While the Ontario government is considering convening a public inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail system, Mayor Jim Watson sent a five-page letter to the Secretary of Transportation praising the city’s due diligence work on the Confederation Line and asking to discuss what the city had already done. . to research.
Watson asked Minister Caroline Mulroney for “a reasonable opportunity to brief you more fully on this important issue and to give you a full overview of the steps the Council is taking” to examine the work of the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) and train manufacturer Alstom, which also is responsible for the maintenance of light rail vehicles.
Watson told Mulroney that it was important for her to know some of those who are pushing hardest for a judicial inquiry – presumably city councilors like Catherine McKenney and Shawn Menard and NDP MPP Joel Harden – “are against P3 agreements or any involvement or oversight from the private sector. “
The mayor has never explicitly called for a call, but he said the city needs “staff to continue to focus their time and energy on ensuring that RTG delivers our common goal of providing safe light rail service in Ottawa every day.”
“I would ask you to remember that if you are considering further provincial supervision.”
Mulroney did not buy that argument.
Late Wednesday, she announced that the provincial cabinet had decided to launch a public inquiry into the LRT.
Minister says the mayor knew of her concerns
Watson told reporters Thursday morning he welcomed a public inquiry, but complained he did not get an overview of the province launching an inquiry. In fact, Mulroney made the announcement shortly after the Cabinet made the decision on Wednesday afternoon.
“My only request to the province is, please do not surprise us, let us know in advance when to make a decision that affects our taxpayers, our citizens, our passengers and our employees,” Watson said, adding the province. has not once expressed concern about LRT in the last two years.
He also confirmed that the city auditor general will continue his investigation of the LRT.
Mulroney confirmed Thursday that the province will pay for the public inquiry. She also said the mayor “knows the province has been concerned.”
“[The ministry has] been in touch back and forth with the mayor’s office over many of the issues that have arisen over the last few months, “Mulroney said.
The minister was faced with the question of why the Confederation Line debacle justifies a public inquiry, given that they are usually called when someone is dead. In particular, she was asked why a public inquiry has not been convened to investigate how thousands of long-term care home residents died of COVID-19.
Mulroney said the province went with a commission hearing on long-term care problems to “get answers right away” while in the midst of a public health crisis.
“They are trying to get to work and the trains are not coming. They are trying to get to school and the trains are not coming,” Mulroney said during a news conference Thursday.
“So I think from transit riders in the city of Ottawa, from their perspective, this is something that is needed. They want answers. They deserve a system that works.”
Report is expected before the local elections
The province spent $ 600 million on LRT Stage 1 and has pledged $ 1.2 billion for the second phase. Mulroney wants to understand how the money is being spent and what has gone wrong – and did not rule out withholding funding.
Mulroney said the frame of reference and scope of the study have not been determined yet, but she wants it to look at safety and technical issues, value for money and accountability.
The province may convene an inquiry into questions of good governance under the Public Inquiries Act. The legislation allows the province to set the timeline and budget for the inquiry, and this is expected to be cheaper and shorter than the judicial inquiry the council voted down last week.
The first big step is to appoint a commissioner, Mulroney told reporters, and she said she hopes recommendations will be made in early 2022, “so we can then move on to phase 2.”
The next local elections are on October 24, 2022.