LRT inquiry lawyer questions consultant Brian Guest’s political and family ties

A consultant who was deeply involved in planning Ottawa’s light rail system faced questions Monday at the LRT public inquiry about whether his family and political ties led to his key role in the city’s rail office.

The light rail commission’s co-lead counsel methodically laid out Brian Guest’s work history, which involved working for former mayor Bob Chiarelli and being on Mayor Jim Watson’s transition team as he took office in 2010.

Lawyer John Adair also established Guest had done work for waste-to-energy company Plasco, work Guest did not explicitly detail in the resume he submitted to the inquiry, Adair pointed out.

Adair also laid out Guest’s family connections to the city, pointing out that his sister, Robyn Guest, worked in former city manager Kent Kirkpatrick’s office, and she is currently working in Watson’s office. As well, Robyn’s husband Chris Swail was the chief of staff for deputy city manager Nancy Schepers — the city’s rail office answered to her — when Guest and his firm Boxfish were hired to consult for the city on the LRT in 2011.

Adair also tried to connect Guest’s work with Plasco to family ties.

That firm received $4 million from the province back in 2007 when Watson was the provincial cabinet minister who announced the grant, and then ten years ago Plasco signed a conditional $120-million deal with the city.

Do you agree…the circumstances under which you got this contract at least raise some questions about how you came to have the engagement?”– Lawyer John Adair

The inquiry heard Monday that Guest even sat in on meetings for Plasco, while also doing separate contract work for the city. Schepers’ department also oversaw waste management.

Guest also consulted in 2010 and 2011 on the city budget.

“So at the time that you got the light rail project contract in 2011, your brother-in-law was the chief of staff to Ms. Schepers, and your sister was working for Mr. Kirkpatrick?” Adair asked.

“That’s correct,” Guest answered.

“And do you agree with me now, sir, that the circumstances under which you got this contract at least raise some questions about how you came to have the engagement?” Adair asked.

“I don’t,” said Guest. “I mean, I understand that’s what you’re implying, but I don’t think that there’s any substance to that.”

Guest awarded successive contacts

Guest and his firm, Boxfish, applied in 2011 to be added to the city’s so-called standing offer list — a list of companies from which the city could hire companies without triggering a competition, as long as the contract was worth less than $150,000. Boxfish was hired for subsequent contracts for about six months at a time for just under $150,000 each time.

The inquiry heard Guest made about $600,000 consulting on the first stage of the Confederation Line by the fall of 2013, although he and Boxfish would later sign a deal for Stage 2 for up to $2 million.

Pedestrians try to make their way down Queen Street on Aug. 18, 2016 during LRT construction. City staff have credited Brian Guest with suggesting the tunnel travel under Queen Street, at a shallower depth. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC)

Guest testified he was invited by former rail office director John Jensen to advise the city in 2011, when it seemed to have a “slavish” focus on digging the tunnel along a far deeper, different route that could cost an extra billion dollars.

City staff have credited him with suggesting the tunnel travel under Queen Street, at a shallower depth.

Adair pointed to a 2013 letter Guest sent the city in which he said “Boxfish innovations” would lead to awards — innovations such as the tunnel change and helping transfer geo-technical risk to the private partner.

But the commission counsel asked why the city needed Guest’s expertise if it was already paying Deloitte millions for financial advice, and millions more to Capital Transit Partners  — including STV Inc. Aecom, and Morrison Hershfield — for engineering.

Guest had no experience in public-private partnerships in 2011, Adair pointed out. Guest explained he’d had a “master class” from a former federal procurement chief Arthur Silverman and that he acted as a facilitator because he knew city hall and policy.

“Mr. Jensen, Ms. Schepers and Mr. Kirkpatrick thought that I had the requisite skills and invited me to do an important role that I felt perfectly well-qualified to do,” Guest said, adding that both his sister and brother-in-law brought integrity to their jobs.

Critical e-mails become evidence

Dozens of documents have been entered as evidence during the public hearings, and Monday saw three more e-mail chains about Guest.

One e-mail chain saw Infrastructure Ontario executives commenting negatively about Guest when CBC reported he had returned to the rail office run by Swail.

A second e-mail chain among Capital Transit Partners members suggested the city wanted Boxfish to run the Stage 2 procurement.

And of course, the commission asked Guest about the personal e-mail he wrote Chiarelli last fall, where he said an inquiry would “screw” him. Guest explained to the commission, as he did to CBC when it first reported on the e-mail, that he was worried about Chiarelli’s legacy and about the time and energy an inquiry would require.

“It was strictly because I’m a private person, I don’t relish being in this sort of environment,” Guest explained to the commission, pointing our he is working on “$100 billion worth of capital projects in Toronto” through the Metrolinx provincial transit agency.

RTG takes issue with Guest e-mail

At times the testimony at the public inquiry has come close to referencing the legal suits and claims over light rail currently in the courts.

Linda Rothstein, the lawyer for the RTG parties, drew attention to part of the Chiarelli e-mail where Guest wrote the problems with the LRT were a “failure of the private sector partner to properly design and construct and
maintain the system — pure and simple.”

Guest went on to say the companies needed to be held to account, adding that “it is really shitty that this system has been unstable and the consortium has failed to respond properly” and that RTG “should lose their shirt and we should default them, sue them and spend what it takes to fix what is wrong on their dime.”

Boxfish has advised the city on major construction claims, and Rothstein charged he was encouraging the city to “play hard ball” with RTG.

Guest said he has been “tempered” on the subject, and hasn’t been a major player in figuring out how to get RTG to perform.

On Tuesday, the inquiry will hear from STV consultant Thomas Prendergast in the morning, and the city’s former transportation general manager, John Manconi.

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