The federal government is looking to a Quebec company for a major shipbuilding contract, but a competitor is questioning the backroom politics behind who gets the job.

The contract is to convert three used ships from Norway and the United States into icebreakers. Levis’ Davie Shipyards is vying for the contract.

“The only company in the world that can fit all these criteria is Davie,” said the company’s VP of Public Affairs Frederik Boisvert.

However, competing company Fednav, Canada’s largest ocean-going cargo shipper, said it wants to build several brand new icebreakers in Norway, where they said shipbuilding is more efficient.

“It’s about having built an assembly line effectively and perfecting something,” said Fednav CEO Paul Pathy.

Canada’s current fleet of icebreakers is aging and Pathy questioned the federal government’s practice of stretching the ships’ lifespan.

“Right now, there are no heavy icebreakers available because they’re all on layup because they’re so old,” he said. “They keep being renewed and renewed and renewed.”

The oft-ice clogged St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes – St-Lawrence Seaway is the source of $35 billion a year in revenue and 225,000 jobs in Canada and the U.S., making the presence of icebreakers essential for the Canadian economy.

University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers said the government can’t ignore the benefits of building ships in Canada.

“The shipworkers here in Canada pay taxes, they buy homes, they buy cars, they buy groceries,” he said.

But Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Ottawa must make decisions based on the best deal.

“We need to get the best icebreaker for the lowest price and not worry about where it’s being built,” he said.

The federal procurement ministry did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. A decision on the contract is expected on July 11.