27 October 2018 Posted By : Ken Rubin

Rubin: Ottawa's LRT — the secrecy continues

Ironically, it was on municipal election day – when the public gets to exercise its democratic rights directly ­– that a City of Ottawa official confirmed to me there are yet more secret LRT records.

This time, it’s some 100,000 pages or reports since 2014 from Ottawa’s Transportation Services Directorate detailing its observations, including photos, of the delayed, multi-billion-dollar LRT project.

I found that these records existed when I recently pressed the city to reveal its own LRT-type monitoring or inspection reports.

Back in 2016, when I discussed with city officials how to get LRT construction-problem reports, they directed me only to the so-called “non conformance” reports of the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the private sector consortium that is building the east-west phase one LRT Confederation Line in partnership with the City of Ottawa. They conveniently did not mention the city’s own construction monitoring reports. Using freedom of information legislation, I obtained some of the RTG non-conformance reports.

Getting all of the city’s own LRT observation documents now, however, would be exorbitantly costly, because it would mean paying thousands of dollars in search and preparation fees, then waiting months to receive those records, parts of which would be blanked out.

But making that information public would add much more context to the Rideau Transit Group LRT non-conformance, self-monitoring reports I did manage to get earlier, some of them only after appealing to the provincial information commissioner. The commissioner saw the reports as being in the public interest and they were recently reported in the Citizen.

Getting all of the city’s own LRT observation documents now, however, would be exorbitantly costly.

There are more RTG non-conformance reports to come; the city and RTG are still reviewing hundreds more non-conformance reports I have now requested.

Disconcertingly, while I first applied for such RTG non-conformance reports back in 2016, the city only belatedly – months later – “found” that the non-conformance reports had hundreds of “forgotten” attachments to them.

The Citizen itself applied for and reported on other LRT-related municipal reports, including some about plumbing, building code violations and fire hazards. It also wrote about LRT-related provincial labour-code violation records it obtained. Some of these records were delayed in release, or had “exemptions” applied to keep parts of them secret.

Making these freedom of information requests is an attempt to unravel the LRT secrecy equation.

The City of Ottawa has been reluctant to give councillors, the media and the public any real data on the LRT project. That now includes: getting solid answers on why the LRT project has not met two deadlines; providing any data on corrective actions underway; and providing a timetable for getting the LRT line operational.

The city could be much more forthcoming. Where is the solid documentation offering factual reassurances that sink holes, tunnel floodings and improperly poured concrete can all be explained? And why isn’t the full LRT public-private partnership contract available on the city website?

Returning Mayor Jim Watson has already said that the LRT project remains his number one program. But this doesn’t include sharing with the public important economic, safety, operational and engineering facts about LRT or its future extension routes.

LRT transparency never became a major election issue and it’s hard to know whether the new council cares about the secrecy and evasions, let alone about costs and safety.

Here are some other specific questions: Has the $1-million penalty actually been collected from RTG for delay number two? What about the millions more lost because of the delays?

Will we, post-municipal election, have a fuller debate and put concrete facts out in the open about the proposed phase 2 LRT (or other transit options) or will the project continue to be mired in secrecy and half-truths?

It’s fine to speak about democracy at election time, but we need to talk more about and act on vastly improving openness at city hall. Let’s not go along for the ride, or settle for little – or possibly misleading – information.

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