LILLEY: Inquiry into Ottawa’s LRT system coming despite Watson’s objections

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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson met behind closed doors with members of the PC government Thursday morning and made the case not to have a public inquiry into the city’s troubled LRT system.

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The brief meeting with members of the local PC caucus and Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy took place moments before a breakfast meeting organized by the Ottawa Board of Trade.

“We are well past that point,” said one government official.

The province let it be known late Wednesday that a public inquiry, which could have implications for public transit projects across the province, was going to be called in the coming days.

Watson complained that he was blindsided by the news and that the province didn’t let him know ahead of time.

“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request for that kind of common courtesy,” Watson told media at the breakfast.

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Common courtesy is something Watson hasn’t been extending to the Ford government, so I’m not sure why he’d expect it in return. Several times during the pandemic, Watson has turned partisan or created controversy where none was needed just for his own political gain.

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It got so bad that according to a top-level source, Premier Doug Ford called Watson out on his political games before giving him the silent treatment for several months. Perhaps if Watson hadn’t played such games, he may have found a warmer reception at Queen’s Park.

Not that the province is launching a public inquiry into the LRT system over this kind of partisan spat, there are really good reasons for an inquiry.

“There have been a number of incidents, including the trains not working for almost 54 days, so we’ve got to get answers,” Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said Thursday morning at Queen’s Park.

She dismissed the idea that her department is only suddenly interested in the LRT, noting funds were withheld over safety concerns in July 2020.

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“As a funding partner, I believe that the taxpayers of Ontario deserve these answers before proceeding with additional funding for stage two,” Mulroney said.

For those looking for the political angle on this, best to check the Liberal side. The province’s interest in holding an inquiry was raised by two incidents – the refusal of Ottawa council to call their own inquiry and the release of an email by former Ottawa mayor and provincial transportation minister Bob Chiarelli.

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An email to Chiarelli from LRT consultant Brian Guest raised eyebrows and lots of questions at Queen’s Park.

“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.

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With the release of that email, Chiarelli made Watson’s life political hell. Despite both men having been mayor of Ottawa and each having served in the McGuinty cabinet at Queen’s Park, there is no love lost between them.

Chiarelli is contemplating a run for mayor, so is Watson. The last time both sought that job in 2000, local Liberals let it be known to Watson that they were backing Chiarelli. This time, Chiarelli has stabbed Watson in the front and raised serious questions about the mayor’s legacy project with the release of the email.

The Ford Tories were, in essence, pushed into calling an inquiry due to Liberal infighting.

As for Guest, the consultant worried about getting screwed, Mulroney said the province will be “looking at the involvement of lots of players.”

The sleepy subject of LRT construction just got a lot more interesting.

blilley@postmedia.com

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