A British MP says Canada got a bad deal on the second-hand submarines it bought from the U.K. in 1998 and should consider asking for a refund.

Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South, said it's time the British and Canadian governments explained how the deal went wrong.

"Why were the Canadians daft enough to buy them?" he asked.

'I'm appalled we've done a dumb deal with an ally like this.'—Mike Hancock, British MP

"My God, it's a sad tale, isn't it? 'Buyer beware' should have been painted on the sides of these submarines."

Hancock, a member of Britain's coalition government, has tabled questions in the Westminster Parliament about the deal. He told CBC News he is asking "why we sold them to you knowing there were intrinsic problems in the submarines."

"It's either incompetence on behalf of the Canadians, or sheer, smooth-talking salesmen from the MOD [Ministry of Defence] here in Britain," he added.

Canada paid $750 million for four used Victoria-class Royal Navy submarines in 1998. They had been decommissioned in 1993 when the U.K. decided to focus solely on nuclear subs.

The subs had been based in Hancock's Portsmouth riding. Canada renamed them:

  • HMCS Chicoutimi.
  • HMCS Corner Brook.
  • HMCS Windsor.
  • HMCS Victoria.

Since then, the navy has spent billions of dollars trying to get them in fighting shape.

"I'm not sure just when these things started to fall apart, but I think it would be interesting to know when the problems developed," Hancock said.

Sailor died in Chicoutimi fire

In their 13 years of Canadian service, the subs have spent less than three years at sea and have been plagued by dents, rust, fires and leaks.

In 2004, HMCS Chicoutimi caught fire during its maiden voyage as a Canadian sub. Nine members of the crew suffered smoke inhalation. Lt. Chris Saunders, 32, died.

HMCS Corner Brook ran aground in 2011 and is not expected back in service for at least two years.

HMCS Windsor started a two-year refit in 2007 and is still not ready for service. It remains dry-docked in Halifax.

When the Windsor does return to service, it may actually be less capable than before. CBC News obtained documents via access to information legislation that show the navy discovered rust in the sub.

That would render it unable to dive as deep as it did before the multimillion-dollar refit.

HMCS Victoria has been at sea for 115 days and is undergoing "work-ups" for an expected return to full operational service this year.

None of the subs is capable of firing a Canadian torpedo.

Long-standing problems

The subs had problems even before they were sold to Canada. One of them had its torpedo doors welded shut because of flooding.

Canada's navy has not said what the refit cost, but documents show that $17 million was budgeted in 2010. The real cost for the Windsor that year alone was $47 million. It is not known how much has been spent in total on the four subs.

"I'm appalled we've done a dumb deal with an ally like this," Hancock said. "If this was the Americans, we'd say good luck and serves you right. But as it's Canada, I think there are a lot of questions to be answered."

Hancock said Canada should have been more cautious about buying them and should consider asking Britain for its money back.

"I think you should be making a case for it."

Hancock said he originally raised questions about the deal back in 1998. He said had Canada asked for a rebate back then, it might have worked. The best deal likely available now, he said, is a better deal should Canada wish to buy more second-hand British subs.