When the Ontario Government announced the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry in December 2021, few could have predicted the harsh criticism contained in the final report.
The Commission's mandate, stated in the Order in Council, was to perform its duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendations regarding civil or criminal liability. Many of the topics covered by the Commission were seemingly dry, such as procurement processes, contractual performance, and decisions related to substantial completion. I appeared on local Ottawa television and radio just prior to the report's release and stated that the public should expect that large portions of the report would be quite dry and not very interesting to most members of the public. I certainly was not expecting the Commission to be so tough on the various parties involved in the LRT debacle. However, as a tax payer in the City of Ottawa, I am extremely impressed with the Commissions work.
The final report, which spans 664 pages, details the "egregious violations of the public trust" that led to the OLRT1's breakdowns and derailments. According to the report, the high-level failure of the OLRT1 was due to the breakdown of independent oversight into the project. It concludes that senior city staff, including the City Manager and the former Mayor, were responsible for "irreparably" compromising City Council's ability to oversee the OLRT1 project.
The report also states that those who were aware of the potential problems with the project showed a complete disregard for the consequences to the people of Ottawa and went ahead with each phase anyway. It calls for a complete overhaul of the information sharing process between city staff and council, and offers 103 recommendations in its executive summary. In order to restore public trust in the OLRT1 system, the report recommends retaining a competent, independent third party to oversee ongoing safety issues and report directly to City Council or the Ottawa Transit Commission. The report serves as a reminder of the importance of independent oversight, particularly when public funds are involved.
The timing of the report comes at a critical time for the City of Ottawa. A new Mayor has been elected, there is significant renewal on City Counsel and a new (interim) City Manager has been appointed. Fortunately, early signs signal that the citizens of Ottawa can expect better cooperation and openness from its elected officials and senior employees under new leadership. Ottawa has benefitted significantly as a result of this Commission, as well as the Public Order Emergency Commission, which both shined a flashlight into problems which otherwise would have remained in the dark.
Now that we know the problems, we can work together to fix them.
Erin Durant and Sarah Del Villano