City Hall Blunders Through Major Projects: BENN




Ottawa City Hall has a reputation for poor procurement.

Organizations doing business with Ottawa exploit this weakness.

Mistakes happen. At issue in Ottawa is the frequency and size of the mistakes. This isn’t a recent phenomenon. It isn’t restricted to just the light-rail project. It has the reached the level of endemic. 

Let’s scan the last decade or so.

Orgaworld. The city entered into a long-term agreement with a company based on annual capacity, not daily. As a result, Orgaworld couldn’t handle the volume of organic material during the spring and autumn high seasons. So Ottawa had to pay others to take delivery of the volume Orgaworld couldn’t handle. To add insult to injury, the city did not meet the annual minimum requirement, so it had to top up its collective payments.  

The pedestrian bridge over the Airport Parkway near the Hunt Club Road and South Keys. It was so poorly designed by the company the city selected, that it had to be torn down before it was completed, and rebuilt at considerable expense.

Remember the Vimy Bridge, which crosses the Rideau River between Barrhaven and Riverside South? The contractor sought insolvency protection, delaying completion of a key piece of infrastructure.

How about the asphalt that did not meet specifications. Discovered by the department that issued the contract? No. It was the city’s auditor general.

City Sets New Low In Closed Government 

The LRT mistakes are endless. Rather than cite an interminable list, let’s look at the most recent revelation … the decision to avoid moving the pumping station near the Hurdman Station to save $100 million. The curves at either end of the station have too tight a turning radius, putting excessive lateral strain on the wheel hubs. A mismatch between the European-designed train and the North American designed tracks. How does that happen?

What we see here is not just a collection of mistakes. It is a pattern of mistakes.

When mistakes happen frequently, mature organizations take a deep dive into their processes. They look for what is causing these mistakes. Poor training? Inadequate supervision? Lack of subject matter expertise? Negligence? An executive group that does not demand responsibility for decisions made? A culture that doesn’t embrace accountability? 

The dysfunctional organization not only refuses to examine the cause of a mistake. It refuses to acknowledge that a mistake even happened. It views accountability as a weakness.

Which type of organization best describes Ottawa City Hall?

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.





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2 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    Ron I have long held a belief that the professionals who work at the municipal, provincial and federal level are not the cream of the crop/graduating class. They are the grads who made it by 55% to 60% passing grades and then forget much of which they were taught once employed. The bright ones go into the world of private employment where they advance by merit and recognition of good work. In the public sector advancement seems to come from tenure and playing nice with the boss and peer group. No threat from inadequate performance or poor judgement just a strong application of the “peter principle” Promote one step beyond capability and leave them there.
    Once an organization has this in full practice it becomes entrenched and is almost impossible to correct or remove. Has Ottawa reached the tipping point? I know this is a broad brush critique and there are some who do not fit the mould I am portraying

  2. John Langstone says:

    I may have this wrong, but wasn’t it the same City project manager on the pedestrian bridge over the airport parkway who was on the Greenbank bridge project (over the Jock) that was delayed because of barn swallows nesting?

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