Light Rail Hearings: Political Pressure and Train Choices

Jim Watson’s push for construction not to impede downtown during the 150th anniversary of Confederation celebrations in 2017 — a year ahead of schedule — was the subject of several questions from the principal Commission Counsel John Adair.

The latter returned regularly to the role and participation of the mayor in establishing the schedule of works, during the interrogation carried out with John Jensen, who at the time headed the office of implementation of the project in the City of Ottawa.

The mayor wanted to ensure that all opportunities for advancement were explored. »

A quote from Me John Ardair, lead counsel for the commission of inquiry

Me John Adair tried to demonstrate, with supporting documents, that the municipal council and, in particular, Mayor Watson would have formulated these requests without really taking into account the opinion of the experts hired to guide the City in the process.

LRT Commission of Inquiry lead counsel John Ardair (left) and first witness John Jensen.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Jean Delisle

  • Would it be fair to say that this was a political directive flowing from the mayor’s office to staff and experts?the lawyer asked Mr. Jensen.
  • I think there was a strong interest in getting downtown Ottawa in good shape for those celebrations.replied Mr. Jensen.
  • You were spending millions and millions of dollars on experts about schedules, engineering, order of operation and how long it would take, but they weren’t the ones who asked you to speed up the schedule and finish everything in July 2017, but the mayor’s office, right? launched the lawyer.
  • Indeed, it did not come from the expertsadmitted Mr. Jensen.

First day of public hearings for the Ottawa Light Rail Commission of Inquiry.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Jean Delisle

Me John Ardair later suggested that these pressures may have been the source of some problems in the construction of the project.

By putting pressure on the program, it creates additional risks [de faire des erreurs]is not it?asked the lawyer.

Exactreplied Mr. Jensen who, however, insisted that he expected the experts to mention it, if these pressures were too great.

Was the choice of vehicles the right one?

The lead lawyer also raised numerous incongruities regarding the process that led to the choice of Alstom trains.

Mr. Ardair recalled that the train model proposed by Alstom had never been tested in a climate such as that of Ottawa. In addition, this model has been modified to meet a very specific requirement of the City to be able to transport 24,000 passengers per hour.

The lawyer demonstrated, based on reports provided by the City, that the deployment of the train in Ottawa was the subject of a form of experimentation.

Did you know that in 2011-2012, while the procurement process was underway, Alstom considered the implementation of its trains in Ottawa as a test bed?he asked Mr. Jensen.

Nopereplied the official.

John Ardair also showed documents that suggested the $2.1 billion light rail project was designed to fit the price, when perhaps the opposite should have been .

The commission heard a second witness, Riccardo Cosentino of the Rideau Transport Group (GTR), questioned this time by the second main lawyer, Me Christine Mainville, in particular on the cost of the project.

Hearings continue on Tuesday.

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