Monday, October 02, 2017

Policy Options Begins the "Real" Debate over Canada's Future in Space

          By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that the failure of the Federal government's Space Advisory Board (SAB) to do any more than provide a generalized shopping list of concerns and possible options (under the amusing title of "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard,") has at least left the door open for others to begin the real discussion.

Will things improve now that the "grown-ups" have joined the conversation? As noted in the IRPP Wikipedia page, "the IRPP's inception was sparked by a proposal by prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in 1968 for the establishment of an "independent and autonomous" institute for public policy research, whose work would be 'available to all governments'"  The IRPP "attempts to broker pertinent policy research between expert researchers, and policy makers and the 'educated lay public.'" Here's hoping the discussion will benefit from these new "independent and autonomous" participants. Screen shot c/o IRPP.

One of the organizations attempting to take the lead in this discussion is Montreal, PQ based Policy Options, the flagship publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP), one of Canada's oldest nonpartisan public policy think tanks.

Last week, the Policy Options published the second of two, loosely affiliated articles outlining contrasting viewpoints on Canada's future in space.

As outlined in the September 27th, 2017 Policy Options post, "Let’s base our space priorities on our national needs," when it comes to satellite communications and earth observation, Canada has played a leadership role over the last fifty years and these areas were chosen as areas of Canadian accomplishment because of domestic considerations, not because of a need to develop partnerships with the US or contribute to international space activities. 

According to the author:
Let’s not just dance to the American tune. Instead, let’s base our space priorities on our national needs first and foremost, while continuing to be good partners with the US on initiatives that complement America’s needs and that will then continue to result in Canadian sales to the US. 
For example, we have developed amazing space technologies in earth observation and navigation that play an increasingly important role in the monitoring of our vast coastal areas and northern regions, but that also suitably serve the needs of the US and many other nations. 
It’s a business model that has worked well for us in the past.
It's worth noting that, if your potential partners are just as confused as you are, there are times when you might want to strike out on your own. As outlined in the September 15th, 2017 post, "Politico Revisits Kennedy's Famous "We choose to go to the Moon" Speech," the current US administration is revisiting many of the questions which concerned earlier administrations. Graphic c/o Politico

The article stands in contrast to the September 15th, 2017 Policy Options post, "Canada's space policy and the U.S.'s gravitational pull," which advocated for a closer alignment of Canada's space interests with US objectives, even when those objectives were focused around military applications.

As outlined in that post:
... expanding Canada’s military role in space in partnership with the United States will be controversial: opposition to the “weaponization” of space has been significant since the 1980s. 
As in the case of US-Canadian missile defence cooperation, there is the risk that moral arguments against Canadian participation will prevail and result in Canada’s space assets being protected by the United States by default, just as Canadian cities assume US missile defences will protect them in the event of an attack. 
It would be far better for Canadians to partner with the United States in the protection of their space-based interests, thereby securing a role for Canada in international dialogue on the peaceful use of near-earth orbit and more distant zones.
Curiously enough, both viewpoints have their champions even within this blog.

It's also worth noting that these day, the best laid plans for exploring space come from the private sector. As outlined in the  September 11th, 2017 Start-up division video, "Elon Musk - When "EXPERTS" Were Against SpaceX - MUST WATCH," the experts are normally a cautious bunch. Video screen shot c/o Start-Up Division.

The twelve part series on "A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets," which finished up in June 2017 and was written by Graham Gibbs & W. M. ("Mac") Evans, argued forcefully that the Canadian space program, "because it is and always has been a modestly budgeted program, has learned that leveraging international cooperation is a necessity, not a luxury."

And the sixteen part series on "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History," which finished up in July 2017 and was written by Robert Godwin, made the argument that, "Canada's aerospace raison d'être" always derived from its uniqueness, "its immense size, its location in the far north as a vast, barely-tracked wilderness of incalculable resources and the logical requirements relating to defence, communications, utilization and exploration which naturally follow from its size and location."

Who will end up defining Canada's future in space. Maybe the answer is that both approaches have their usefulness.

Canada should partner with others when that partnership makes sense for Canada and go it alone when we're able and when it makes sense to do so. In essence, and as outlined beginning with the December 27th, 2010 post, "Canada's Military Space Policy: Part 1, The Axworthy Doctrine," it's pretty much what we've always done.

Either way, at least the grown-ups are finally taking note and coming to the table to discuss the issues. This is a good thing.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.


  1. suspect this sophistry was crafted before the US said they would NOT protect Canada against ICBMs from our KN buds - not that they could hit a bullet with a bullet but big change in defence policy esp for space.


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