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On Oct. 3, 2018, the City of Ottawa’s technical evaluation team led by Peter Schwartzentruber, recommended SNC-Lavalin should be kicked off the short list of three contenders to build the Trillium Line Extension, part of the second stage of the light rail transit system.
SNC-Lavalin’s submission used “sweeping motherhood statements that demonstrated a limited understanding of the project,” Schwartzentruber concluded in documents made available Thursday to city councillors and released to the media late Thursday night.
“The resumés of key individuals were poor,” the evaluation observed, and it was a “poor technical submission throughout”.
Nevertheless, later that same October another team of city officials — the bid evaluation steering committee — over-ruled that assessment, in large part over differences in interpretation of the detailed procurement documents. Last March, TransitNEXT — SNC Lavalin’s bidding vehicle — was awarded a $663-million fixed-price contract to build the Trillium Line Extension’s eight new stations, including a link to the international airport.
On Thursday, Michael Morgan, the city’s director of the rail construction program, sent city councillors more detail on how the two sets of evaluations were done.
The steering committee did not know the identities of the bidders, which included teams led by Plenary Group/Tomlinson and Acciona/Thomas Cavanagh. It was therefore unaware that SNC-Lavalin was the last-ranked contender and had failed to pass a 70 per cent technical threshold for moving on to the financial stage of the competition. Instead, as revealed in documents released Thursday, the steering committee repeatedly queried Schwartzentruber’s scoring methodology and his interpretation of terms.
One example: the first set of evaluators gave weak marks for SNC Lavalin’s response in a section that called for a “high-level” description of their bid. Schwartzentruber’s team said there was not an “adequate level of detail”. The consensus evaluators were puzzled by this because detail is not generally required in a high-level description.
The steering committee was also worried that the city’s evaluators had considered criteria that weren’t actually in the bid documents, which suggested SNC Lavalin was not being evaluated fairly.
After making its objections known, the technical team did a second evaluation which was forwarded to the steering committee on Oct. 23, 2018. SNC Lavalin again failed to reach the 70 per cent threshold.
City staff (the executive steering committee) then exercised their right in the contract to continue evaluating all three bidders, even if one of them had fallen short on technical merit.
Morgan said in his note to councillors that such discretion “was appropriate and is in the best interests of the City and taxpayers.”
Certainly SNC Lavalin’s bid was the least expensive of the three. In light of LRT’s difficult Stage 1 rollout by Rideau Transit Group — in which SNC Lavalin is a key equity investor — taxpayers might well reserve judgment on that.
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