Sunday, March 13, 2016

Waiting for Garneau

          By Henry Stewart

Transport Minister Garneau. Photo c/o Sean Kilpatrick/ CP.
After the last election in October 2015, Canadian space advocates could reasonably have hoped that ex-astronaut and veteran Liberal MP Marc Garneau was about to be assigned a leading role in redefining the political landscape surrounding the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and other Federal government drivers of research and technology.

But that happy day never arrived.

As the current Minister of Transport, Garneau is playing a decidedly supporting role in a series of decisions relating more to aerospace than space, which are being quarter-backed through the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and Industry Canada's successor, the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

That's not to say Garneau doesn't have his hands full. After all, last week he agreed to put his department under "special oversight" by the Treasury Board after it was reported to have repeatedly overspent its budget. 

The last time transportation safety bubbled up into the public consciousness was during the 2013 Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, which killed 47 and destroyed roughly half of downtown Lac Mégantic, PQ. The March 12th, 2016 PostMedia article, "If financing rail safety has no optics, is it worth it?" suggests that transport safety measures endorsed by the outgoing Harper government, along with new initiatives promised by the incoming Trudeau government are being held up until the Federal budget is tabled on March 22nd. Depending on what's in the budget, some of those initiatives might not ever see the light of day. Screenshot c/o Toronto Sun.

As outlined in the March 9th, 2016 Globe and Mail post, "Marc Garneau vows to fix Transport Canada’s financial situation," the Auditor-General raised concerns in the fall of 2013 over the number of Federal transport inspectors responsible for transportation safety and the costs associated with maintaining them. 

According to the article:
Transport Minister Marc Garneau says he’s “not happy” with the financial situation of his department and is vowing to fix the problem without sacrificing the department’s key role in protecting the safety of Canadians. 
But unions representing Transport Canada inspectors warn that ongoing restraint is putting safety at risk and that many of the staffing problems identified by the Auditor-General more than two years ago remain unaddressed. 
The Treasury Board is the Federal government's only statutory cabinet committee and is responsible for the federal civil service and much of the fiscal operation of the Canadian government.

The first Bombardier C-Series taking off on its maiden test flight at the Bombardier facility in Mirabel, PQ on September 16, 2013. As outlined in the November 21st, 2015 iPolitics post, "Mr. Trudeau’s Bombardier problem," Montreal based Bombardier was looking for the Federal government to bolster the recent billion dollar Quebec government investment in the company, either by providing further direct financial support of an equal amount or else by facilitating the sale of Bombardier jets to Toronto based Porter Airlines, which intended to operate them from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Islands. As outlined in the November 13th, 2015 Toronto Star post, "Ottawa kills Porter’s plans for island airport jets," the Trudeau government eventually rejected this option, which set the stage for the latest Bombardier request for support. Photo c/o Canadian Press /Ryan Remiorz.

Of course, transportation safety isn't the only ball the Transport Minister has been tasked with juggling.

As outlined in the March 8th, 2016 Canadian Press article, "Liberals vote down Tory move to force Bombardier execs to testify at committee," Garneau has also taken point in Federal government discussions related to Bombardier and the types of government assistance it could reasonably expect to receive from the Trudeau government.

As outlined in the article:
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who introduced the motion to invite Bombardier executives to testify on why they need federal dollars, said opposition MPs likely won't get any answers from Bombardier or the government about a possible bailout until after it is announced. 
The move was part of a larger push by the Official Opposition to pressure the government over Bombardier's future, a possible federal bailout for the company and the government's decision not to allow a runway extension at the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto.
None of this is to suggest that the Transport Minister has any actual decision making responsibilities. Garneau is just the messenger, passing along the decisions of others and ready to take the flack should any of his political opponents feel the need to shoot the messenger.

 A cool new job. Graphic c/o Linked-In.
And none of the above is in any way related to the high hopes held by some space pundits back in November 2015, when all things seemed possible, although it is worth noting that at least one other CSA manager has joined the Transport Ministry to work with Garneau.

As outlined in his Linked-In profile another longtime CSA employee, former director of science and academic development Alain Berinstain was hired as director of policy in the Transport Ministry in December 2015.

It's unlikely that either will return to anything associated with the Canadian space industry anytime soon.

Besides, as outlined in the June 14th, 2015 post, "Jobu Won’t Save Your Space Start-up: Do it Yourself," governments were never really very helpful in this area, anyway.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym for a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

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