The law firm that helped guide the City of Ottawa through the controversial Stage 2 LRT procurement process collected nearly $1.8 million from the municipality in 2019, a new report says.
The city selected Norton Rose Fulbright as a chief legal and procurement advisor for the Stage 2 contracts after a contract competition for the work in 2016. The company received $1,792,801.91 for providing legal advice in 2019.
The company made about $2.3 million from LRT-related work in 2018, but the city says the work was for elements of Stage 1 and Stage 2.
The 2019 expenses are in an annual report summarizing the work of the city's legal department. The report is scheduled to be received by the finance and economic development committee during a meeting on March 9.
There's interest from many city councillors in the work of Norton Rose Fulbright in light of the Trillium Line expansion contract, which was awarded to SNC-Lavalin in 2019. SNC-Lavalin failed to meet a minimum technical score during the bid evaluation, but was allowed to continue to the financial component of the process. The city based its decision to keep SNC-Lavalin alive in the procurement process on advice from Norton Rose Fulbright.
Council has waived the city's solicitor-client rights and ordered the legal advice released to the public ahead of the next finance committee meeting.
The city has said there was no conflict of interest in having Norton Rose Fulbright provide key legal and procurement services for Stage 2, even though the company had advised SNC-Lavalin in the past.
Hiring lawyers is the cost of doing business when it comes to major infrastructure projects. The city just doesn't have enough resources and expertise to handle the complex legal work on its own.
All external legal spending tied to light rail totalled nearly $3.7 million in 2019, the report says.
Like 2018, the city tapped three law firms to handle the work.
Borden, Ladner, Gervais, which is the city's top legal advisor for Stage 1 LRT, billed $1,531,633.43 for LRT-related work in 2019. That work would continue since the city and the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) have been disagreeing about payments during the construction and now the maintenance of the 12.5-kilometre LRT line. As RTG disputes the penalties imposed by the city under the contract, the city's legal costs will likely rise.
The third law firm involved in the city's LRT work, Singleton Urquhart Reynolds Vogel, billed $365,478.48 last year.
The O-Train project has contributed heavily to the cost of city legal bills.
When it came to all legal consultants in 2019, the city spent a total of $7.2 million. The legal work included various litigation, labour matters, negotiations and other claims. The O-Train work represented just over half of all the external legal expenses last year.
The city has spent more than $20 million on legal consultants for the O-Train project since 2011, which would have been when planning for Stage 1 LRT heated up before council approved a contract award to RTG at the end of 2012.