City council votes unanimously to pull curtain back on phase two LRT procurement

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Ottawa city council came together Wednesday in an effort to uncover more information on the controversial procurement process to construct phase two of light-rail transit.

City council voted unanimously to make public documents detailing the decision to allow TransitNEXT – a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin – to remain in the running for a contract to extend the north-south Trillium Line despite submitting a bid that contained serious flaws, according to recently released documents.

Though TransitNEXT was ultimately awarded the $1.6-billion contract last March, evaluators said the organization submitted a “generic” bid that contained factual errors and was missing critical information. The technical evaluation committee had recommended the contractor’s proposal, which failed to meet the minimum technical criteria even after a rescoring of all bids involved, be disqualified from further consideration.

A steering committee nonetheless moved TransitNEXT’s bid on to the financial scoring round, where the contractor scored top points for its low cost – giving the company the highest overall score. City staff say they then worked with TransitNEXT to remedy technical shortcomings before awarding the contract.

Wednesday’s motion, which was sponsored by Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Shawn Menard, will see documents detailing the Trillium Line procurement process released to council and the public for the first time. Information regarding technical compliance scores and how TransitNEXT’s bid was amended are to be made public before the next meeting of the finance and economic development committee on March 3. Council will also have the chance to review legal advice given to the steering committee from law firm Norton Rose Fulbright during the evaluation process.

The motion will also see the city’s approach to public-private partnerships reexamined at the upcoming mid-term policy review.

Watson said in support of his motion, which replaced a similar motion from Menard and Coun. Carol Anne Meehan that only covered the P3 review, that council will take “lessons learned” from whatever is revealed in the stage two procurement documents to inform the upcoming bid process for LRT’s third phase. The mayor added that the city expects to make its initial pitches to the provincial and federal governments for phase three funding before the end of 2020.

“There’s a legitimate public interest” in clarifying the process that was used to award the city’s largest-ever procurement contracts, Watson said. At the time, many councillors decried a lack of information and time to consider the bid before approving staff recommendations for the stage two LRT project.