PM gives go-ahead to replace Sea Kings
Date: Wednesday, December 17 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics
The federal government will formally call for bids this week on its $3-billion contract to replace Canada's aging fleet of Sea King helicopters, ending a decade-long saga marked by allegations of political meddling, CanWest News Service has learned.
The controversial Sea King replacement -- something Jean Chretien spent a decade avoiding -- has received the go-ahead from Prime Minister Paul Martin and will be turned over to the defence and public works departments so a formal request for proposals can be sent out to bidders this week, say political and aerospace industry sources.
"I believe they're going to announce everything this week," Rod Skotty, vice-president of business development and government relations for Lockheed Martin Canada, said in an interview Tuesday. "That's on the record. I'm confident it's going to happen this week."
Lockheed Martin Canada, the Canadian subsidiary of the largest American defence contractor, is a member of one of the three international consortiums that is expected to bid on the single biggest contract to be awarded by the Martin Liberals: $3 billion to deliver 28 new maritime helicopters to replace the fleet of 1960s-era Sea Kings.
Another source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the documents for the formal request for proposals were already drawn up by the defence department for incoming Defence Minister David Pratt, who was appointed Friday.
"They're telling Pratt: Simply sign them," said another source.
The Sea King replacement process has been mired in the Ottawa bureaucracy for more than a decade, as critics accused Chretien of playing politics with the lives of helicopter air crews.
Chretien's first act after being sworn in as prime minister in 1993 was to cancel the $5.8-billion EH-101 helicopter contract of the previous Conservative government to fulfil a campaign promise to reduce wasteful spending. Critics accused him of rigging and delaying the process for his full decade in power rather than see Team Cormorant, the consortium behind the EH-101, win again.
Meanwhile, the Sea Kings have become a costly national embarrassment, requiring 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air, while frequently breaking down. Several months ago, the entire fleet had to be grounded while a technical malfunction was being investigated.
Cormorant, an Anglo-Italian consortium, is expected to enter the competition, as is the U.S. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., and a consortium made up of Franco-German NH Industries and Lockheed Martin.
Sources say Martin gave the Sea King replacement his stamp of approval last Wednesday, two days before being sworn in as prime minister.
The decision comes as Martin announced Tuesday a freeze on all major capital projects in order find enough money to cover the government's promise to give the provinces $2 billion for health care.
Pratt was quick to point out that the Sea King replacement would be exempt from the freeze.
Written By: Mike Blanchfield
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