Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, left, greets officers at a change of command ceremony in Halifax on July 12, 2013. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Irving Shipbuilding is dismissing allegations it tried to meddle in a federal government contract at the centre of the RCMP investigation of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, but says it nevertheless could have supplied a naval ship for less than half the price and in half the time.
Private e-mails sent by Vice-Adm. Norman in November, 2015 – a key period under probe by the Mounties – accuse Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding of interfering in a contract that was awarded without competition to Quebec’s Chantier-Davie shipyard. It was a massive deal, worth $667-million, to refit a vessel for the Canadian navy to use as a temporary supply ship.
“They are being unbelievably selfish,” Vice-Adm. Norman wrote of Irving Shipbuilding in a November, 2015, e-mail to a friend. “They could care less about the work. They just [want] to block Davie from getting it.”
The private e-mails were leaked to the media last week on the day The Globe and Mail reported details from court documents that revealed the RCMP allege Vice-Adm. Norman violated the Criminal Code by leaking government secrets. The RCMP allegation arises from the force’s 16-month probe into the release of information about cabinet deliberations to Chantier-Davie, which wanted Ottawa to stop delaying approval of the contract.
In the e-mails, Vice-Adm. Norman was discussing the fact that Irving Shipbuilding CEO James Irving wrote a letter to the Trudeau government complaining that the contract with Chantier-Davie was awarded without competition. Vice-Adm. Norman appeared to be concerned Irving might jeopardize the contract, which the Liberals put on hold in November, 2015, as they re-examined the deal, which the former Harper government had reached.
The e-mails suggest Vice-Adm. Norman was worried the cabinet delay on the supply ship, a floating warehouse and refuelling station vital for keeping vessels at sea functioning, would make the navy unable to perform key duties. Canada’s navy does not currently have a functioning supply ship.
After its name surfaced last week, media-shy Irving Shipbuilding approached The Globe to say it felt obliged to explain what guided its intervention in 2015. The firm is owned by a branch of the New Brunswick-based Irving family, ranked as one of Canada’s richest families.
Kevin McCoy, president of Irving Shipbuilding, pointed out that the previous government had asked his firm to submit a proposal for a supply ship in 2014. Mr. McCoy said the Royal Canadian Navy had requested that his firm put together a pitch for the ship to serve while Canada procured permanent new vessels.
“Our proposal, which met all of Canada’s stated requirements, was less than half the cost and would have taken half the time with more capability than the sole-sourced conversion selected,” Mr. McCoy said in a statement to The Globe. “The Chantier-Davie solution involves excessive modifications to meet Canada’s requirements and delays completion to 24 months, with significant risk.”
Before the 2015 election, the Harper cabinet suddenly decided to circumvent the government’s open competition and due diligence rules to award the contract to Chantier-Davie, which is based in Lévis, Que., the riding of then-public safety minister Steven Blaney.
“Obviously, we had some concerns with the procurement process. We expressed those concerns to the new government as part of an ongoing transparent dialogue,” Mr. McCoy said. “Our outreach to the newly elected [Liberal] Government of Canada highlighted our concerns and requested that our proposal be fairly evaluated.”
Seaspan, a B.C.-based rival, also wrote to the new Liberal government asking for a competition.
Mr. McCoy said his company’s proposal would have “involved less risk, been in active use by the Royal Canadian Navy today, provided more capability, and saved Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars compared to the sole-sourced conversion selected.”
He said the Irving proposal for converting an existing vessel, and a six-year lease, “including maintenance and … a Canadian crew” was for $220-million. And the work would have been performed in 12 months at the Halifax shipyard and been ready in 2016.
The Chantier-Davie contract, by comparison, was awarded in late 2015 and the ship is scheduled to be ready for service by the fall of 2017, according to the Department of National Defence.
Mr. McCoy pointed out that Chantier-Davie has outsourced what he called “the majority of construction work to Finland.”
Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended from his post as the second-most-senior commander in the Canadian military in January after the Canadian Forces became aware of the RCMP investigation.
The Mounties alleged in court documents that Vice-Adm. Norman committed a breach of trust, but their investigation – called Project Anchor – has not resulted in criminal charges.
A heavily redacted RCMP affidavit – used to obtain a judicial order to seize electronic communication devices from Vice-Adm. Norman’s home on Jan. 9 – alleges Chantier-Davie shipyard and a sister company, Federal Fleet Services, pressed the Trudeau cabinet to stick with the contract awarded by the Conservatives.
Lawyers for The Globe and Mail will argue in an Ottawa court on Thursday for the release of the unredacted version of the search warrant. The Globe is not seeking court approval to gain access to cabinet confidences that may also be in the RCMP affidavit.
Toronto lawyer Marie Henein, who represents Adm. Norman, is expected to argue that much of the affidavit should remain redacted or subject to a publication ban. She has asserted that her client “was caught in bureaucratic cross-fire” and said his “sole objective” is to advance the country’s national interest.
The documents released by the court to The Globe last week showed no indication of bureaucratic infighting.