SNC-Lavalin’s winning LRT bid under auditor’s microscope today

by Joanne Chianello · CBC News

Investigation launched after CBC reported firm failed to meet technical score for $1.6B Stage 2 contract

Three months after the city finally admitted SNC-Lavalin won the $1.6-billion contract to extend Ottawa’s Trillium Line despite twice failing to meet the minimum technical score, the city’s auditor general will release the findings of his probe into the matter.

CBC first reported back in March that, according to sources, the troubled Montreal-based engineering company had failed to score 70 per cent in the technical evaluations, but still won the contract to extend the north-south rail line.

At the time, the city refused to confirm whether that was the case. City officials also refused to say whether there was any language in the contract that would allow a finalist to progress through the procurement process despite failing to make the minimum grade.

A month later, after receiving calls and emails from city councillors and members of the public, Auditor General Ken Hughes announced he was adding an audit of the LRT Stage 2 procurement process to his work plan for the year.

He’ll release his findings on Tuesday morning.

‘Sole discretion’

In response to an access to information request from CBC, as well as an inquiry from Coun. Diane Deans, the city finally admitted in August that SNC-Lavalin failed to score the minimum 70 per cent requirement not just once, but twice.

At the time, city manager Steve Kanellakos told council the request for proposals (RFP) provided the city with the “sole discretion” to move a proponent along in the bidding process, even if it hadn’t met the minimum grade.

This was information that council didn’t have when it approved the massive infrastructure project. City officials and lawyers from Norton Rose Fulbright — the legal guns the city hired to run the procurement — consistently told elected officials that they had no right to information about the scores or the language in the RFP because they had delegated that authority to senior staff years earlier.

The auditor’s report is likely to look at whether councillors had all the information they required to make a proper decision. The report will likely also issue recommendations for how similar procurement processes should be handled in the future

LRT land deals under spotlight

It’s not just LRT Stage 2 that will come under the auditor general’s magnifying glass Tuesday: Hughes will also release a report on how land was negotiated, expropriated and purchased for the Confederation Line project.

A number of councillors had argued for more public oversight of the land deals, and in 2018, Coun. Rick Chiarelli filed a formal request for information. He later suspended his request until a city report on the expropriations is released. That report is coming to the finance and economic development committee Dec. 3.

Other audits Hughes will present Tuesday include:

  • Fire services – fire suppression.
  • City estimates.
  • Benefits processing – compliance and program management.
  • City of Ottawa superannuation fund.
  • Planning, infrastructure and economic development department – land management system (to be presented in camera).

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