Mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette says city council has lost the moral authority to approve the $590-million rapid-transit megaproject.
Ouellette said given the mismanagement and over-expenditures with the fire hall replacement program and the new police headquarters, the public no longer trusts politicians and senior administrators at city hall.
"City council is a lame duck council and they have failed as a city council and they should not be continuing with these major projects right now," Ouellette said. "I don't think they have the moral authority or the mandate to proceed."
Ouellette was commenting on the debate at city hall about whether Winnipeg should complete the dedicated bus corridor to the University of Manitoba or begin work on a light-rail system linking downtown to Transcona and the U of M.
While an overwhelming majority of council rejected switching to LRT this week, council must still vote at its June meeting to approve the bus project. They will vote on whether to shelve the BRT project until the outcome of a non-binding referendum.
Next week, the city will hold a hearing on the business plan for the completion of the bus transitway.
Ouellette, a 37-year-old U of M administrator with 10 years' military experience and a PhD, but no political experience, entered the mayoral race last week promising to restore accountability to civic politics.
Ouellette said he wouldn't support a referendum, adding politicians should be confident enough to proceed based on a project's planning.
However, Ouellette said he doesn't believe city hall has conducted the research and planning necessary to justify the BRT project, adding he believes the public has lost confidence in city hall.
"With all the questions surrounding the ethical standards related to many of the dealings that go on at city hall, (the BRT report) is very suspect," Ouellette said. "That lack of accountability, the lack of transparency at the city is a huge hindrance to people's ability to believe in a project like this."
One of the proponents of the LRT option is Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who is also running for mayor. Havixbeck said LRT is the better option. She questions whether the BRT plan can be converted to LRT as its proponents insist, adding the administration refuses to put that in a report.
Two other mayoral candidates, Gord Steeves and Brian Bowman, said they support the completion of the BRT corridor but they disagree on the need for a referendum.
Steeves said he opposes any referendum.
"You're elected to make decisions," said the former St. Vital councillor. "Make a decision, yay or nay."
Bowman said he supports the idea of a referendum, as he said he likes the idea of consulting residents about spending on big-ticket items.
City hall suffers from an absence of leadership on transit development, Bowman said.
"Watching city council fumble this issue make me feel like I’m in the movie Groundhog Day."
Ouellette said he favours LRT over BRT, adding BRT is at best a short-gap solution — cheaper and more flexible — but said urban planning experts conclude LRT is the best, long-term rapid transit solution.
With files from Bartley Kives