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Vice-Admiral Mark Norman inspects a guard of honour in 2013.

Cpl. Michael Bastien/Department of National Defence

Irving Shipbuilding says e-mails by Vice-Admiral Mark Norman that characterize the Halifax company as "greedy and self-serving" and malign top executives as the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" are insulting, and show Ottawa did not seriously consider its proposal for a big-ticket navy ship that was awarded without competition to Quebec's Davie shipyard instead.

Vice-Adm. Norman is the subject of an RCMP probe, and e-mails he sent in 2015 and 2016 were made public this week after a judge lifted a sealing order on an affidavit that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police used to obtain a warrant in its investigation.

The RCMP allege in court documents that when he was head of the Royal Canadian Navy, Vice-Adm. Norman divulged cabinet secrets to an executive with a Quebec-based shipyard and advised him how to use the media to pressure the Liberals into approving a $667-million contract to build a navy supply vessel.

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The allegations in the RCMP affidavit have not been tested in court, and Vice-Adm. Norman has not been charged with a crime as a result of the probe, which the Mounties dubbed Project Anchor.

The affidavit includes e-mails from Vice-Adm. Norman to Spencer Fraser, CEO of Federal Fleet Services, the company in charge of refitting a cargo ship to serve as a naval supply vessel at the Chantier Davie Canada Inc. shipyard in Lévis, Que.

E-mail correspondence with Mr. Fraser suggests Vice-Adm. Norman was critical of the four top executives at Irving Shipbuilding. In one e-mail, the admiral referred to them as the "four horsemen of the apocalypse," a derogatory reference to malignant forces in the Bible: war, pestilence, famine and death.

In a statement released Friday, Irving said the e-mails are upsetting. "We are obviously offended by the characterization of Irving Shipbuilding and our executives that have been disclosed in e-mails released with the RCMP affidavit."

The company, which says it has built more than 80 per cent of Canada's naval vessels, said it's also worried that the e-mails "appear to suggest the exchange of sensitive information in the middle of what should have been a fair, open and transparent process to provide a critical capability for Canada's navy."

Vice-Adm. Norman was the commander of the navy when the Harper government awarded the contract, without competition, to Davie in 2015 in a move that was criticized as vote-pandering in Quebec. Soon after taking power in November, 2015, the Trudeau Liberals put the supply-ship project on hold after receiving a letter of complaint from Irving Shipbuilding, which already had a multibillion-dollar contract to build a fleet of warships for the navy.

Vice-Adm. Norman sought to press the Liberals into sticking with the Davie contract.

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Irving Shipbuilding CEO James Irving tried to persuade the federal government to tear up the sole-source contract with Chantier Davie, arguing that his firm had offered a lower-cost option. Another shipbuilder, Vancouver-based Seaspan, also wrote a letter, calling for an open competition and insisting it could convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply vessel at a significantly lower cost.

In its Friday statement, Irving noted that it had put forward a proposal to provide a supply ship as well. "We invested approximately $400,000 into our proposal. On several occasions we discussed our proposal with Vice-Admiral Norman and his staff to ensure we understood the navy's priorities and mission requirements."

Irving said it also presented this proposal to a "formal evaluation board comprised of navy staff, members from the Department of National Defence, Industry Canada, and Public Works and Government Services."

It said it could have delivered the same sort of ship for far less money than Davie. "The $660-million dollar cost of the Davie contract reported in the press is three times the cost of Irving Shipbuilding's $220-million proposal. Moreover, our proposal would have been delivered in half the time of the Davie proposal with much more capability. If our proposal had been adopted, the interim refuelling capability would now be in service by the Royal Canadian Navy today."

The Halifax firm said it had thought its alternative proposal had been given a fair hearing in Canada but it no longer believes that. "Irving Shipbuilding worked hard at the request of the navy to develop an innovative, affordable and expedited solution to the navy's critical need for an interim refuelling capability. We did so with the expectation that our proposal would be evaluated fairly based on best value for Canada. The Court's disclosure yesterday shows otherwise."

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