City manager Steve Kanellakos steps down, effective immediately

Steve Kanellakos speaks during a meeting at Ottawa city hall in November 2019. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Steve Kanellakos speaks during a meeting at Ottawa city hall in November 2019. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

Just two days before the LRT inquiry's final report is due, city manager Steve Kanellakos has announced he's leaving his job as Ottawa's top bureaucrat, effective immediately.

"This decision is mine and mine alone," he wrote Monday in a message addressed to all City of Ottawa employees.

"No one asked me to leave. I've always deeply believed in leadership accountability. As city manager, I am ultimately accountable for the performance of the organization. I have always deeply believed that my role is to have your backs and that it is my duty to accept ultimate responsibility for our performance."

The city does not have an advance copy of the report, but Kanellakos said based on the line of questioning from commission lawyers, he believes "the report will be critical of the city of Ottawa and city staff.

"Despite this, I know that city staff did their best under very difficult circumstances to ensure that the light rail system would meet all of our expectations."

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC

Kanellakos gave evidence at the LRT inquiry for four hours last July, when he was grilled about why the criteria for the trial running of the LRT was changed midway through final testing, and why council wasn't told about it.

Other city officials gave testimony that appears to undermine the city's oversight role on the $2.1-billion Confederation Line, including that the city knowingly accepted defects with the trains when it accepted the system.

"It is my belief, that this is the time to do the right thing and allow the organization to find a new leader who can deal with implementing the recommendations from the inquiry unfettered from the long complex history of the project or the findings of the Commission report," wrote Kanellakos in his farewell note.

City hall insiders stunned

City hall insiders told CBC they were stunned by the news, and that the subject of Kanellakos's position at the city was never raised during the nearly three hours of in-camera briefings council members received Monday on legal issues surrounding the LRT.

Kanellakos's immediate resignation means that he will not have to comment or answer questions on the LRT inquiry report's findings.

Last month, Kanellakos testified before the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is probing the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act to help end the occupation of downtown Ottawa by anti-vaccine-mandate, anti-government protesters.

Kanellakos, who's known around city hall as Steve K, ended his announcement Monday on an introspective note.

"Thank you for the support you have given me over so many years. I'm deeply grateful for that gift," he told colleagues. "After almost 38 years of service, it's time for me to be a friend to me.

"I'm going for a long walk…. Steve K."

Mayor names treasurer as acting city manager

In an email to city council, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe thanked Kanellakos for his 38 years of service to the city, including the last six years as city manager overseeing a staff of more than 17,000.

"He became City Manager in 2016 and has led the organization through an unprecedented series of changes and challenges," wrote Sutcliffe, who said he was informed of Kanaellakos's decision on Monday.

"I want to thank Steve for his years of public service and for his unwavering commitment to the City of Ottawa and its residents."

Sutcliffe said he's asked the city's chief financial officer Wendy Stephanson to step in as acting city manager, a move that council must approve at its meeting on Wednesday.