An effort led by Coun. Catherine McKenney to launch a judicial inquiry into Ottawa's troubled LRT was thrown over Wednesday when council voted to ask the city's auditor general to investigate instead.
It's been three weeks since McKenney gave notice of their motion to call a inquiry, which would have been a long and public affair, costing millions of dollars, and would have looked into not just the LRT procurement and contract, but whether city staff or council breached the public trust.
But just as McKenney was preparing to discuss the motion at Wednesday's council meeting, Coun. Glen Gower moved a replacement motion calling for council to request that the auditor general look into the process that led to the city's contract with Rideau Transit Group to design, build and maintain the Confederation Line.
That procedural swap led to a testy debate at council, that ended with Gower's motion being voted on first, which was passed in vote of 14 to 9. McKenney's motion for an inquiry was never voted on.
But before the vote, councillors spent a couple of hours discussing the best process to delve into the LRT.
The city's auditor Nathalie Gougeon was on hand to answer questions on what she can and cannot do in an investigation. Although council cannot direct the auditor general to study a specific file, it's unusual for an auditor to ignore a request from council. And Gougeon said the LRT was going to make it onto her workplan for next year anyway — but it's not clear what the scope of the audit will be.
An audit will certainly take less time than an inquiry and Gougeon can summon witnesses under oath.
However, the audit process isn't public, like hearings at an inquiry. And Gougeon cannot look into the behaviour of councillors or the mayor.
"This audit will make sure that what you have to hide never gets out in the public because the auditor can't investigate you," Coun. Diane Deans said to the mayor. "That's why we need an independent process. That's why we need a judicial inquiry. That's why shutting this down today is not in the public interest."
But Watson said that the city should have one goal: get the trains running safely. And he said that a public inquiry only guarantees that "a lot of lawyers will get very very rich."
Council asks for info on breaking contract
Council also considered Deans' motion to ask the city manager to report back to council about what it would take legally for the city to end its 30-year contract with Rideau Transit Maintenance and how to build capacity at the city to take over the LRT system and trains.
There was little debate on that issue — council unanimously approved the motion.
Late last month, the city issued the builders of the Confederation Line with a second notice of default, and gave senior city staff the authority to have the default validated by a court, necessary steps to opening up other options in the contract — including one that could allow the city to sever its relationship with RTM.