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Ottawa councillors rebuffed in push for answers on Stage 2 LRT delays

Councillors' questions about potential delays to Stage 2 of light-rail transit in Ottawa will have to wait until May after a motion was shot down at council on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A number of Ottawa city councillors looking to know why they were not informed earlier about a potential construction delay on Stage 2 of light-rail transit were shot down in their attempts to get the LRT extension on the agenda at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Ottawa city council was slated to sign off on a $15-million addition to the contingency fund for Stage 1 LRT to cover costs related to the city’s legal claims against Rideau Transit Group.

Some councillors, including Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans and Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, wanted to ask questions about Stage 2 LRT amid recent reports that the north-south line extension could be facing construction delays.

Read more: Ottawa LRT to run reduced service in March, April to fine-tune system

Staff said at last week’s finance committee meeting that possible delays to the extension could be in the realm of 40 days, though reports from CBC News suggest the setbacks could be as long as 116 days.

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CBC reports that council received an update from TransitNEXT, the subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin that scored the $1.6-billion contract to extend the Trillium Line, in January advising of the potential delays.

Ottawa transit staff have said they haven’t yet accepted any delay to the line, which is scheduled to open in August 2022. Staff said they are working with TransitNEXT to remedy the possible construction delays, which have been tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Menard put forward a motion to suspend the rules of council to add Stage 2 LRT to the agenda, looking to find out why council was not informed about the possible delays until early March if the report was received in January and why councillors found out through the media rather than via staff directly.

Menard also sought to know when Mayor Jim Watson knew about the possible delays. Watson said at a press conference last week and reiterated to reporters on Wednesday that he was briefed about the setbacks a few days before the finance committee meeting when the information was made public.

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But Watson, transit officials and some other councillors pushed back against Menard’s motion, arguing staff were either not present or not prepared for the line of questioning.

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“This is what happens when things are thrown in at the last minute,” Watson said.

“We definitely don’t have the team we need,” OC Transpo head John Manconi added.

Some objections seemed to concern the lack of complete information on Stage 2 LRT, with a few councillors pushing to wait for staff to report back on whether delays will be realized. Staff said Wednesday they were aiming for May’s finance committee as the earliest chance to present those details.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it properly,” said Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli.

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Others said that asking a few direct questions about when and why information was shared doesn’t preclude more fulsome discussions on Stage 2 LRT later.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney recalled previous events in Ottawa’s LRT saga where councillors didn’t have the information they needed before making big decisions, such as granting SNC-Lavalin the contract before knowing the company initially failed to meet the technical requirements in the procurement process.

“There are numerous questions to be asked. They need to be asked in a public forum,” McKenney said.

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Menard’s motion to put Stage 2 LRT on the agenda failed in a vote of eight yays to 16 nays.

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