OTTAWA — A member of the provincial NDP says a report into years of problems with Ottawa’s light rail transit system illustrates why large-scale projects in municipalities need better oversight.
The final report from a public inquiry into failures of the LRT system was released last week, and pointed the finger at both the company involved and the City of Ottawa and its officials for the failures.
Joel Harden, who represents Ottawa Centre in the provincial legislature, said the report suggested all levels of government need to carefully evaluate their use of private-public partnerships to fund projects.
A consortium of companies called Rideau Transit Group was chosen to design, build, finance and maintain the LRT system.
Harden pointed out that the same companies are responsible for its Stage 2 expansion.
“The story we’ve heard here is a cautionary tale about how we cannot pursue private, secretive agreements that elected officials cannot scrutinize. We have to be able to ask the questions so that people get the answers,” said Harden.
In his report, William Hourigan, the commissioner of the public inquiry, was critical of the lack of support from the province and the federal government.
He noted the city had no experience with projects of this scale, which contributed to the downfall of the system.
Hourigan recommended the province investigate how to develop the skills and capabilities needed to lead large infrastructure projects at the municipal level.
The report said the province should ensure “ongoing access to expert advice and guidance throughout the project, from procurement through to construction and operations, particularly with respect to managing the relationship with the private-sector partner.”
The federal and provincial government each contributed $600 million dollars toward stage one of the LRT system. But the 664-page final report has left many Ottawa residents skeptical about how their tax dollars are being spent.
When asked about the report last week, Premier Doug Ford laid the blame at the feet of the former mayor, Jim Watson, and the former city manager, Steve Kanellakos, calling the project “an absolute shambles” that “stunk to high heaven.”
John Fraser, a Liberal member of provincial parliament, said all levels of government need to work toward restoring public trust. He said the way to do that is by sharing the responsibility.
“It has to be shared governance,” he said. “Everybody’s got financial skin in the game, they’re making significant contributions. Part of the oversight over that project (is) to ensure that portion, which you had contributed, was spent the right way.”
Infrastructure Canada and Infrastructure Ontario did not respond to questions about oversight of the federal and provincial funding for the LRT project.
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