The SNC Screw-Up
It seems clear that the SNC Lavalin bid for the LRT II contract did not satisfy the technical qualifications. If they had staff would have said so. So what’s up?
What’s up, is that the city realized only after they put out a separate bid for LRT II with SNC operating LRT I that they couldn’t have two different operators for Ottawa’s new LRT system, which is what would have happened if anyone but SNC won the LRT II contract.
No transit authority on the planet has two different operators for the same transit system because of the difficulties of coordination equipment, planning, operating procedures etc. So SNC had to get the contract for LRT II. It should have been a piece of cake for them because they already had all the economies and planning advantages of doing LRT I.
But incredibly someone didn’t pay enough attention to their bid and they didn’t meet the technical qualifications; which is ridiculous. A company of the size and experience of SNC Lavalin should have been able to qualify with its eyes shut. Long story short, someone really screwed up.
The city was now stuck. They didn’t want to go with a different contractor for LRT II. They wanted the same operator for the entire system, so they found a way to conveniently hide the fact that SNC’s bid for LRT II didn’t meet the technical qualifications. This was crooked and when the truth finally gets out, I would expect one of the losing bidders will sue for damages.
The ugly reality is the largest public project in the history of the city has been mismanaged with breathtaking consistency from the first planning days. Somehow in spite of being delayed for many months, there is never enough time for councilors to even ask questions. To date, the Mayor has blackmailed council into believing that if they don’t vote for his project in spite of billion dollar over-run before LRT II even starts that there will be no LRT II. This is nonsense. LRT I without LRT II is useless. It goes nowhere. LRT II has to happen, but that doesn’t mean you don’t ask questions and think things through carefully. Two weeks to consider a billion dollar over-run before the project has started is not adequate.
Urban rail lines last for centuries. Getting it right from the start and it’s right forever. Getting it wrong and it’s wrong forever. There can be a silver lining here. How about starting with putting LRT west where people actually live, work and shop along Carling, not along the river parkway? Carling Avenue requires no land assembly; has had a rail line before; is more direct to Kanata and serves more people. Perhaps this SNC screw up will be a wonderful chance for the city to actually build for people who live in Ottawa now, instead for someone else’s lifetime.
Clive Doucet is a writer and former City Councillor. He was Deputy Chair of the Transportation Committee for three terms. His latest book is ‘Grandfather’s House’ published by Nimbus (Halifax).