Six months late, and counting. How should we react to the delay in the commissioning of the LRT?
Phase I of the LRT has many problems, many of which have been addressed on The Bulldog. The most recent, as of Feb. 6, is the announcement of a six-month delay in the revenue ready LRT. How big a deal is this?
Large infrastructure projects are inherently risky, and all the more so when they include a tunnel through terrain comprised of both limestone and sand. As such, we should not be surprised if, during the construction phase, the contractors encountered some unexpected technical difficulties, and that those difficulties created construction delays. That they encountered sand in Sandy Hill should not be on that list, but let’s not quibble over semantics. Suffice it to say that one not so minor and one definitely major sinkhole along the tunnel route through Sandy Hill did add to the construction timeline. Stuff happens.
On Feb. 6, the residents of Ottawa found out during the course of a city finance and economic development committee meeting that the new delivery date for the LRT would now be in early November, and that it was expected to be revenue ready by the end of November. Not only that, but it was reported that the city had agreed to waive a $1-million penalty that was part of that iron clad, high-risk high-reward contract that Mayor Jim Watson so often boasted about. No reasons were given. No meaningful questions were asked at the committee meeting. In subsequent media interviews, His Worship used sarcastic throw away responses, to the effect of “… which would you prefer, $1 million or an LRT?” That the people interviewing the mayor did not respond with something to the effect of “… an answer to the question posed …” speaks volumes about the journalists asking the questions.
On Feb. 7, The Bulldog published a memo issued by the city manager Steve Kanellakos and addressed to the mayor and members of city council. It provided background information on the contract with RTG and concluded that the delay in the delivery date was properly handled within the contract, and that the $1-million late-delivery penalty was deferred, pursuant to the contract, not waived as reported in the media.
So many questions come to mind.
How could something that is so straight-forward become so convoluted? How could the mayor not provide a clear message that did not leave the media, and thus the residents of Ottawa, with the wrong impression regarding the penalty. How could the mayor respond to legitimate questions posed by the media regarding the decision by the city to not collect the penalty with such a disdainful tone that could best be described as “How dare you ask?” Is it possible that the mayor’s office did not anticipate the very reasonable questions posed by the media?
How could the city manager’s office not have a reasonable estimate of the cost to the city of continuing to operate the bus system, rather than the LRT during the five to six months between the initial expected revenue ready date and the new one? They had more than two months to figure this out, even they weren’t certain of the new delivery date, it could have been prepared on a monthly basis (i.e. for one month it will be between $X and $Y, so for five months it will between $5X and $5Y). Did they really think that no one, not even an astute councillor or two, such as the councillors who expressed disbelief about the recent budget, would ask for that information?
The Ottawa Citizen ran an editorial in the Feb. 8 paper noting the inadequate disclosure by the city on this major issue. Why did the members of the Citizen’s editorial board take so long to notice that the Watson administration has failed to deliver on its 2010 election promise to run an open, transparent, accountable government? The rest of the media, as The Bulldog has been the exception, has to start asking pointed questions of our elected officials, and they have to publicly report that an elected official failed to answer the question posed.
To use a couple of metaphors from life as I lived it far too many years ago. If, on a high school exam, you did not answer a question, you got a failing mark on that question. If provided an accurate answer to a question other than the one that posed, you got a failing mark. If you did it often enough, you failed the exam. However, unlike high school of the 1960’s and 1970’s, professionals should not an unlimited number of opportunities to repeat the course, until they finally get it right. I will leave it to the voters to decide which members of this council deserve a “do-over” when go to the polls next October.
The residents of Ottawa deserve so much better. The city manager should have had the estimated extra operating costs available, and he should have distributed that information to every member of council in advance of the FEDCO meeting. The mayor’s office should have had an effective communications plan ready, one that expressed both concern for the delay, and optimism that the new deadline will be met. The media in this city should have held both the city manager’s and the mayor’s feet to the fire for failing to answer straight-forward, reasonable questions.
Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association executive for the better part of three decades.
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