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Calgary councillors clear the air on SNC-Lavalin Green Line selection

Five firms were selected - including SNC-Lavalin - to help steer the delivery, not construction, of the $5.5 billion Green Line LRT project.

Calgary city councillors questioned the Green Line procurement process as some said they’re dealing with citizen concerns over the inclusion of certain companies in the $5.5 billion project’s delivery.

The Green Line Board CEO told councillors the procurement process is laid out clearly and not a political decision made by council.  

The questions were raised during the Green Line Board report at Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting. While none of the querying councillors mentioned any names, it’s presumed the concern lies around the inclusion of Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin.

SNC-Lavalin is one of five companies included in the megaproject’s delivery partnership – not development (construction).  The delivery partner will support the Phase 1 (Shepard to Eau Claire) portion. There is still an RFP out for a development partner. A selection is expected later this spring. After that, there will be a roughly 12-month project review process before shovels hit the ground sometime in 2024.

While the city made the initial delivery partner announcement last November, SNC-Lavalin issued a public statement late last week.

After the news, Calgarians were concerned about the selection given SNC-Lavalin’s history, and alleged ties to the federal Liberal government. They were also a part of an Ottawa transit project that ran into major technical issues, outlined in a 2020 report.  

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer started off the questions, asking about the public chatter and the competencies they look for in partner selection.

Green Line CEO Darshpreet Bhatti told councillors that the group is well-known both internationally and in Canada and have successfully delivered infrastructure projects.

“As I said, each project, you can view it from different lenses,” Bhatti said.

“Yes, they’ve had challenges, but a lot of them have been done successfully. We wanted to make sure that those lessons learned actually are on our side as the owner.”

Bhatti went on to say that they asked each proponent about the value they would bring to the project. That included the knowledge base they’d gained from recent past projects.

Politicians not making contract decisions, said CEO Bhatti

Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said citizens are concerned about the Green Line contract selection process.

“My inbox has been flooded with residents and citizens that are concerned about the selection process,” he told media outside council Tuesday.

“SNC-Lavalin is a very contentious company, I guess. And so that’s where they’re concerned about how the selection process is done. Now, to be clear, I share those concerns.”

In the meeting, Coun. McLean asked Bhatti about the process involved in procurement.

“Just elaborate on the process of what you’re using for which companies are selected and permitted to participate in the project,” McLean said.

Bhatti said all contracts look for conflict of interest. There are trade agreements that must be complied with, he said. Canadian law outlines collusion or those who have been indicted for wrongdoing, he said. They have external legal counsel examining the contracts, too.

“All of these companies, when they bid on our projects, they actually have to give us a certificate by a senior officer who can bind the organization, or affirms collectively, to be able to say that everyone in that company that is being put forward has a name to work on the project as well as the company is compliant with those requirements,” he said.

“This is vetted through an independent fairness review.”

Coun. Andre Chabot raised the point of political involvement in the decisions.

“I don’t think it’s clear out there that a lot of folks think that somehow we are involved in the actual selection of who gets awarded the contract,” Chabot said.  

Bhatti said there’s a rigorous scoring system and they apply a fairness and transparency test and then a contract is selected by the Green Line Board.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek went one step further to confirm that councillors aren’t involved in contract selection.

“Did council make the selection?” Mayor Gondek asked.

“No, they did not,” Bhatti said.  

“Did we play a role in making that selection?” The mayor followed up.

“Not whatsoever,” Bhatti said.

The board report was approved by committee.