Friday, August 25, 2017

Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs

          By Chuck Black

Amidst all the sound and fury of their "urgent call to action," and requests to "designate" space as a "national strategic asset," (whatever that might happen to mean) the essential truth of the August 18th, 2017 Space Advisory Board (SAB) report, released under the title, "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard: Space Advisory Board, August 2017," is that it's not quite done yet.

Sometimes, what's said isn't what's heard, especially when it comes to politics. For more background on what was really said during the SAB consultations, check out the August 18th, 2017 post, "Three Academics With a Paper on Canada's Future in Space," the April 20th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Committee Members Announced: Various Stakeholders Release Independent Assessments, Just in Case," and the public records of various SAB meetings, which were held in Ottawa (April 21st, 2017), Halifax (April 28th, 2017), St. Hubert (May 5th, 2017), Calgary (May 10th, 2017), Vancouver (May 12th, 2017), Toronto (May 16th and 17th, 2017) and online (May 18th and 19th, 2017). Graphic c/o

As outlined on the bottom of page eleven of the nineteen page final report, under the title "Key Proposal," the SAB suggests the development, "in time for the next federal budget (which is expected to be presented to the House of Commons in March 2018), a new space strategy and follow-on space plan that provides the policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity."

No wonder its a key proposal. The current document, which everyone agrees lacks "the  policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity," isn't really much good for anything except pushing off any final political reckoning.

But in order to atone for failing to come up with the serious and actionable policies which most reasonable observers had expected to be completed by June 2017, the SAB members have offered to remain "involved someway in the implementation of the Space Strategy," once it's developed.

That's quick thinking on their part.

It kinda sounds like they had fun making the report, would like a hand in developing the newly promised March 2018 report/ budget input paper (the one which includes the "policies, programs and funding") and want to follow through on the generalizations presented in the current report.

Of course, they might just mostly want to make their jobs permanent.

The  December 21st, 2016 Ottawa Citizen post, "If the port of Churchill is a strategic asset, then why did the Canadian government allow it to close?" questions the utility of designating something as a  "national" or "strategic asset," without supporting legislation or a strong case (business or otherwise) to back up the claim.  For more on what the term has historically meant under the Investment Canada Act, check out the the August 22nd, 2012 Dan Herman's blog post, "Defining a strategic asset – maybe." It's worth noting that the definition relates to the ability of a foreign company to buy a Canadian based firm. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld.

As outlined in the report, the original mandate of the SAB was to:
...conduct outreach and consultations with stakeholders on a vision that: 
  • Encourages a growing and sustainable space sector in the long term. 
  • Inspires Canadians and attracts talent. 
  • Contributes to scientific advancement and the development of emerging technologies; and 
  • Supports companies to scale-up as well as clean growth”
The Minister asked the Space Advisory Board to report on its findings in order to “inform the new space strategy which will use space to drive broader economic growth and innovation while inspiring the next generation of space scientists.”
But the outreach and consultations were held under Chatham House rules where, as outlined on the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House website, "participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed." The intent is to provide anonymity to speakers and "encourage openness and the sharing of information," but the rules often lead to generalizations (since all participants can use the knowledge gained at the meetings when they leave) and insure an overall lack of accountability.

Even worse, participants were discouraged from discussing specific policies or policy changes during the discussions. At the request of the Justin Trudeau Liberal government, the SAB was specifically tasked to build a document to "inform," but not develop, define or create anything which could be mistaken for a new space policy or long-term space plan.

Which, of course, was a large part of the reason why the report was subtitled "What We Heard" instead of "What We Concluded."

The members of the SAB gave the Federal government exactly what they were asked to give when, as outlined in the April 18th, 2017 government of Canada post, "Government of Canada renews Space Advisory Board," the government reformed the board earlier this year. In exchange, board members might even get new part time jobs, if the government reacts positively to their request.

It's just a damn shame they weren't able to provide a document of use to the industry and all the people who participated in those meetings. Some were even counting on them.

So here we go again. The next stop is March 2018.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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