Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Triumph of Reason: Proposed North-South LRT to Be Audited

Treasury Board will Require Proof of the Project’s “Value For Money.”

The funding terms the City of Ottawa negotiated with the Province of Ontario and the Federal Government contained one important catch. To get the $200 million in Federal assistance, the City had to conduct a ridership study that, in turn, was to be a critical input to a “business case.” This business case was expected to demonstrate why this specific LRT project is justified, both in absolute terms and compared to reasonable “base case” alternative.

It is curious then, that the ridership study was officially considered simply a “background technical document” not worthy of disclosure to Council or the public. Curious too, that a majority of Councillors could approve such an important project based exclusively on one-sided, weakly founded rhetorical staff assertions, without digging in to really understand what they were approving. And then, with a pattern clearly emerging, perhaps not so curious that the City notably chose not to disclose the business case it prepared for the Federal government. Perhaps they new disclosure would be trouble, especially during the election campaign.

So it was a great relief to learn today, in a story scooped by Derek Puddicombe of the Ottawa Sun, that this preposterous project will finally be called to account by John Baird, President of the Treasury Board. The purpose of a value for money audit is to demonstrate that the proposed project is effective, efficient and economical. Under the glaring scrutiny of these standards the proposed North-South LRT will be shown to be completely indefensible.

Then again, perhaps we won’t really have to go down this road. To anyone casting a half-informed eye on the details, a full-blown value for money audit would be like shooting a dead steed. Hopefully a month from now, a sufficiently new Council and a completely different Mayor will tell Mr. Baird not to bother, that a new submission will be prepared, presenting a much more practical alternative.