Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday December 21, 2019
Auditor general is looking into cost estimates for Hamilton LRT
Ontario’s auditor general says she’ll look at how reasonable the province’s cost estimates were for Hamilton light-rail transit (LRT) as part of an upcoming audit of Metrolinx.
A key construction union is also investigating the government’s numbers, and says its preliminary investigation shows the province has been misled.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in a letter to Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath Thursday that she already started a value-for-money audit of Metrolinx governance and operations earlier this month.
“As part of this audit, we will be looking at the reasonableness of the cost estimates for rapid transit projects, including the Hamilton LRT,” she said.
Lysyk was responding to a request from Horwath, who represents Hamilton Centre. The province cancelled an LRT project earlier this week that runs 14 kilometres through three NDP ridings, including Horwath’s. The province will still invest $1 billion in Hamilton, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said, but a task force will decide how it’s spent.
Horwath wrote Lysyk on Wednesday asking her to look into the Ministry of Transportation estimate that Hamilton LRT would cost $5.5 billion in capital, operating and maintenance over 30 years.
Mulroney said the estimate was the reason her government cancelled LRT. The ministry hired a third-party consultant, she said, after “proponents in the market” alerted her that the Hamilton project was over budget.
Horwath wants Lysyk to investigate why the cost-per-kilometre is higher for Hamilton’s LRT than the Hurontario and Finch West lines.
“The minister is refusing to disclose the third-party consultant’s report that the premier cites as validation for his figures,” Horwath told Lysyk, “so the public has no way of independently assessing them.”
The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) announced earlier this week its investment arm would do its own review of the numbers. The union said in a statement Friday that preliminary figures show the province’s numbers were inflated. (CBC)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday December 20, 2019
After year of political turmoil, SNC-Lavalin gets most of what it wanted in plea deal
After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s failed efforts to see SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution led to him losing two key ministers, his edge in the polls and (almost) his party’s hold on government, the Quebec engineering firm at the centre of the controversy walked away today with a plea deal that looks a lot like what it asked the government for in the first place.
A judge on Thursday accepted the plea deal that a division of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. struck with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Under the agreement, the company pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud over $5,000 in relation to the company’s activities in Libya.
All other charges have been dropped.
“We are happy. The company is happy,” said SNC-Lavalin lawyer François Fontaine. “The fact that the charges are no longer pending over the head of the company is good. The uncertainty around that kind of proceeding is bad for business, is bad for the company.
“So we’re very happy that it’s now over. We are free to bid as normal. This guilty plea does not prevent construction, or any other entity of the group, to bid on public contracts.”
After SNC-Lavalin was hit with fraud and corruption charges over its actions in Libya between 2001 and 2011, officials from the Prime Minister’s Office spoke with then justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, asking her to reconsider offering the firm a deferred prosecution agreement.
Under newly passed legislation, a deferred prosecution agreement would allow the company to avoid trial providing it paid hefty fines and continued to adhere to a number of conditions for a period of time.
Had the company been convicted in court of bribing Libyan officials — including Saadi Gadhafi, son of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi — to get lucrative government contracts, it could have been blocked from competing for federal government contracts in Canada for a decade.
“I have long believed in the essential necessity of our judicial system operating as it should — based on the rule of law and prosecutorial independence, and without political interference or pressure,” Wilson-Raybould said today on Twitter.
The allegation that Trudeau improperly tried to influence the attorney general significantly depressed the prime minister’s voter support.
Trudeau defended his actions by saying that he was trying to prevent the loss of jobs in Quebec, but the damage to the prime minister’s reputation had been done — just as federal political parties were readying themselves for a fall election.
The deal SNC-Lavalin struck to avoid trial may not have been a deferred prosecution agreement, but it resulted in almost the same outcome for the company.
All other charges were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on one charge of fraud over $5,000, plus an agreement to pay $280 million in fines and comply with a probation order for three years. (CBC)