Show Some Effort At Ottawa City Hall: THE VOTER

 

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The Voters blames some of the problems at Ottawa City Hall on slovenly public servants and contractors.

Here’s a cause of big project failure. It falls under “don’t care, couldn’t be bothered.”

It seems that in some instances, the focus is not on the details of the project but rather on the completion target. It isn’t particularly relevant to the people who are, nominally at least, in charge at the city how one gets to the destination of a completed project and a closed file. It just matters that you get there.


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Details such as faulty specs, cost overruns, delays and the like don’t matter much to them in the grand scheme of things (see SNC Lavalin and OC Transpo for prime examples). This has been their modus operandi for so long that they no longer know any other way of doing things. Since they normally get away with it and are rarely caught, why would they put themselves out to do things right?

The really scary part is we have no idea how many and how large are the faux pas that haven’t come to our attention … yet. Even when they are caught, what are the consequences they face? The only consequences I’ve seen are borne by residents and taxpayers, not the guilty parties.

We get to cover the cost overruns and the do-overs. They just move on to the next project.

The Voter is a respected community activist and long-time Bulldog commenter who prefers to keep her identity private.

Digital illustration on front by AI generator Bing Image Creator.

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1 Response

  1. Ron Benn says:

    Voter, the root causes of the procurement problems within the city are likely a combination of many factors.

    As I mention in my column, mature organizations take deep dives into their processes. They look for patterns, for it is in the patterns that one finds the root causes. When it comes to the long string of procurement failures, a pattern that needs to be examined is the selection of the contractor.

    Prior history of success – on time, on budget, on specification. A history of successful completion of similar projects. Even more importantly, any history of failure to deliver per the specifications? Don’t take the word of the proponent for it. Do a deep dive. Check with other municipalities that have had work done by the contractor.

    Do city hall staff and managers have a network of contacts in other municipalities, with people they have established a professional relationship with? With people whose judgement they trust? If not, that is an area that needs improvement.

    What level of effort went into establishing the financial condition of the contractor selected to build the Vimy Bridge? Not just a cursory review of their financial statements. Actual due diligence. A deep dive into the financial strength of the company to withstand cost overruns. Identifying how many projects the company has underway. The status of those projects. Problems on other projects may lead to cash flow problems for the overall company. Analyzing the terms of the company’s short term and long term loans. Understanding the financial capacity of the shareholders to contribute more capital. Developing a risk profile for the contractor.

    Finally, there needs to be a solid wall between city managers making decisions on the selection of a contractor and politicians and their appointees. Not just at the municipal level. Also at the provincial and federal levels. The awarding of the Trillium Line extension to a contractor that failed to meet the technical standards begs for an objective, outside examination into what led to that decision.

    The decision by the city’s Audit Committee and Auditor General to avoid an internal review of that decision is indicative of political interference. Is it just the politicians that do not want an objective review of the decision? Or does the resistance also come from within the senior ranks of city officials? Keep in mind that the behaviour of Steve Kanellakos and John Manconi that led to their censure for egregious malfeasance could not have been unknown by others within city hall. Whether other individuals were active participants in the willful withholding of information from council is not the only problem. Who else knew that council was being willfully misled but decided not to raise their voice? To provide the necessary information to allow council to make informed decisions. How many of those individuals remain at city hall, who are worried that they will be identified as silent enablers?

    Some organizations use the findings of these deep dives to hold individuals to blame. I am not a big fan of rolling up the report and beating someone on the forehead with it (metaphorically speaking). I prefer the approach of using the findings to improve decision making processes. To learn from mistakes, from the errors in judgement that lead to the underwhelming results. This may lead to actions that include limiting the career paths of individuals who play recurring roles in the pattern, but it should not be the sole purpose of the review.

    This is what leads to actual “best practices”. Best practices should not be some feel good but otherwise meaningless jargon. That is where the city is failing. Across too many departments in the city it is obvious that “best practices” is something that was the subject of a report, now stowed away in some file cabinet/folder, never to be looked at again.

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