Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Kicking the Space Policy Can Down the Road Once More

Christian Paradis, then the minister of industry, receives a copy of the report on Canada's Aerospace Sector from its lead author, David Emerson, on November 29, 2012. Government of Canada Photo

A year and three days after former Conservative and Liberal cabinet minister David Emerson released his two-volume report on Canadian government programs relating to the aerospace sector, Industry Minister James Moore issued a statement on Monday containing the Harper government's formal response to Emerson's recommendations on the space sector.

This was potentially an important moment for Canada's space program, because nearly two decades have elapsed since the Canada has had a long term space plan, and since then neither the Harper government nor its Liberal predecessor gave much indication of what direction they wanted our space program to go.

Probably the most important part of Moore's statement on Monday was a promise to issue a Space Policy Framework for Canada in "early 2014." Once more the space policy can is being kicked down the road, but not too far. The timing suggests that the framework could be released in tandem with the 2014 federal budget, which would mean that the space program remains hostage to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget cutting priorities. 

Moore's statement said the Canadian Space Agency's core funding would be "stabilized," and that other sources of funding be found for major space projects. This after more than a decade of the space agency's budget being frozen at $300 million a year until it was reduced by $25 million a year over the last two years as part of Flaherty's drive to balance the budget. 

The government is also following Emerson's recommendations to set up a Canadian Space Advisory Council and a committee of deputy ministers to help coordinate Canada's space efforts. While the new committees could help the space program, it is well known that committees do not necessarily lead to better policy or better results. And the Canadian space program was run by a committee during its first three decades of existence and suffered from the deficiencies of this form of governance.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau, who before entering politics was Canada's first astronaut and a president of the CSA,  dismissed Moore's statement as "mostly words and empty promises." He tweeted that  "Minister Moore [is] having his initial love affair with Space. It will all soon be forgotten as it was with all previous Industry ministers."

Although Garneau's statements were aimed at the Conservative government, they could also apply to past Liberal governments. Space has been a topic that has usually been neglected by governments of both parties (and we don't know how the NDP would treat this file), with decisions made usually only when they became urgent.

The Harper government follows this historic pattern. In 2008 when Canada's largest space contractor, MDA, was about to be sold to an American company, the Harper government made the important and correct call to block the sale because of its national security implications. But four years later, the Harper government threatened the technical and organizational viability of the Radarsat Constellation program when it dragged its heels for nearly a year, probably for budgetary reasons, before agreeing to sign the contract that permitted production of the spacecraft.

Harper's first industry minister, Jim Prentice, ordered up a space policy review soon after taking office, but the review was cancelled when Tony Clement replaced him, and the file continued to languish under Christian Paradis, who received Emerson's report last year. This summer new leadership came to Canada's space program in the form of Moore as the new industry minister, and former chief of the defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk, who became the first person who was not a civil servant or an astronaut to become president of the CSA.

Even though Canada spends less on space than most G8 nations, investing just one quarter of what the United States does on space on a per capita basis, the Canadian space program has supported an industry that creates high technology exports of satellite systems and the Canadian jobs that go with them. This is in addition to the higher profile work on space robotics, space exploration, and astronaut flights.

As for Monday's announcement, there was very little in it beyond promises of future action. The real results of the Harper government's review of the Emerson report will likely become clear or at least clearer early next year when the 2014 budget is tabled and the Space Policy Framework is revealed.

1 comment:

  1. Good blog entry, Chris. I hope you'll keep us updated on this policy.