MPP Harden calls for Ontario auditor general probe into Ottawa LRT procurement

A cyclist rides past a fabric screen placed in front of the segments of an OC Transpo O-Train Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, which derailed west of Tremblay LRT Station in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The brouhaha over Ottawa’s light-rail transit system rose to the Ontario legislature on Wednesday as a local MPP called on the auditor general to investigate the province’s role in the procurement of the turbulent LRT line.

Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden stood during question period on Wednesday morning to ask the government to support his call for the province’s auditor general to investigate the procurement of the Confederation Line LRT, which has remained out of service since its latest derailment on Sept. 19.

Harden cited the $600 million in provincial funds given for the first phase of LRT in Ottawa and the $1.2 billion Ontario has committed to the second stage currently under construction as reasons the government should want a close eye on the outcomes of the major transit project.

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“Will you join me today in asking the auditor general to investigate Infrastructure Ontario’s role in bottom-lining the procurement of this project so we can get to the bottom of this mess?” he asked, directing his question to Premier Doug Ford.

Answering in the premier’s stead was Associate Minister of Transportation Stan Cho, who committed to working with the city to help get the LRT system back on track but deferred blame for any procurement failings to Ottawa.

“It is crucial to note that this is a municipally run project and the procurement of this project is the responsibility of the City of Ottawa,” he said.

Global News reached out to the Ministry of Transportation to ask about what support the province has offered the city in light of the recent derailments on the line.

A spokesperson for Cho’s office reiterated the associate minister’s position that any actions needed to fix the project should be taken at the municipal level and said the ministry would “monitor” any developments.

“Our understanding is that the city is currently consulting with several parties including the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada and conducting reviews needed to address these serious issues. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of these reviews,” Cho’s spokesperson said in an email.

Reached for comment on Wednesday, a spokesperson for auditor general Bonnie Lysyk said a probe into the Ottawa LRT procurement would be within the scope of her work and that the independent officer does not require a directive from the Ontario government to pursue such a project.

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“We are currently finalizing our audit selection for the upcoming year and are still assessing whether an audit of the procurement of the Ottawa LRT will be conducted,” Lysyk’s spokesperson said in an email to Global News.

Cho also pushed the spotlight to another member sitting in Queen’s Park, Liberal Stephen Blais.

Though the Orléans MPP now represents Ottawa provincially, Blais formerly served as councillor for Cumberland Ward during the procurement process for Stage 1 LRT and was chair of the city’s transit commission during much of the construction process.

Global News reached out to Blais for his comment on whether he supports an auditor general inquiry into the project, but his office said the MPP was unable to comment on Wednesday.

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In his questions, Harden called out the current Progressive Conservative and former Liberal provincial governments for their support of public-private partnerships like the deal between the City of Ottawa and Rideau Transit Group. That agreement has been fractious for years and has put the city in increasingly tense legal disputes with the contractor.

The latest salvo came last month when Ottawa filed its second notice of default against RTG over the derailments on Sept. 19 and Aug. 8, arguing that the consortium has failed to live up to its end of the bargain as the LRT remains out of service with no timeline for getting trains back on the tracks.

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“Do you know what public-private partnerships means to Ottawa? In practice, it means the public pays the price for failure,” Harden said Wednesday.

“Infrastructure Ontario acted as an underwriter and an adviser to the City of Ottawa in this procurement project. The auditor general should use the full powers of her office to investigate this matter. It’s about value for dollars for Ontario citizens.”

Ottawa councillors Catherine McKenney and Carol Anne Meehan are also calling for a judicial inquiry into the LRT procurement and will bring a motion forward to that effect at city council’s next meeting on Oct. 13.

Click to play video: 'Memorandum of understanding for Hamilton’s LRT signed at City Hall'
Memorandum of understanding for Hamilton’s LRT signed at City Hall

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