Judicial inquiry into Ottawa LRT back on the table

OTTAWA — The debate around Ottawa’s beleaguered Confederation Line LRT returns to city council today with a renewed attempt to seek a judicial inquiry into Stage 1.

Coun. Catherine McKenney introduced a motion on Oct. 13 to hold a judicial inquiry into all aspects of the procurement and operation of the line, but council approved a replacement motion from Coun. Glen Gower to ask Ottawa’s auditor general to investigate the LRT contract.

Two weeks later, McKenney gave notice to present a new motion for debate at the Nov. 10 council meeting.

The motion asks the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario to designate a judge to conduct an inquiry in two stages.

The first stage would look at all records and documents necessary to investigate and understand the facts and sequences of events from 2012 to the present regarding the approvals, development, costs, timelines and operation of the city’s LRT system.

The second stage would conduct public hearings into the matters “designated in accordance with the principles of fairness, thoroughness, efficiency and accessibility.”

The debate comes 52 days after a derailment on Sept. 19 forced the line to shut down completely. The City of Ottawa said Tuesday afternoon that partial service is expected to be restored on Friday, with final confirmation expected today.

During the first debate over the issue, Mayor Jim Watson sided with the idea of having the auditor general investigate the LRT contract.

“I do not believe that asking for a multi-year, multi-million dollar inquiry is the way to go. There is one single guaranteed outcome of a judicial inquiry: a lot of lawyers will get really, really rich. And such, an inquiry will do absolutely nothing to push RTG and Alstom to improve their performance or their contractual obligations, on which they are badly failing,” Watson said.

McKenney says this latest motion is somewhat smaller in scale compared to their previous attempt.

“The scope of what I’m asking for has actually narrowed somewhat, so it shouldn’t take as long and it shouldn’t be as expensive,” McKenney told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s “Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron” on Tuesday.

“We will have the auditor general report, so a lot of the work will happen through the auditor general and it can happen concurrently. But the more public aspects of it, and the ability to actually ask questions of elected officials can be done by a judicial inquiry.”

They said the reason they still want a judicial inquiry comes down to transparency.

“The key distinction is that it is done in public. All meetings, all the findings of the auditor general are all private, except for the final report, which is vetted by management, so it goes back and forth,” McKenney noted. “That is not the case with a judicial inquiry. It is done in a much more open way. Also, a judicial inquiry can call elected officials, contractors who made decisions, where an auditor general does not have that power.”

The Sept. 19 derailment came six weeks after a derailment on Aug. 8. Earlier this month, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the train car that derailed had been held for repairs following the Aug. 8 derailment but derailed five days after being released.

The TSB blamed “inconsistent and incomplete maintenance of safety-critical components” for the derailment. The TSB said bolts connected to the gearbox were not adequately torqued during maintenance, which led to the gearbox to drop, damaging the train and several hundred metres of tracks before it stopped west of Riverside Drive.

The Confederation Line LRT has been in operation for just over two years. In addition to the two recent derailments, the train experienced problems within weeks of launch, including stuck doors, wheel flats and cracks, braking issues, and frozen switch heaters. Many of these issues were addressed in 2020, often requiring full line shut downs for several days at a time. City staff have said service availability was very high in the months leading up to the Aug. 8 derailment. 

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