Council oversight sub-committee for LRT already logjammed

Ottawa’s Light Rail Sub-Committee met today to discuss the city’s troubled LRT system. OC Transpo head Renee Amilcar gave a presentation, and city employee Bart Cormier, tasked with managing and implementing inquiry recommendations, spoke on behalf of the transit services.

The presentation stated that at the end of November 2022, Mayor Sutcliffe committed to developing an action plan to address each of the 103 recommendations in the LRT inquiry report.

Cormier told the committee that OC Transpo was tasked with developing an outline for implementing the recommendations but has yet to complete their report. Cormier will update the committee in March on the steps OC Transpo will take.

It has been nearly three months since Justice Hourigan released the LRT Inquiry report. OC Transpo has been silent about the report ever since, and Rideau Transit Group continues to maintain radio silence. Councillor Jeff Leiper questioned Amilcar and alluded to concerns about transparency.

Amilcar stated that there was simply nothing new to report. She said the presentation was to show that OC Transpo had begun working on implementation. Yet, nothing has been done. The presentation appeared only to show that OC Transpo and RTG acknowledged there is work to be done as per the public inquiry’s direction.

Councillor Lieper grilled Amilcar over the oversight of the implementation of the report. He asked her when she last met with RTG to discuss the progress of the recommendations’ implementation. RTG is responsible for LRT maintenance, and the continued failures of the LRT program lie primarily on them. Amilcar responded that she met with them on Tuesday, February 14th.

Councillor Shawn Menard brought forward a motion that would impose harsher oversight by the city manager on the day-to-day operation of the LRT over material amendments and project agreements (these include testing and safety criteria) while allowing city staff to continue the management of daily operational matters.

The motion includes requiring the city manager to give briefings to Council. The motion would also ensure that trial criteria for Stage Two of the Confederation Line are brought to Council’s attention in the event of changes, something which did not occur during the testing of Stage One.

Amilcar appeared perturbed by Menards’ motion saying she is a trained engineer and having City Council direct operations, and construction would stall progress. The OC Transpo boss stated, “I can’t make decisions without authority.” Menard reaffirmed the point of the motion was to ensure OC Transpo keeps Council informed on the trial running of Stage Two or if there was a decision to move past trial running.

Amilcar angrily responded, “I’m not getting paid to be told what to do.” Councillor Cathy Curry asked what qualification Council had “to determine what is safe or not” and stated she would not support Menard’s motion.

Councillor Jeff Lieper supported the motion and said it gives the needed oversight. He also addressed Curry’s comments by pointing out that the motion’s purpose was not for the City Council to make decisions on LRT safety. Instead, its purpose was to ensure that Amilcar and OC Transpo give appropriate briefings on project testing changes when they differ from what is written in the LRT project agreement—a procedure overstepped during Stage One of LRT and led to system failures.

Menard reaffirmed that Council had not been informed of trial running conditions for Stage One of the LRT and that information was hidden from Council. He argued the purpose of the motion was to reaffirm accountability and trust in the transit system that had been lost due to Stage One. He also pointed out candidly that as councillors, they share ultimate authority with the mayor and that “safety has already been compromised” on the Confederation line.

Menard further attacked Curry’s sentiment saying that the pertaining motions were recommended by city staff and were not meant to be partisan. Only the first paragraph of Menard’s motion, which pertains to Council receiving reports on the use of delegated authority by the City Manager, was passed.

The city’s accountability and oversight body for the LRT seems unable to pass any oversight, while Renee Amilcar is obstinate and believes her qualifications as an engineer make her word infallible even though the LRT continues to fail under her tenure as leader.

Oversight seems to be precisely what is needed, given the Transport Safety Board of Canada letter of February 3, 2023, to Interim City Manager Wendy Stephanson. It concludes, “These cartridge assembly failures continue to pose a risk to safety until the issues are resolved. Therefore, the City of Ottawa may wish to ensure that all parties involved in the OLRT undertaking work together to resolve design, operational, and maintenance risks to safety, as they emerge. Furthermore, the parties involved should ensure that effective on-board monitoring systems for safety-critical LRV components, such as cartridge roller bearing assemblies, are put in place to protect the travelling public.”

Furthermore, Councillors Curry and Tierney, along with Chair Glen Gower, seem to believe that the LRT is fundamentally an OC Transpo problem, despite OC Transpo’s mandate being at the behest of Council and its elected officials. The oversight committee has already become a logjam of partisanship as obstinate ex-Watsonites continue to resist scrutinizing a project they bear responsibility for.