Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, now fighting for his reputation and career in the face of an RCMP investigation, voiced his frustration at what he considered an attempt by Irving Shipbuilding Inc. to scuttle a 2015 contract Ottawa had awarded to competitor Chantier-Davie Canada Inc. of Quebec, e-mails obtained by The Globe show.
A 2015 tussle between shipbuilding rivals over a contract that was awarded without competition to Chantier-Davie figures prominently in a 16-month investigation by the Mounties that led to the suspension of Vice-Adm. Norman from his job as Canada's second-most-senior military commander.
No charges have been laid, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police allege in court documents made public this week that Vice-Adm. Norman violated the Criminal Code by leaking government secrets. The accusation arises from the force's probe into the release of information about cabinet deliberations to Chantier-Davie, which wanted Ottawa to stop delaying approval of a $667-million contract for an interim naval supply ship.
The RCMP documents have been significantly redacted and give no clear sense, even as they accuse Vice-Adm. Norman of wrongdoing, of what the motive might have been.
E-mails Vice-Adm. Norman sent to a friend in late November, 2015, however, provide insight into how he was characterizing events in private discussions after the Liberal government hit pause on the Chantier-Davie contract – a decision by Ottawa that threatened to jeopardize the orderly procurement of a supply ship.
Supply ships are floating warehouses and refuelling stations for the navy.
In the e-mails, Vice-Adm. Norman discusses a CBC news report citing unnamed sources that alleged Irving "meddled in the decision" by sending letters of complaint to several cabinet ministers including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote. Irving was upset that its Quebec rival got the contract without an open competition and even though it says it was ready with a "lower-cost option."
The Globe and Mail has confirmed the authenticity of these e-mails. At the time, Vice-Adm. Norman was the Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy. He left that job in mid-2016 to take on a larger role as vice-chief of the defence staff. He was suspended from this post in January.
In a Nov. 20, 2015, e-mail conversation about the CBC report with an unidentified second party, Vice-Adm. Norman responds to the other person's assertion that: "It would seem that Irving wants it all."
The naval officer replies: "You are right – they are being unbelievably selfish. They actually could care less about the work … they just [want] to block Davie from getting it!"
In 2011, Irving Shipbuilding's Halifax Yard was awarded the bulk of decades of government shipbuilding work, winning the right to build tens of billions of dollars worth of combat vessels, including frigates, destroyers and patrol ships, while Seaspan Marine's Vancouver Yard secured the right to build a multibillion-dollar package of non-combat vessels, including the polar-class Diefenbaker icebreaker.
Chantier-Davie did not get a piece of the pie at that time. In 2015, just before the federal election, the Harper government awarded the company a sole-source contract to retrofit a ship to serve as a temporary supply vessel for the Canadian Armed Forces, which was in sore need of one. It was widely seen as a political gift designed to win favour with voters in the Quebec City area, where Chantier-Davie is located.
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. The delay meant that cabinet might look at other, lower bids, threatening Chantier-Davie's contract.
In a statement to The Globe on Thursday, Irving Shipbuilding did not directly address the contents of Vice-Adm. Norman's e-mails, and noted that the RCMP had not contacted the company regarding its investigation. In the statement, Irving Shipbuilding president Kevin McCoy defended his company's intervention.
"In November 2015, Irving Shipbuilding wrote to the Government of Canada with our concerns related to the Interim Refueling Ship project," Mr. McCoy said. "Previously, at the invitation of the Government, Irving Shipbuilding had submitted an Interim Refueling Ship proposal which we considered offered the best value to the Canadian Navy in terms of capability, cost and schedule. … At the time of the letter we understood that no final contract had been awarded and we wanted to ensure that the new Government had all relevant information prior to making a final decision."
Vice-Adm. Norman said in the Nov. 20, 2015, e-mail conversation bemoaning the machinations that he "was prepared to go public on this if necessary."
Later that day, he sent another e-mail saying he met with officials, presumably from Irving, regarding the combat vessel construction project that the Halifax yard is undertaking. The Vice-Admiral said they apologized to him. He remained unhappy though, confiding in the e-mail that, in his opinion, the "damage is already done."
A day later, in a subsequent e-mail, Vice-Adm. Norman says what is happening is "sole [sic] destroying" and adds that "I might be prepared to resign over this." He says: "I can't keep playing along much longer," explaining the "blatant politics of this (and too many other similar files) is just beyond what should be reasonable."
The person he was conversing with argued that his resignation would make no difference and it would be better to stay on. "Historically in Canada, the resignation of a senior officer becomes a momentary event and then nothing changes. It is always better to remain and carry on the fight," Vice-Adm. Norman's confidante urged.
Vice-Adm. Norman's lawyer said his client had no comment to make about his e-mails.
The RCMP court documents suggest Chantier-Davie and a sister company were attempting to press the Trudeau cabinet to stick with the contract.
Vice-Adm. Norman was Canada's second-most-senior military commander when he was suspended from his duties three months ago after RCMP raided his home and questioned him extensively. It is not known what the police seized during the raid or what the suspended military commander told the Mounties.
The CBC story took the Liberal cabinet by surprise. Mr. Brison told the RCMP that "rendering of this [classified information] into the public domain did an awful lot to limit our ability to what we'd [the committee] intended to do, and that is more due diligence on this."
The government approved the Chantier-Davie deal on Nov. 30 and the project went ahead.
Vice-Adm. Norman last year publicly complained that delays in shipbuilding programs hurt the navy. "It's important to keep in mind that [the delays were] completely avoidable," he said in 2016.
Mr. Brison on Thursday did not directly answer a question on whether he had wanted the supply ship contract to be decided by open competition instead of being directly awarded to Chantier-Davie. "We take defence procurement very seriously as a government, and our defence procurement committee [of cabinet] is very active on all of these files and will continue to ensure that our men and women in uniform get the best possible equipment in competitive processes that render the best possible value for taxpayers," Mr. Brison said.
Asked again about the 2015 Davie contract, Mr. Brison twice said: "Thank you very much."