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City to keep transit lawsuit costs in the dark

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The total legal costs spent by the city of Oshawa to date on a lawsuit with the Region of Durham regarding transit are being kept in the dark, despite the fact the region made its spending public months ago.

At a recent meeting of the Corporate Services committee, the city received a letter from resident Gord Vickers regarding the ongoing legal dispute between the city and region related to the transfer of public transit assets to the region in 2004.

“Will this legal dispute cost the taxpayers over one million dollars plus before it is resolved? This needless legal ongoing dispute could have gone a long way towards paying for financial liabilities, pensions, benefits for former Oshawa Transit retirees, and surviving spouses,” Vickers states in his letter.

In March, following repeated requests from Councillor John Neal, the region stated they had spent more than $720,000 in legal fees fighting the dispute.

On June 19, Neal made a similar request of Oshawa’s legal team following debate on the spending of other items in the Corporate Services department. Neal said he wished to have further information on the dollars spent to date in order to make future decisions on city spending.

However, city solicitor David Potts advised against making the exact figure public.

“That information, while the dispute continues, should not be the topic of open discussion,” he told councillors. “It can communicate a great deal about the parties.”

The advice did not sit well with Neal.

“I’d sooner know what we’re spending, I think the taxpayer does too,” he says. “We’re being thrown under the bus by the region on this whole process.”

Following an in-camera discussion, Neal told The Express that the figure is still not being made public, noting “it’s just not right what’s going on.”

“If they want to keep talking about this in private and letting this go on…there is no winner in this, plain and simple,” he says. “They’re not fooling anybody on this.”

Following the signing of a transfer agreement for transit assets in 2004, the region launched the $8.9 million lawsuit in 2011 over a dispute about who is responsible for covering the pensions and liabilities involved in the transit transfer. For Neal, the Oshawa taxpayers are being hit hardest by the lawsuit.

“The awkward thing is the Oshawa taxpayer is paying for both sides,” he says. “Now both sides are paying lawyer costs and they’re going to be about the same because they’re both using high profile lawyers”

The city has been using Weirfoulds LLP to fight the suit. According to the region’s report on costs, approximately $623,000 of its bill so far has gone to legal fees, the remainder going for disbursements ($18,00) and taxes ($81,000).

The lawsuit is now going to arbitration, which isn’t expected to see any movement until 2018, according to Potts.