Defence Minister Peter MacKay called Canada's deal to buy Sikorsky naval helicopters, "the worst procurement in the history of Canada," at a press conference at the Irving Shipyard in Halifax Tuesday.

Canada's long-promised fleet of new Sikorsky naval helicopters, already four years late and $300 million over budget, likely won't be delivered and ready for combat for up to another five years, informed industry sources told CBC News at the begining of July.

MacKay was in Halifax on Tuesday to announce a $9.3-million contract to the Irving-owned yard to study the designs of Arctic patrol vessels.

'[The Sea King helicopters] are going right out of aviation service and into a museum in Ottawa. And that's not a joke.' —Defence Minister Peter MacKay

Responding to a question from a reporter about the delays with the new helicopter fleet, MacKay said the Department of Public Works is pushing as hard as possible to deliver the already delayed aircraft.  

"Unlike shipbuilding, that was a brand new design that was put in place through negotiations by a prior government. We inherited this contract," MacKay said.  

"This is an example of how procurement can go badly wrong. This is the worst procurement in the history of Canada, including the $500-million cancellation costs that are attached to the Maritime helicopter program and then the costs of further maintenance to fly 50-year-old helicopters. They're going to go right out of aviation service and into the museum in Ottawa. And that's not a joke."

In 1992, the Conservative government under Brian Mulroney signed a contract worth $4.8 billion to buy 50 EH-101 helicopters from the Anglo-Italian consortium European Helicopter Industries Ltd.

But when the Liberals took power a year later, they axed the deal, which cost $500 million in cancellation fees.

MacKay went on to say the government is focused on getting the new helicopters delivered.  

"I saw a Sea King aboard the Charlottetown when we were in the Gulf and that aircraft has been replaced piece by piece, almost in its entirety, so there is urgency to get the Maritime helicopter program on track," he said.  


The Sikorsky H-92 Cyclone helicopter is a military version of the S-92, built by a division of U.S. conglomerate United Technologies. (Sikorsky/Reuters)

"We know it's behind schedule but the helicopters themselves are flying, as you've seen they're doing sea trials over the harbour. They don't have all the onboard equipment that is required for us to take possession yet."  

Last month, Connecticut-based Sikorsky missed its latest contract deadline to finish delivering 28 sleek, state-of-the-art Cyclone maritime helicopters to replace Canada’s nearly 50-year-old fleet of increasingly unreliable Sea Kings.