Conflicts of interest were among the key findings of City of Ottawa Auditor General Alain Lalonde’s investigation of the Carp River Watershed Plan that was presented to Ottawa City Council today. The planned floodplain development has been embroiled in controversy for several years since the public learned in 2005 that City engineer, Ted Cooper, had been removed from the project after raising environmental and safety concerns about the development.
The Auditor found that the consultant who recommended the floodplain development plan was simultaneously under contract to land developers in Kanata West, near Scotiabank Place. Furthermore, the investigation found the City to be in a conflict of interest by virtue of it owning floodplain lands in Kanata West and being a member of the land developers group when it was also the regulator of land use in this same area.
In 2005, Mr. Cooper, 46, filed a Part II Order Request with the Ontario Minister of the Environment to request that the planned floodplain development project be subject to an individual Environmental Assessment process. He also fulfilled his duty as a professional engineer by reporting the situation to Professional Engineers Ontario, the profession’s regulatory body. Cooper alleges that, as a result of these and other actions he took to ensure the project met environmental and planning laws, the City issued a gag order and reassigned him to work on engineering matters that did not involve his expertise in watershed planning and stormwater management.
“The relationship between these conflicts of interest and Cooper’s treatment by the City deserves careful scrutiny”, stated Will Amos, staff lawyer at the uOttawa-Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic and counsel to Cooper. “He has brought forward Ontario’s first environmental whistleblower complaint under the Environmental Bill of Rights. The Auditor’s findings would appear to provide further weight to his complaint before the Ontario Labour Relations Board.”
“The audit fully supports the position that I have taken on this project since day one – that it is inconsistent with Provincial policy and underestimates the risks that the project poses to public health and safety”, commented Mr. Cooper, after reviewing the audit. “The Auditor’s findings reveal the City’s apparent lack of oversight that allowed a project involving extensive floodplain development to move so far along. My removal from this project in 2004 by the City prevented me from ensuring proper enforcement of long-standing policies and legislation.”
Ecojustice is representing Cooper because his whistleblower complaint is crucial to maintaining public trust in municipal government. “We believe that the public interest is best served when professionals like Mr. Cooper can perform their jobs without fear of reprisals from their employers,” said Amos. “Public servants should be encouraged to ensure that their employers are following the letter and intent of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”