Sunday, October 25, 2015

A New Government and Renewed Hope for the Canadian Space Industry

          By Glen Strom

The Canadian federal election is over. A Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau will make the decisions about what direction the Canadian space industry will take. 

The new government must answer two questions: What do they want the space industry to be, and what role will the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) play?

The new Prime Minister designate has a short window of opportunity to prove to skeptics that he has the substance to match his charisma. Photo c/o Susana Mas/CBC.

The Liberals have promised a greater focus on science and technology, including space. More than a few people and organizations have expressed their views on what that focus should be, the most significant effort to date being the 2012 Aerospace Report led by David Emerson.

As noted in the October 13th, 2015 article "Part 2: Abandoning the Emerson Aerospace Review?," the Emerson Report recommended that the commercial players should take a larger role and the CSA should more or less step aside.

Derek Burney and Fen Hampson. Photo's c/o iPolitics.
This approach is getting plenty of support. An October 19th, 2015 Globe and Mail article, "Canada's space role hangs on political, industrial commitment," agrees, at least with the part about industry taking a bigger role.

The authors of the article, Derek Burney, a former Canadian ambassador to the United States, and Fen Osler Hampson, the director of global security at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and chancellor's professor at Carleton University, believe that the Emerson framework is the right one.

The 2014 Annual Report from the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (the details are on page 7-8, of the direct PDFdownload) backs Emerson and says a number of the recommendations are already being implemented.

Even Liberal MP Marc Garneau said in a February 14th, 2015 CBC News article, “Canada's space agency to take back seat to private sector,” that the Emerson Report is a good framework, but only if the Conservative government of the day properly funds and implements it.

Liberal MP (and likely cabinet minister) Marc Garneau. Photo c/o ICI Radio Canada.
The unanswered question is, will the new Liberal government support this approach or take a different tack?

Mr. Garneau said in an October 11th, 2015 CBC News article, “Canada's space policy enters orbit of election campaign,” that a Liberal government would boost spending on space. He didn’t say if they would continue with the Emerson recommendations. 

Also, keep in mind that Mr. Garneau isn’t the prime minister, so his comments can’t be taken as official policy. We simply don’t know yet what the Liberals will do. They might go ahead with the Emerson recommendations.

They might want something else, like the recent proposal from an organization that bills itself as the largest high-tech association in Canada.

In an October 21st, 2015 Globe and Mail article, “Tech alliance pushes for federal innovation ministry.” the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) said the government should replace Industry Canada with a ministry that puts science, technology and business innovation under a senior cabinet minister. The minister would have the resources to improve Canada’s private-sector research and development efforts.

This ministry might be a logical place to put space. But what about the CSA? What does the government want it to do? How will it fit in?

Between budget cuts and changing priorities based on political whims, the CSA has suffered from a case of dissociative identity disorder. They’ve been relegated to the sidelines for the most part, an example being the funding announcements for space projects made by then Industry Minister James Moore before the election was called. The current CSA president, Sylvain Laporte, was nowhere to be seen, even though the money for the most part was coming from the CSA.

The outgoing minister Moore. Who will replace him? Photo c/o Sean Kilpatrick/CP.
Having answers to these questions isn’t enough. One huge piece of the puzzle remains. The government has choices, but the choices are a collection of parts. It’s like having all of the supplies to build a house but no building plan. How does the government make it all work?

Where’s the plan, specifically the five and ten year space plan as outlined by Emerson and others?

The Conservative government promised a space plan by 2014 but didn't deliver. The Liberals promised a long-term space plan as part of their election platform. None of the ideas under consideration will go anywhere without that plan.

The government needs to accomplish four goals:
  • Develop a five and ten year space plan.
  • Pick a model for the space industry that fits the plan. It might be Emerson, it might be something else, but it must fit the plan.
  • Decide what the CSA’s role will be. A reduced role, a greater role, part of a new combined science and technology strategy, a stand-alone role?
  • Decide how much money it will take to make the plan work and provide it.
Glen Strom.
If the Liberals can get this right, Canada may finally be on its way back as a significant player in space.

Glen Strom is a freelance writer and editor with a background in business and technical writing. Follow him on Twitter @stromspace for the latest on Canadian space stories.


  1. So if this Blog's theme is about commercial space (aka newspace) model, why is is advocating for an government (taxpayer funded) top-down oldspace model? Government does not create industry, it can only help by ensuring a fertile environment for the private sector to grow with minimal interference. But an industry will never succeed on its own if it remains dependent on crony corporatism, taxpayer handouts and political agendas.

  2. I don't think we're officially advocating anything, Mr Anonymous.

    But this specific article is attempting to keep our readership appraised of government initiatives in this area and the constraints that politicians operate under.

    Other recent articles, several by the same author, have advocated specifically against depending on government handouts.


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