May 3, 2002 makes its way though Ottawa. CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward

A city councillor who is frustrated with the “very little information” he argues council has received about the procurement process for the $4.66-billion second phase of Ottawa’s light-rail transit (LRT) construction wants the city’s auditor general to probe the whole affair.

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard gave notice to his council colleagues on Wednesday that he’ll soon ask for their support in requesting that Auditor General Ken Hughes “launch an investigation into the procurement process that was executed to award the LRT stage 2 contracts.”

READ MORE: City of Ottawa taps SNC-Lavalin, international consortium to build LRT extensions; price tag rises by $1.2B

This comes after CBC News reported last week that the winning bidder for the north-south Trillium Line expansion project, SNC-Lavalin, did not meet the minimum technical threshold needed to qualify for that $1.6-billion contract – information that was attributed to three unnamed sources. The City of Ottawa has declined to disclose details about the evaluation process or scoring, citing confidentiality and the need to maintain the integrity of the procurement process.

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“We’re not getting answers right now as a council, in a public way, and I’m hoping that the auditor general can shed more light through an investigation,” Menard told reporters following council’s meeting. “I think residents of Ottawa have demanded transparency from their city government and that’s not what they’re receiving right now.”

“I want to make sure that we’ve got a public-sector body looking into public-sector dollars that are going to be spent. There’s a lot of questions that remain on this. It’s not just the technical threshold that was allegedly not reached.”

TransitNEXT, a wholly owned subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin, was chosen by city staff to design, build, finance and maintain the Trillium Line’s extension to Riverside South from a shortlist of three finalists, a decision announced in late February. City council voted 19-3 in favour of the Stage 2 LRT contracts 12 days later, on Mar. 6.

READ MORE: Ottawa city council approves funding for stage 2 of LRT

The contract to build the Confederation Line’s extensions out to Trim Road in the east end and Moodie Drive in the west was awarded to international consortium East-West Connectors.

Hughes hasn’t yet formally presented his audit work plan for 2019 and whatever is included in that plan will be subject to approval by the audit committee and city council. The audit committee is scheduled to meet on Apr. 8; an agenda for the meeting is not posted online but Hughes told Global News he intends to present his 2019 work plan then.

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Hughes, however, noted that his work plan is “totally subject to change” ahead of that meeting and as the year progresses and “circumstances change.” He also confirmed that separate from audits, he has the ability to launch investigations without council’s approval.

Even though council has green-lit the Stage 2 LRT contracts and the deadline to sign the Trillium Line deal is in two days, Menard said there are opportunities to adjust LRT maintenance contracts in the future, should any new information surface through an audit or investigation.

“That’s really what you look at. I think, to me, that’s where I’m at now,” he said. “I think at the very least, people want the transparency of what went on and then you can decide from there what actions to take.”

READ MORE: ‘The final piece of the puzzle’: Ontario government announces $1.2 billion in funding for LRT Phase 2

Asked about Menard’s notice of motion, Mayor Jim Watson said he’d “have no difficulty” with an audit in the LRT Stage 2 procurement process, saying he backs the procurement approach that was taken.

“If they put that on their work plan I have no problems with it,” said the mayor in reference to the auditor general’s office. “I think it’s a solid arrangement that staff have brought forward to us.”

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Menard said he and some other councillors wanted to have a “full discussion” during Wednesday’s council meeting about the Stage 2 LRT procurement process but were told their motions would be ruled out of order. That’s why he tabled his notice of motion requesting the auditor general get involved, he told reporters.

Council’s next meeting is scheduled for April 10, 2019.

No details on LRT Stage 2 bid evaluations, selection process will be released for now, city manager says

Menard’s notice of motion came hours after city manager Steve Kanellakos issued a memo, in response to “various questions” from members of council, indicating that the city would not, for now, release further details about the evaluation and selection process for LRT Stage 2.

“We have answered every question about scope, schedule, penalties, etc. involving the recommended bid that we have been asked, including the fact that it was the only bid to come in on budget,” Kanellakos wrote. “What we are not doing is disclosing the evaluation process or scoring which is to remain confidential as agreed to by all parties that participated in the [request for proposals] process.”

“We did not reveal the Successful Proponent’s financial score, nor their total score. So in all scoring aspects of the evaluations — these have and will remain strictly confidential in compliance with the procurement process.”

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WATCH (Mar. 4, 2019): Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator
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Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator – Mar 4, 2019

However, Kanellakos said he’s “undertaken to disclose as much as legally possible” about the Stage 2 LRT procurement process once it’s complete and the contracts are locked and loaded.

“Although I appreciate that there may be a desire among some Members of Council and the media for more information before that time, you have already heard that to do so would imperil the integrity of the process and the City’s legal position,” Kanellakos wrote.

In response to a question from Global News, Watson said he couldn’t speculate as to what information taxpayers could expect to learn from further disclosure from the city, but said he said he approves of Kanellakos’ pledge.

“The more information we have out in the public, the better,” he said.

READ MORE: Riding the LRT 101: What Ottawans need to know when the Confederation Line launches

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In his memo, Kanellakos was quick to defend the city’s Stage 2 LRT procurement, evaluation and selection process.

“Let me say without qualification that the process by which the recommended proponents were selected was impartially conducted in accordance with City standards and best practices,” Kanellakos wrote. “It was overseen by an independent Fairness Commissioner, involved throughout the process, who confirmed that the procurements were properly conducted.

“I am very confident that the procurement recommendations brought to Council on March 6th, endorsed by Council on March 6th, fully meet the City’s requirements under the Council established procurement process and provide the City with the best value for money over the life of the contract.”

READ MORE: 3 Transitway stations closing on Mar. 31 for bus-to-LRT test at Tunney’s Pasture

The first, 13-stop stretch of the Confederation Line has yet to launch. The consortium building the LRT system, of which SNC-Lavalin is a partner, has missed three deadlines to finish the project.

The Rideau Transit Group has said it now intends to deliver the Confederation Line to the City of Ottawa sometime between early April and the end of June – about a year behind schedule – but a new handover date has not yet been announced.

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