Baird knows we need value-for-money audit
Feds may brake trains
Funding audit could kill light rail project
By DEREK PUDDICOMBE, CITY HALL BUREAU
Federal funding for Ottawa's billion-dollar light rail project may be losing steam.
A City Hall source told the Sun yesterday that Treasury Board president John Baird will announce this week that he is so concerned about the viability of the city's north-south light rail transit project that his department may call for an audit on the "value for money" taxpayers would be receiving.
"They will make an announcement this week," the Sun was told.
When contacted, Baird's office said the city will get the $200 million the feds have committed for infrastructure -- but a decision to look at whether that money should be allocated to light rail will be announced soon.
"That decision will be made shortly," said Patrick Robert, Baird's press secretary. "The decision on light rail has not been made yet."
"NOT A SLAM DUNK"
The light rail project is funded by all three levels of government with $200 million coming from the province and the feds. The province has told the city its funding is secure.
Mayoral candidate Larry O'Brien said starting a review and putting a microscope to the cost of the project versus the number of new riders anticipated to be generated is exactly what the government should be doing.
"This is a very interesting situation," said O'Brien. "It's not a slam dunk that they will release the funding."
He added it would be unprecedented if the government went ahead and cut the city a cheque without some sort of review. In a Sept. 21 letter to Baird, O'Brien suggested the "system needs a formal audit and due diligence to ensure that the City of Ottawa is not left with a very expensive and ineffective transit system."
Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who voted for the north-south LRT project, said an audit is a concern and could kill the project.
"Council made the decision to go ahead based on the contributions," said Deans.
"This could seriously jeopardize the project if we lost the federal funding."
Baird has also received pressure from Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Gord Hunter, who voted against LRT. He wrote to the minister and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in July asking them to take a closer look at the business case for LRT.
Hunter says the city's ridership study that LRT will attract 5,000 new riders doesn't support the expenditure.
"We should not be spending $1 billion for the benefit of a very few," said Hunter. "This is very good news."