Mayor Watson suggests that you cannot be a supporter of Light Rail Transit and vote against the project. I strongly disagree with that statement.
I have and continue to be a strong supporter of LRT. To be clear, my concerns have not been about the need to expand LRT or the merits of the project. My concerns have been focused on the process, the cost, the risk, and the timeline given to Council to make the most important financial decision in our city’s history.
Council had less than two weeks to digest, consult, and decide on an additional $1.2 Billion in spending for Stage 2 LRT. In addition to the increased cost, the revised Project Agreement included significant changes to the project scope and operational requirements, including a 28 month shut down of the Trillium Line and a two year delay. The short time frame proposed by staff to obtain Council approval showed a complete lack of respect for the taxpayers of Ottawa, the people who are ultimately paying the bill.
I also had real concerns about the affordability of Stage 2 LRT and the risk built into the financial assumptions to support the plan. These assumptions included:
- That we will raise transit fares by 2.5% annually for the next 30 years;
- That we will increase the transit tax by 3% annually;
- That the Provincial government will double the gas tax by 2022, which was a commitment made by the former Liberal government;
- That growth in the City will rise to 1.5% annually; and
- That interest rates will remain under 5% for the next 30 years.
The City has also not received a firm commitment from the Provincial government that they will fund their portion of the project. However, despite all of these very real concerns, I was prepared to accept the staff response that the increased costs were necessary and that the plan was affordable.
However, at the Council meeting on March 6, I asked staff pointed questions with regard to the procurement process, specifically around the technical scoring of the successful proponents to extend the north-south line of Stage 2 LRT. Staff were unable to provide me with the confidence I needed to ensure that all proponents met the required technical scores in order be awarded the contract. This led me to seriously question the integrity and transparency of the procurement process.
I have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of Ottawa and I can only make good decisions with good information. I was not convinced that Council was provided with the information required to make a responsible decision to execute the contracts for Stage 2 LRT.
I agree that LRT should proceed, but only when I am certain that best interest of our residents (the taxpayers) is ensured.