Quebec shipyard shrugs off Norman controversy, touts benefits of new supply ship

Davie shrugs off controversy, touts new ship

OTTAWA — The Quebec shipbuilding company at the centre of the RCMP’s case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is shrugging off the controversy and says it is on track to deliver an interim supply ship for the navy this fall.

Chantier-Davie has been under the microscope since court documents emerged last week in which the RCMP allege Norman leaked cabinet secrets to the shipbuilding company.

The Mounties allege Norman was upset that the Liberals were reconsidering a $700-million plan hatched by the Conservatives to have Davie to convert a civilian ship into an interim navy supply vessel.

John Schmidt, vice-president of Federal Fleet Services, which Davie set up to manage the ship project, wouldn’t comment on the RCMP’s case against Norman.

That includes an email submitted to the court in which Schmidt suggests trying to “pressure” Treasury Board President Scott Brison as part of an apparent effort to get the Liberals to stick with the Davie deal.

“We certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong,” Schmidt said of Davie’s actions in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Other than that, I can’t comment.”

But Schmidt was quick to tout the actual conversion project, which he said is on budget and entering the final stage of completion following the arrival of a key module from Finland.

And he suggested the military — as well as all Canadians — will be happy with the results once the ship, which goes by the name MV Asterix, is delivered to the navy later this year.

“People will judge Asterix based on the quality of that vessel,” he said, “and the great work done by the people at Davie.”

No charges have been laid against Norman, who was appointed vice-chief of the defence staff in August 2016, then abruptly suspended without explanation on Jan. 16 by defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance.

Norman’s lawyer, Marie Henein, said in a statement in February that the admiral, a 36-year-veteran of the military, “unequivocally denies any wrongdoing.”

The Conservatives gave Davie the $700-million interim supply-ship project without a competition in summer 2015, after changing the procurement rules to allow for such a sole-sourced contract.

The move came after both the navy’s ancient resupply ships were forced into early retirement, leaving the force without a key capability for operating over extended periods at sea.

Two permanent resupply ships are being built by Vancouver-based Seaspan Marine, but the first won’t be in the water until 2021 at the earliest.

Questions have been raised about Davie’s decision to send some of the work associated with the Asterix to Finland, most notably construction of the vessel’s superstructure.

Schmidt said the actual amount of work that was sent overseas was worth only about 15 per cent of the total contract, and that the move was necessary to meet the navy’s requirements.

“Because of the tight timeline in the project and the fact that we had other work ongoing in the shipyard at the same time, in order to keep the schedule, we had to find someone who could assist us.”

There has also been criticism over the fact the navy won’t own the Asterix, but that it is instead being leased to the military for five years, with a second five-year option.

The vessel will also include a mixed crew of civilians and military personnel, which is unusual for a naval ship.

Schmidt said the Asterix was never intended to replace the two resupply ships being built in Vancouver, even as he defended the lease arrangement as a new form of “alternative service delivery.”

In fact, he says Davie is hoping the government will be so happy with the results that it or other NATO allies will order more to address the alliance’s well-known shortage of such supply ships.

If Davie is concerned about any potential fallout from the Norman case, it’s not showing it as the company has also pitched the idea of leasing converted icebreakers to the Canadian Coast Guard.

“We’re using a world-class icebreaker that can meet a polar-class requirement,” Schmidt said of one vessel that is currently docked in Tampa, Fla.

“That vessel is sitting there ready to go with very little work. A few weeks in Davie … and the vessel could be serving in the Arctic.”

– Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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