40 witnesses to testify at Ottawa LRT inquiry, including Mayor and city manager

Forty witnesses will testify at the public inquiry looking into Ottawa's light rail transit system, including Mayor Jim Watson, City Manager Steve Kanellakos and the former head of OC Transpo.

The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Commission released a draft witness list on Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the public inquiry officially got underway with public meetings. The meetings Wednesday and Thursday night at the Shaw Centre are a chance for the public to weigh in on the issues with the $2 billion LRT system during the first two years of operation.

The inquiry released a list of 40 witnesses called to testify before the inquiry during public hearings from June 13 to July 8.  The list includes elected officials – including Watson, Transit Commission Chair Allan Hubley, Coun. Shawn Menard and Coun. Catherine McKenney, who pushed the city and the province to call a public inquiry into the LRT system. Citizen Transit Commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert is also on the witness list.

Officials set to testify include former OC Transpo general manager John Manconi, former deputy city manager Nancy Schepers, former treasurer Marian Simulik and former rail director John Jensen.

Rideau Transit Group/Rideau Transit Maintenance executives Mario Guerra and Nicholas Truchon, along with officials from Alstom, will also testify.

Public hearings will be held at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law from June 13 to July 8.

The commission has collected more than one million documents, identifying over 10,000 documents as relevant and conducted over 90 witness interviews, the public meeting was told.

"We've come to Ottawa to hear from you," Justice William Hourigan said at the start of the public meeting Wednesday evening.

"These meetings are critical to gathering feedback to inform our work."

Hourigan says the final report will include his recommendations and findings on this investigation.

"The commission's team has been working full steam since January to prepare for these meetings and the hearings to come."

The public meeting heard from seven delegates on the opening evening, with several people urging the commission to find out what happened.

"We take our responsibility to the people of Ottawa very seriously. We've heard some really good comments tonight, we've heard some concerns that are absolutely legitimate and we've heard questions that need to be answered and we're going to do that," Justice Hourigan said.

Justice Hourigan made a promise to a speaker.

"We need to understand what went wrong, who did what and we're going to get those answers for you."

The Ontario government called a public inquiry into Ottawa's troubled light rail transit system in November 2021, following the second derailment in six weeks along the Confederation Line. The derailment on Sept. 19 shutdown the LRT system for nearly two months.

The inquiry, led by the honourable Justice William Hourigan, has a mandate to investigate the commercial and technical circumstances that led to Stage 1 breakdowns and derailments. The inquiry will look at the decisions and actions that were taken in determining the procurement approach the city selected for Stage 1, the selection of Rideau Transit Group to build the system and the awarding of the contract.  

The commission must deliver its final report, including any recommendations, to the Minister of Transportation on or before Aug. 31. An extension is also possible until the end of November.

You can watch the public meetings on the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Commission website.