Light rail: Ottawa mayor 'obsessed' with details, according to WhatsApp exchanges

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Light rail: Ottawa”s mayor “obsessed” with details, according to WhatsApp exchanges

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Former Chief Transportation Officer John Manconi and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson on September 14, 2019, the day of the light rail launch (files).

The Mayor of&# x27;Ottawa's Jim Watson is “notorious for wanting a high level of detail,” former OC Transpo general manager John Manconi said during a hearing of the OC Transpo Commission. public inquiry into Ottawa's light rail transit last week. The lawyers then asked him how involved the mayor was in launching the light rail system.

Mr. Watson himself swore to commission counsel in April that he was in the crow's nest and was looking at 30,000 feet. However, he said he did not go into detail about the Confederation line.

Since then, a chain of hundreds of messages sent on WhatsApp in the fall of 2019, released this week in full as evidence before the Commission, matches the description of the mayor's style substantiated by Mr. Manconi. These posts provide unprecedented insight into how Mayor Watson leads City Hall.

During the particularly difficult period following the launch of light rail , Jim Watson kept asking for information about the system.

He even gave his opinion on points of detail. He thus suggested to John Manconi that the employees on the platforms equipped with red jackets [the light rail ambassadors, editor’s note] shout out the routes of the buses put in place when the light rail was experiencing difficulties. He also asked if shovels were available for snow removal.

This WhatsApp group was created a few months before Mr. Watson was added to it. As part of the public inquiry, the lawyers looked into these messages in order to unravel the thread of events leading up to the final test of the light rail in the summer of 2019.

It was also a question of determining who could have been at the origin of the decision to return to lower evaluation criteria, after a failed departure.

Prior to Jim Watson's arrival in the focus group, City Manager Steve Kanellakos, Transit Commission Chairman Councilor Allan Hubley and staff from the Mayor's office discussed the test results and milestones…and even noticed spilled blueberries on an escalator on the light rail's grand opening day.

Following issues when OC Transpo went totally from bus to train, John Manconi sent a message to the group asking for help from the mayor's chief of staff, Serge Arpin, and his assistant, Mathieu Gravel, because the mayor sends me text messages frequently.

They then decided that Jim Watson should receive updates from the WhatsApp channel – one of many City of Ottawa channels, as evidenced by the odd messages to various threads – and John Manconi finally added him to the group on October 23.

So began a torrent of messages from the mayor, often misspelled, as #x27;he demanded updates on all aspects of light rail and worried that our reputation is in tatters.

As soon as he joined the WhatsApp thread, Mr. Watson seemed obsessed with the messages the OC Transpo Twitter account was sending to passengers about delays and how they didn't correspond. not what he had heard directly from John Manconi.

Why does the Twitter account always show delays? It's been 20 minutes and yet you tell me the problem was solved in five minutes, it reads. CFRA [an Ottawa private radio] gets its information from your feed, so it's hard to blame them, when we still have an old tweet, he adds.

The mayor also added his voice to John Manconi, who was concerned that one of the Transit Commission members, Sarah Wright-Gilbert, was destroying us with false information during a ;an interview on the same private radio station. Mr. Watson suggested she be removed from the committee and urged Mr. Manconi to use attacks on staff as an issue.

Ms. x27;is defended last week following the filing of this exhibit during Jim Watson's testimony before the Commission.

On Sunday, October 27, Mayor Watson was placed aware of multiple train breakdowns.

This is ridiculous. I want a parallel bus service ready to run all next week as a backup. We have no credibility at this stage, he wrote.

He then ordered staff to arrange a meeting with Group representatives Transport Rideau and Rideau Transit Maintenance at their office.

Retain all payments to them. They must not receive a penny until I, personally, give you permission, continued Mr. Watson.

Just five days after adding it, John Manconi wrote: Mr. Mayor please I get so many messages from you on multiple channels and from your staff. I will respond to each of them. All are taken into account. We are drowning in message overload.

Mr. Watson persisted, checking for updates regarding the installation of non-slip coating on station stairs and straps for passengers to hold on to on trains.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, center, in light rail with a number of city officials and politicians on August 23, 2019, when the City symbolically accepted the Rideau Transit Group's rail system (file).

When the Mayor rode the light rail that fall, he harassed City leaders about everything he saw. For example, he sent this series of messages on the morning of November 11:

  • Watson at 9:35:13: I'm heading for the& #x27;is at Tremblay station and it says the train is on hold.

  • Watson at 9:35:43: Is& #x27;is anyone there?

  • Watson at 9:36:46: Ok, the train is leaving.

  • Watson at 9:41:40: Can the conductor shout the stops until the train is fixed? Will he or she know it's not working?

  • Watson at 9:49:24: PA system is now working !

  • Watson at 9:51:31: It's stopped working.

  • Watson at 9:51:52: He just announced Saint-Laurent and we're in Tremblay.

  • Watson at 9:54:32: Can someone turn off the PA system that is playing the wrong station every time.

  • Watson at 10:03:44: Please answer and turn off the PA. He announces all the bad stations!!!!

  • Councillor Hubley at 10:04:18: Mayor, I'm going to call.

  • Watson at 10:04:56: Very frustrating. Especially if a blind person gets on the train.

  • Manconi at 10:07:15: The system should reset at the end of the line.

On another ride, Jim Watson told John Manconi to ask support staff to tell riders to take off their backpacks because OC Transpo might get more riders into the cars if they put them between their backpacks. feet.

Mayor Watson even made several suggestions regarding train switches and yard operations that John Manconi had to reject.

Light rail riders wait for the bus at Blair Station, following a light rail breakdown on the morning of October 22, 2019 (on file).

Mr. Watson also wanted a rope-like barricade to prevent riders from holding doors when a train departs.

That's impossible. It's against all safety rules, replied John Manconi. You had the option during the design and tender phase to implement [sic] screen doors that are designed to do exactly what you ask, but that was not not affordable according to your budget limit.

During this time, Mr. Manconi frequently asked the mayor where he got his information on transit issues, and had to warn him when other Twitter posts from others didn't properly describe the situation.

< p class="e-p">The mayor did not reserve his frustration for discussions with senior City officials.

On November 22, 2019, Jim Watson requested a call with Peter Lauch, then CEO of the Rideau Transportation Group (GTR).

I am furious, writes Jim Watson. I start the morning with one breakdown and end the afternoon with another.

John Manconi then gave him Mr. Lauch's cell phone number and 12 minutes later, the mayor replied, I just blaster Peter. This technician should be fired and replaced.

Former Rideau Transportation Group CEO Peter Lauch speaking a press conference in February 2020 (archive)

John Manconi himself didn't mince words when addressing the staff of Alstom and Rideau Transit Maintenance on WhatsApp threads, calling them clowns, morons and idiots.

Throughout the year, John Manconi promised to provide information to the mayor, but on December 7 – a Saturday – Mr. Manconi finally told him: Today I am trying to take rest and do things for me that I haven't been able to do for months, so can I ask you that we talk about all this at our weekly meeting?

December 13, the mayor asked: What happened in Cyrville and are you not alerting me to this forum anymore?

It is clear from other message chains that John Manconi continued to receive text messages and directives from the mayor afterward, such as the order to stop publicizing the few trains in operation on line, that winter.

These threads were not among the half-million documents the City of Ottawa originally provided to the commission of inquiry. The City's outside attorney, Peter Wardle, maintained that the Commission had said it did not want documents from personal devices.

Mr. Wardle described the messages as ephemeral and disposable, per the City's records policy, and Mr. Watson said his eyes clouded over as he read the informative messages exchanged between City employees. City.

On June 30, Co-Lead Commission Counsel John Adair, however, asked Mayor Watson why he had not mentioned the existence of these sworn messages during his pre-trial interview. ;hearing, in April 2022.

I will suggest, sir, that you knew […] that these WhatsApp messages were important and that you specifically chose not to disclose them , right?

No, replied the mayor. I didn't think it was that important. It was snippets here and there. It wasn't substantial at all. The more substantial information came from meetings we had with our suppliers and staff.

Since its commissioning, the light rail had many problems (archives).

Nor did John Manconi speak to the Commission about these messages at the time of his interview. During his June 28 testimony, he told Mr. Adair that he had completely forgotten about the WhatsApp chats.

Mr. in charge of light rail by the city of Ottawa and what the two men could have exchanged by text, when the mayor was not yet on the WhatsApp thread. Mr. Adair had seen references to these texts, but none had been delivered.

I'm going to suggest that if the mayor of the town is texting you non-stop, that& #x27;is pressure on you to achieve [the light rail launch]?

No. No, replied John Manconi. Absolutely not.

He has incredible energy levels and wants to know what's going on, not just on public transit, even on my days at public works or in my other portfolios.

With information from Kater Porter, CBC

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