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'Purchase price doesn't tell you everything:' Chiarelli demanding transparency on light rail land purchases

City Councillor for College ward Rick Chiarelli filed a Freedom of Information request to get details about LRT land acquisition.
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Ottawa City Councillor Rick Chiarelli, December 2018. Mike Vlasveld/ OttawaMatters

One city councillor is raising more questions regarding transparency in the City of Ottawa's dealings with land owners for its light rail project. 

College ward's Rick Chiarelli wants to know how much the city paid for the land along the Confederation Line, who was involved in the deal and if there were any side deals made to secure land. 

"They could sell you the land for a dollar, but you have to build them another building for $6-million," explained Chiarelli. "The single purchase price doesn't tell you everything." 

Chiarelli said he wants to make sure all land-owners involved in LRT-related negotiations were treated equally, but those details are not public, and they're not even being made available to members of council. 

The councillor had to file a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act Request (MFIPPA) in May of 2018 to try to get the answers he was looking for, however he has since put those proceedings on hold to allow for the information to come in a report during a future meeting at Ottawa City Hall. 

Chiarelli said if that report doesn't include the information he's looking for, he will reactivate his formal information request. 

The councillor noted that it should not have gotten to this point. 

"I think it's ridiculous," he said. "I think if you talk to lawyers out there, they're going to tell you there is no reason that this information can't be given to council at least in-camera, if not in public."

Chiarelli doesn't understand how why this information is being kept under wraps, considering how close the project is to being completed. 

"I can see no reason for keeping anything from anybody, especially not council, when [light rail transit is] almost ready to open, every piece of land has been built on, there is no question out there as to who owns the land."

When it comes to transparency for council, Chiarelli said there are different levels. 

"If you want to find out how much I spent on lunch, you'll get that in 10 days, easy, no problem," he explained. "But if you want to find out how much we spent to acquire land, each of the pieces of land for light rail phase one, you're not getting that." 

If there are issues with the way the city was able to get its hands on the land, Chiarelli said council will have to answer for that as they are accountable for the decisions made. 

In response to Chiarelli's comments on Tuesday, the city's General Manager of Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development announced that the requested report regarding property settlements for Stage 1 LRT will come to the October 1, 2019 Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting. 

Stephen Willis said that the report would summarize the total settlements paid to property owners and tenants that were impacted by the construction but it would not include nine files where claims have not yet been settled. 

Willis also noted that the city's Auditor General, Ken Hughes is in the process of completing his review of the Stage 1 LRT land acquisition process and his report is expected in the fall. 


Jenn Pritchard

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