Meehan: A Derailment Of Epic Proportions At Ottawa City Hall

By Carol Anne Meehan, City Councillor, Gloucester-South Nepean

“There’s nothing to see here. Move along, move along…”. Screech, loud metal sounds, crash!!! On Monday, June 27, there was a derailment of sorts at City Hall; the bureaucracy’s narrative went off the rails. What came out was the real story – the one we all should be worrying about.

What happened? Brian Guest, of Boxfish Infrastructure Group Inc., took the stand under oath for three hours at the public hearings of the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry into Stage 1. You needed popcorn for this one. The exchanges between John Adair, the Commission’s Co-lead Legal Counsel, and Mr. Guest made for riveting watching.

Let’s look at the facts and see if you can follow along. Starting in 1997, Mr. Guest worked for five years for Bob Chiarelli, the last Chair of the Region of Ottawa-Carleton and the first Mayor of the amalgamated City of Ottawa. He was responsible for policy matters, including light rail. Mr. Guest leaves the Mayor’s Office, and among other things, becomes a consultant and a partner in Boxfish Infrastructure Group Inc., a company that today promotes itself as having unmatched experience in dealing with multi-billion-dollar projects. During this time, his sister, Ms. Robyn Guest, is working for the City of Ottawa, eventually ending-up in the office of Kent Kirkpatrick, the City Manager. In 2010, Mr. Guest joins Jim Watson’s mayoral campaign and transition team. Later that year and in 2011 Mr. Guest was a consultant on the City budget. In 2011, Mr. Guest and Boxfish are hired to work on the LRT file, in the City’s LRT office. This was, as the Commission’s Co-lead Legal Counsel pointed out, despite the fact he is neither an engineer, an account, or a lawyer. At the time the City’s LRT office was under the control of Deputy City Manager Nancy Schepers. Her Chief of Staff was Chris Swail, who is married to Ms. Robyn Guest.

Also, for many years throughout the above timeline, Mr. Guest was a consultant for Plasco Conversion Technologies, attended executive meetings, and attended meetings between Plasco and the City. The City eventually signed a conditional contract of $120 million with Plasco. During this time Deputy City Manager Nancy Schepers was also responsible for waste management.

Mr. Guest and Boxfish received about $600,000 in consulting contracts with the City for their work on LRT Stage 1. Although still with Boxfish, in 2013, Mr. Guest shifted his focus from Ottawa to working on various contracts in the Toronto area. Boxfish continues its relationship with the City of Ottawa, signing a contract for up to $2 million for work on LRT Stage 2.

Those are the facts. Obviously, nothing to see here…

Which is why it was peculiar that on the afternoon of Saturday, June 25, past the halfway point in the inquiry, a senior staffer of the City Manager’s Office sent out the first of what they call the “OLRT Commission Daily Briefing Memo”. It purports to be a brief daily summary of the hearings, with highlights of testimony and additional information. A cynic might call it spin. Coincidentally, it was just in time for the upcoming derailment. How fortuitous.

At the end of the day Commissioner Hourigan said, “Mr. Guest, I want to thank you for testifying today. It was very valuable for the Commission, and we appreciate your time”. Yes, indeed, it is of extraordinary value to shed light into the backrooms of City Hall, where a derailment of epic proportions occurred.

People always worry that politicians have dark, sinister, secret plans up their sleeves. It’s the unseen machinations of the bureaucracy inside City Hall we all need to worry about.