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SNC-Lavalin ‘satisfied’ City of Ottawa’s concerns with LRT bid shortcomings: top manager

City manager Steve Kanellakos (right) is pictured at Ottawa city hall on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020.
City manager Steve Kanellakos (right) is pictured at Ottawa city hall on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. Global News

Part of SNC-Lavalin’s bid to extend the Trillium Line was “terrible” but the City of Ottawa wouldn’t have recommended the engineering giant for the contract if the company hadn’t been able to “satisfy every concern we had,” the city’s top manager said Wednesday.

Steve Kanellakos’ defence of the city’s decision to award a $1.6 billion contract to SNC-Lavalin last year comes after the city released documents late Thursday that showed exactly why the company didn’t meet the 70-per cent threshold in its technical evaluation early in the procurement process.

Ottawa’s city manager defends OC Transpo top boss amidst poor LRT service
Ottawa’s city manager defends OC Transpo top boss amidst poor LRT service

In slides from an Oct. 3, 2018 presentation, evaluators wrote that SNC-Lavalin’s technical submission was “generic, not project-specific, and poorly written” and flagged that several “key individuals” didn’t have sufficient or relevant experience for the massive rail project — one of two extensions to the city’s existing O-Train network.

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SNC-Lavalin, operating under TransitNEXT, also reportedly provided “little or no detail” for the signalling and train control system and didn’t offer a plan for modifying the Trillium Line’s existing fleet of diesel trains — the latter of which evaluators described as “a fatal flaw.”

In general, evaluators listed significantly more weaknesses than strengths in all four technical categories, giving SNC-Lavalin a score of 63.61 per cent for a “poor technical submission throughout.” (The other two bidders scored in the mid-80s.)

There was “unanimous consensus” that SNC-Lavalin’s proposal should be dropped from the evaluation process, evaluators wrote.

READ MORE: Bus trips axed, longer waits again Tuesday as Ottawa LRT train shortage persists

An executive committee of senior city officials ultimately exercised discretion they had within the request for proposals to allow SNC-Lavalin to move forward to the next stage of the procurement process, the financial evaluation — although the committee did this without knowing the identity of the bidder, officials say.

In the end, TransitNext came out as the preferred proponent for the Trillium Line contract because it got a high score on its financial evaluation. The technical and financial scores together gave SNC-Lavalin the highest score overall of the three competitors.

Kanellakos said he stands by that process and the city’s recommendation to council to go with SNC-Lavalin for the north-south Trillium Line.

“SNC did a terrible job in their written submission. The question is, was that enough to exclude them from the entire process?”

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Kanellakos said SNC-Lavalin passed a different “technical compliance” component and the city met with the company and went through “every concern” they had before tapping them as the preferred proponent.

“If they hadn’t passed at that point, and satisfied every concern we had, they would not have been recommended to council,” he said.

Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT opens to passengers
Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT opens to passengers

Kanellakos argued the written submission SNC-Lavalin failed was an “important” but not “a big part” of the overall proposal.

“Everyone is trying to make out a procurement process as if it’s so pure and perfect, and black and white, pass-fail. It’s not. There is interpretation,” he said.

“They submit so many other pieces to their proposal. The courts have been very open to the notion that you can’t just rule someone out because they made a bad written submission on some components of it.”

The city had previously released documents in August that only showed the competing bidders’ scores. The slides showed SNC-Lavalin scored 67.27 per cent in the technical evaluation, while the other two bidders, Trillium Link and Trillium Extension Alliance, scored 85.78 and 84.91 per cent, respectively.

The documents released last week confirmed those were the scores the consortiums actually received after the technical evaluating team was asked to re-score the submissions.

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READ MORE: Company responsible for Ottawa LRT maintenance hiring outside experts to help improve service

Ottawa’s auditor general probed the Stage 2 LRT procurement process last year — after CBC News first reported that SNC-Lavalin didn’t score a passing grade in its technical evaluation — and concluded the city’s procurement team followed all the rules.

Kanellakos suggested there might have been public outrage, too, if the city had disqualified SNC-Lavalin “for missing three or four points” and therefore “cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars” because it didn’t look at the bid’s shortcomings.

“So to me, you can’t win, in the sense that we’re being judged now on a poor written submission,” he told reporters.

“At the end of the day, we were satisfied.”

Councillors table motions, inquires related to LRT Stage 1 and 2 LRT

Some city councillors, however, don’t appear to feel the same way.

A few have said they’re unsettled after reading through last week’s document dump and are rattled they weren’t privy to that information before voting in March 2019 on the Stage 2 LRT contracts.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard — one of three councillors who voted against the Stage 2 LRT contracts — gave notice of a motion at Wednesday’s council meeting, asking Ottawa city council to recruit an independent third party to conduct an external review of the Stage 2 LRT “decision-making process.”

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“The process we undertook was very rare,” Menard argued.

“We went outside of the Infrastructure Ontario, we went outside of our own procurement bylaws … after the end of the day, the process played itself out and we ended up where we ended up. But it doesn’t mean it was a good process.”

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has also tabled an inquiry, asking city staff for more information about how some specific technical concerns were resolved.

Rideau Transit Group CEO apologizes to Ottawa’s transit riders for ‘recent spate of service interruptions’ on LRT
Rideau Transit Group CEO apologizes to Ottawa’s transit riders for ‘recent spate of service interruptions’ on LRT

Asked about those requests, Mayor Jim Watson said he still has to review them.

“We did have the auditor general review the process and came back with a very clear report that indicated that the process was followed,” he told reporters, referring to the Stage 2 LRT procurement process.

“I have confidence that our city staff, that they followed proper procedure.”

“Now, my biggest preoccupation, of course, is stabilizing the [Confederation Line] and then improving the system for our customers,” the mayor said about the inquiries.

“I don’t want staff working on paperwork. I want them to actually get the trains running on time as they expect.”

The Confederation Line is suffering from a train shortage for the second week in a row. Last week, trains had to be pulled in for maintenance due to “a rash” of flat spots on their wheels.

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This week, fewer trains are in service because of electrical issues causing a number of trains to lose power and stop on the tracks.

Menard submitted a separate inquiry on Wednesday asking staff for a breakdown of how much it would cost the city to terminate its 30-year maintenance contract with the Rideau Transit Group / Rideau Transit Maintenance and what it would take to bring maintenance services in-house.