Councilors, commissioner deny lack of details on LRT’s pre-launch woes

A trio of current and former members of Ottawa’s transit commission believed they had not received key information about the reliability of the Confederation Line in the days and weeks leading up to its 2019 launch, the city’s light rail investigation learned yesterday.

Those sentiments were shared by Councilors Catherine McKenney and Diane Deans and Citizens Commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert, who testified on a panel with Coun. Allan Hubley, the current chairman of the committee.

Some of their concerns related to information shared in informal WhatsApp messages between senior city officials, including Hubley, Mayor Jim Watson and the now former head of OC Transpo, John Manconi.

Deans, who chaired the transit committee until 2014 and served on the city’s financial and economic development committee until 2018, said she only learned of the WhatsApp group’s existence when Manconi was questioned about it on Tuesday.

“It was confirmation that much of what I had suggested in public interviews was in fact absolutely the case — that there was more to it than meets the eye, that all the information was not being shared publicly,” Deans said. to the adviser of the committee. Chris Grisdale.

“We’re a public company that spends public dollars and we shouldn’t be hiding that kind of information from the public.”

Citizen Transit Commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert testified Wednesday that a lack of information surrounding the Confederation Line made her feel like she was “wandering in the darkness” in search of answers. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

‘Scrolling in the Darkness’

Many of Grisdale’s questions focused on the lead up to the September 14, 2019 launch of the $2.1 billion Confederation Line, which was more than a year behind schedule by then.

Citing the testimony earlier this week by Thomas Prendergast — a highly regarded transportation expert and a key consultant to the City of Ottawa on the project — Grisdale asked Hubley if he had ever discussed Prendergast’s “maintenance readiness” concerns with Manconi via WhatsApp.

Hubley said it was possible, noting that he believed the council eventually learned of those concerns through briefings or memos. Details shared via WhatsApp would be “no different” from other confidential briefings given to committee chairs, he testified.

But Deans, McKenney and Wright-Gilbert all told the inquiry that information never got to them.

“One person who has information is to me like giving the foreman of a jury all the details, the most salient details of the case. But that person doesn’t tell the rest of the jury,” Wright-Gilbert testified.

“Without this information, we – as committee members – would be wandering around in the dark trying to figure out why our brand new system is suddenly having all these problems and solving each other.”

The WhatsApp group’s disclosure, Deans added, was confirmation that there was an “inner cycle of information that we weren’t all aware of.”

count. Allan Hubley, left, appears with Mayor Jim Watson and Orléan MP Marie-France Lalonde at an event in May to commemorate the eastward extension of the Confederation Line. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Performance standards under the microscope

The investigation has already learned that during the LRT’s 12-day trial run, the city relaxed the performance standards the line had to meet before it could be opened to the public.

When asked about this, Hubley said he remembered the discussions about changing the criteria, but was not involved. He agreed that he knew things changed before the church did.

“Yeah, I was aware for them,” Hubley told Grisdale. “Count. Deans, as a [former] seat, can confirm that this is not unique to the transit or the LRT. Every committee chair had these kinds of briefings with the staff.”

Deans agreed, but said if she had been in Hubley’s shoes, she would have shared that information “in a timely manner.”

“Honestly I’m shocked [the standards were relaxed]† That is not what Mr. Manconi emphatically promised the councilors in September 2018.”

Grisdale also asked Hubley about a series of “report cards” issued during the testing period, with the line passing several days and others failing — and whether his fellow councilors would have liked to be notified of the results.

“Certainly, everyone wants to know as much information as possible,” Hubley said. “In the vacuum or context of the situation, if we had published the results every day, it would have caused a lot of problems.”

The investigation resumes Thursday, with advisers Derek Wynne and Sergio Mammoliti testifying in the morning and Watson in the afternoon.