By: David Pugliese, National Post
Two companies looking to bid on the multibillion-dollar project to build a new warship fleet for Canada have asked that the process be delayed as controversy swirls around the removal of a top military commander.
And at least another two companies are also preparing to make similar requests to the Canadian government and its prime contractor, Irving Shipbuilding, industry sources have told the Ottawa Citizen.
While the removal of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman from his command for allegedly leaking sensitive shipbuilding information has sent shock waves through the maritime industry, the main reason for the requested delay is because the Canadian Surface Combatant project is poorly structured and allows little time for firms to properly prepare bids, sources say.
But some industry representatives say the removal of Norman has only contributed to their worries that the warship project, worth more than $26 billion, is in trouble.
Norman, the former head of the Royal Canadian Navy, was the vice-chief of the defence staff until Jan. 13, at which point he was removed from command.
Chief of the Defence Gen. Jon Vance, who originally selected Norman for the VCDS position, made the decision to remove him.
Vance has refused to provide any details about the situation and his office claims all aspects of the case — including whether taxpayers are still paying Norman — are covered under federal privacy provisions.
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The mystery surrounding Norman’s removal, and allegations from sources that it was linked to the unauthorized leak of information about the Canadian Surface Combatant program, has only further raised questions about the project, company representatives contend.
The Liberal government announced Oct. 27, 2016, that Irving Shipbuilding had issued a request for proposals from companies on the design of the new warships.
The firms have until April 27 to provide those bids, which must not only include the design but details of teaming arrangements with Canadian firms.
Allowing only six months to compile bids for one of the largest procurements in Canadian history doesn’t make sense, say representatives of some of the companies. The extent of the technical data and other information the Canadian government requires is overwhelming, they added.
Jean-François Létourneau, a spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, confirmed Thursday that Irving has received two requests for an extension to the closing date for the bids.
He did not provide the names of the firms requesting the extension.
“Irving Shipyards and the Government of Canada are considering these requests,” Létourneau noted. “Responses to these requests will be provided to all bidders.”
Twelve firms have been pre-approved to bid on the surface combatant program.
Over the past several months, various firms have highlighted to the Liberal government their serious concerns about the project and are frustrated Procurement Minister Judy Foote has not acted to deal with those issues, industry sources added.
The project will provide a future warship fleet for the Royal Canadian Navy.
Norman has not commented on his removal from command.
But the senior officer has been vocal in his concerns that the federal government seriously misjudged on the amount of money needed to build the Canadian Surface Combatants. In addition, he has privately raised concerns that the Royal Canadian Navy might not get enough ships in the future because of how the shipbuilding plan is devised.
Norman’s concerns are well known inside the Liberal government.
In December 2015, he told CBC journalist James Cudmore that the Canadian public had not been given accurate information about the growing price of the surface combatants. He said just the warships alone will likely cost $30 billion. With added costs, that price tag could climb to $42 billion.
Cudmore is now a procurement advisor for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
Public Services and Procurement Canada declined to comment on whether Norman‘s removal will have any impact on the Canadian Surface Combatant program. It referred that question to the Department of National Defence.
DND refused to comment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to provide any additional details about Norman’s removal. But he and Sajjan said they supported Vance in his decision to remove Norman.