Saturday, January 19, 2013

Praising Steve MacLean

Steve MacLean.
It's a reflection of outgoing Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Steve MacLean that he leaves office known more for his two trips to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the crews of STS-52 in 1992 and STS-115 in 2006 than for his more recent work as a public bureaucrat.

It's likely that Dr. MacLean would approve of this, since he often made discrete comments disparaging the bureaucrats and their political masters and never seemed terribly keen on ever becoming one, even after becoming CSA president in 2008.

Of course, he always had at least one very good reason for this. Back at the beginning of his term, he was promised the world on a platter by politicians who didn't deliver.

As outlined in the September 5th, 2008 Space Politics blog post "A new Canadian space plan," then Industry Minister Jim Prentice made the following comments about the then new CSA president and his supposed mandate:
Jim Prentice.
I have given Steve a mandate to make sweeping changes at the CSA. As we stand at this crossroads, he will revitalize the Agency. He will restore its ability to punch above its weight in an international quest. He will develop Canada’s capacity for a new era of prestige and achievement.

And to that end, as one of Steve MacLean’s first acts as new President, the CSA will begin consultations with stakeholders that will lead to a new Long-Term Space Plan. I expect this plan – the fourth in the series – to be as influential for our generation of exploration and development as any plan that Canada has produced for charting our future in space. That’s a tall order. I know that Steve is capable of bringing together the stakeholders. Time is of the essence, and I look forward to the plan in the coming months. 
But while a new long-term policy infrastructure for Canadian space activities and the promised, sweeping changes are now finally beginning to occur, these changes took years rather than months and Dr. MacLean is not likely to get credit for them. They will most likely end up being associated with ex-politician and civil servant David Emerson, the head of the recently concluded Aerospace Review and a man cut from much the same cloth as the people Dr. MacLean sometimes discretely questioned.

David Emerson.
This will happen for several very good reasons.

First of all, whatever the MacLean developed long-term space plan (which does indeed seem to have been completed in late 2009) may have said or recommended, it wasn't something that the Federal government would ever support or champion.

So the original report, essentially died.

But the political rumors, bureaucratic asides and semi-public innuendo surrounding the document (as outlined in the May 2nd, 2010 post "Space Men Invade Parliament: Parliament Retaliates Through Committee!"), when added to the ongoing problems surrounding the RADARSAT Constellation mission (most recently discussed in the January 13th, 2013 post "A $706M Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation"), left the political door open for further review.

A second catalyst for a renewed Federal government interest in the topic was an October 2010 Deloitte Report on the Strategic and Economic Impact of the Aerospace Industry. The report, funded by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) served as the basis for the core set of assumptions under which the Aerospace Review, originally announced as part of the Federal 2011 budget, operated under when it began in February 2012.

The Canadian space industry, chafing under years of perceived neglect from both government and the CSA, responded to the review with the majority of the public submissions (which was pretty good for an industry 1/10th the size of the larger Canadian aviation industry) and ongoing public calls for further action. In essence, the political demands of burying the first report led directly to the political will necessary to complete and publicly release the second report.

So Dr. MacLean actually leaves office with his original mandate from Jim Prentice fulfilled, just not in the way anyone expected.

The outgoing CSA president is scheduled to leave office on February 1st. Here's hoping him a more direct route, with far fewer political detours and compromises, in his future endeavors.

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