A mayor sought an information meeting with a minister before Ontario called a public LRT inquiry

As the Ontario government considered calling for a public inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail system, Mayor Jim Watson sent a five-page letter to the transportation minister praising the city’s “detailed diligent work” on the Confederate Line and asking to discuss what the city had already done . explore.

Watson asked Minister Caroline Mulroney to “give you a fair opportunity to inform you more fully about this important issue and to provide you with a full overview of the steps the council is taking” to examine the work of Rideau Transit Group (RTG) and train operator Alstom. , which is also responsible for light rail vehicle maintenance.

Watson told Mulroney that it was important for her to know some of those who are pushing hardest for a legal inquiry – presumably councilors like Catherine McKenney and Shawn Menard and NDP MPP Joel Harden – “are opposed to P3 deals, or any involvement or oversight of the private sector. “

The mayor never explicitly urged against calling for an investigation, but he said the city needs “staff to continue to focus its time and energies to ensure RTG delivers our common goal of providing safe light rail service in Ottawa on a daily basis.

“I would ask you to remember that if you were considering further provincial oversight.”

Mulroney did not buy into that argument.

Late Wednesday, she announced that the provincial cabinet had decided to launch a public inquiry into the LRT.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, on the left, and Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, in blue, publicly launches the Confederate Line on September 14, 2019. Mulroney has now called a public inquiry into the LRT. (CBC)

A minister says a mayor knew about her worries

Watson told reporters Thursday morning that he welcomes a public inquiry but complained that he did not realize the province is continuing an investigation. Indeed, Mulroney made the announcement shortly after the cabinet made the decision on Wednesday afternoon.

“My only request to the province is, please stop surprising us, let us know in advance when you make a decision that will affect our taxpayers, our citizens, our passengers and our employees,” Watson said, adding to the province. has not once expressed any concern about the LRT in the last two years.

He also confirmed that the city’s auditor general will continue her investigation into the LRT.

Mulroney confirmed Thursday that the province will pay for the public inquiry. She also said the mayor “knows the province is concerned.”

“[The ministry has] contacted back and forth with the mayor’s office on many issues that have emerged in recent months, ”Mulroney said.

The minister has faced questions about why the failure of the Confederate Line justifies a public inquiry, considering they are usually called when someone dies. In particular, she was asked why a public inquiry was not called to examine how thousands of residents of long-term nursing homes died due to COVID-19.

Mulroney said the province went with a commission hearing on long-term care issues to “get answers right away” in the midst of a public health crisis.

“They’re trying to work, and the trains aren’t coming. They’re trying to come to school and the trains aren’t coming,” Mulroney said during a press conference Thursday.

“So I think that from transit riders in the city of Ottawa, from their perspective, this is something necessary. They want answers. They deserve a system that works.”

An LRT train derailment in September shut down the system for 54 days. Service was only partially reopened on November 12. (Nicholas Cleroux / Radio Canada)

Report expected before municipal election

The province spent $ 600 million for LRT Stage 1, and pledged $ 1.2 billion for the second phase. Mulroney wants to understand how the money is spent and what went wrong – and has not ruled out withholding funding.

Mulroney said the terms of reference and scope of the investigation have not yet been established, but she wants it to look at security and technical issues, value for money and responsibility.

The province may call an examination of matters of good government under the Public Inquiries Act. The legislation allows the province to set the timeline and budget for the survey, and this is expected to be less expensive and shorter than the judicial survey that that council voted on last week.

The first important step is to appoint a commissioner, Mulroney told reporters, and she said she hopes recommendations will be given in early 2022 “so that we can then move forward with Stage 2.”

The next municipal election is on October 24, 2022.

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