LILLEY: Potential Judicial inquiry into Ottawa’s LRT system could have implications in Toronto

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The potential for a judicial inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail system could prove to have implications for transit projects in Toronto and elsewhere.

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The province is suggesting they may do what Ottawa City Council refused to do, launch an inquiry into the problem plagued LRT.

The possibility of a judicial inquiry gained traction after an email from so-called LRT super consultant Brian Guest was released to the media by former Ottawa mayor and former provincial transport minister Bob Chiarelli.

“You know who you are screwing with this support for the judicial inquiry right? Someone who has always been your loyal friend and servant,” Guest wrote to Chiarelli on Oct. 16.

That comment, which seems to suggest an inquiry would screw Guest, has raised a lot of eyebrows in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park. What does Guest mean that an inquiry into how a project was built, and how money was spent, would screw him?

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Neither Guest nor his firm replied to a request for comment.

But earlier in the week Guest told CBC that an inquiry “is bound to be disruptive and take time to prepare for — which nobody would relish.” He did say that he would participate in any inquiry but doesn’t think it would be “helpful.”

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  3. One of two tunnels of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT Keelesdale Station is seen during a press tour of the construction at the intersection of Eglinton Ave W. and Keele St. in Toronto, Ont. on November 9, 2018. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia

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Guest was an early consultant on Ottawa’s LRT system before moving on in 2013 to consult on Toronto’s problem-plagued Eglinton Crosstown LRT project. Over the years, Guest and his firm Boxfish have also consulted on GO Train projects for Metrolinx, the Hamilton LRT, as well as the Hurontario LRT system in Peel Region.

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The company, and Guest, appear intimately connected with all major projects undertaken by Metrolinx, the province’s crown corporation responsible for public transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The company was awarded a contract to assist Metrolinx in building the Ontario Line subway expansion project in Toronto.

Guest’s comments have some at Queen’s Park wondering if there is a reason to be concerned about his work on other projects — some of which, like Ottawa’s LRT, have seen delays and problems.

On Wednesday, Ottawa council voted 13-10 against calling a judicial inquiry, which resulted in the provincial ministry of transportation issuing a statement causing waves in the capital.

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“With Ottawa City Council’s recent rejection of a judicial inquiry into problems plaguing Phase 1 of the LRT, we are increasingly concerned with the city’s ability to carry out future phases of work,” said a spokesperson for Minister Caroline Mulroney.

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It’s a big change from the comments Premier Doug Ford made on Oct. 26 when he was asked about the LRT problems during a stop in Kanata.

“I have all the confidence in the Mayor that he’s going to fix it,” Ford said at the time.

A week later, bureaucrats at the province sent notice to bureaucrats at the city that they were holding back $60 million in funding until questions are answered. Now, the province is looking at calling the inquiry city councillors voted against.

A senior source with Ford’s team said Wednesday that the government views a judicial inquiry as “one of many levers” that could be used to force accountability from the city.

Guest’s comments to Chiarelli in the email have piqued interest at the premier’s office, and Wednesday’s vote not to hold an inquiry gives the appearance of council trying to sweep the issue under the rug, something Ford’s team said can’t be allowed to happen.

blilley@postmedia.com

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