Thursday, 30 October 2014

Canada's Space Program Loses its Leader

CSA President Walter Natynczyk (left) unveils CSA commemorative coin with astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen at the recent International Astronautical Congress in Toronto. CSA photo

The Harper government is in trouble with Canada's veterans. Traditionally a constituency that supports the Conservatives, veterans are upset with major changes to their benefits, disputes over treatment of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and ham-handed treatment by the Minister of Veterans Affairs that have created a sense of betrayal.

We are already being subjected to volleys of taxpayer-funded commercials that suggest that the Harper government is behind our veterans, but even this fix isn't working. So on Wednesday Prime Minister Harper announced that Gen. Walter Natynczyk, a former chief of staff of the Canadian Forces, is being brought in as Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs to clean up the mess.

For the last fifteen months, Natynczyk has been the President of the Canadian Space Agency, and his appointment there had raised hopes that the agency would regain direction after years of neglect by the Harper government and the Liberal government that preceded it.

As a rather small agency in the Ottawa firmament, the CSA has usually received little attention from the top levels of the federal government, regardless of who is in power.

The Harper government made a good call in 2008 when it blocked the sale of Canada's largest space contractor to an American firm, but since then the CSA has suffered under cutbacks imposed as part of the Harper government's goal of balancing the budget.

During Natynczyk's short time as president, the CSA was given a policy framework that fell short of a long-awaited new space policy, but the framework marked modest policy progress. Insiders gave Natynczyk credit for getting the troubled Radarsat Constellation program back on track.

At the International Astronautical Congress a month ago in Toronto, Natynczyk was left to deal with the fallout when the Harper government denied visas to top Russian and Chinese space officials for political reasons.

But his promotion to the sensitive post at Veterans Affairs suggests that the government was happy with Natynczyk's performance.

Luc Brûlé, who became vice-president of the CSA earlier this year after having held management jobs at the agency since 1991, has been named as interim president. Chances are, Brûlé will be filling in until after the federal election takes place next year as the CSA continues to await badly needed new policy directions.

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