Thursday, July 19, 2018

Requiem For the Canadian Space Commerce Association

         By Chuck Black

The failure of the Federal government Space Advisory Board (SAB) to contribute to real change in the Canadian space industry has claimed another victim, the Toronto ON based Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

CSCA website screenshot dated May 31st, 2018. Graphic c/o Wayback Machine.

On Tuesday, July 16th, 2018 the entire CSCA website was replaced with single press release from CSCA president Michelle Mendes titled "CSCA Ceases Operations."

As outlined in her post:
After significant consideration and exploring all options, it is with great sadness that the board of directors has decided to declare the CSCA insolvent and will be ceasing operations immediately. 
It is important to note that this is not indicative of Canadian commercial space in general. Due to historical issues, pre-2016, which the new board and management worked very hard to rectify, it was difficult to raise funds and therefore made the business unsustainable. 
Please note that the CSCA email addresses will no longer be monitored as we wind down. However, if there is anything you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact me at my email address as I will periodically check in for the next several months. 
For more details about the insolvency, please click on the above Advisory link.
Many thanks to all for your work and support advancing the Canadian space sector.
With kindest regards,
Michelle Mendes
Mendes was also active in the failed SAB.

The current CSCA website on July 19th, 2018 includes a message from president Michelle Mendes. Screenshot c/o CSCA

As outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," she was one of the SAB members who strongly advocated the creation of an initial inventory of problems needing to be addressed before going back to the Federal government to see if it would fund a search for solutions.

This approach was taken up by SAB chair Lucy Stojak and served as the core of the August 2017 report by the SAB on "Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard."

As requested by the government, the report included no solutions. It was mostly a request for more money so that the SAB could consult further and perhaps come up with something in the future.

But political advocates know that the ability to develop and recommend solutions is always the first real step in the development of a successful advocacy, not the last. A defined and prepared solution allows advocates to obtain consensus independently from government, and allows them to apply pressure for change independent of any Federal mandate.

But the SAB didn't do this and so their report was mostly ignored. Smart governments look for solutions where they can act and then promote their actions. The lack of actionable items in the SAB report meant that the Federal government wasn't required to do anything and therefore wouldn't be blamed for inactivity.

In March 2018, after the 2018 Federal Budget made it clear that there were no plans to fund further SAB consultations, Mendes resigned from her position as CSCA executive director but retained her position as CSCA president and her role on the CSCA board.

CSCA then embarked on an ineffective campaign to hire a new CSCA executive director.

According to CSCA promotional material, the vacant executive director position would be "unpaid" although candidates which came with sponsors and the promise of funding could certainly negotiate a different package.

The implication was that anyone with a little extra cash would be given special consideration, which is a bad thing for any advocacy group to promise.

In the end, no one was willing to pay for special consideration or even willing to work for free and Mendes and the CSCA simply closed up shop.

It's possible that, over the last few years, the CSCA simply tried a little too hard to make friends with the ruling Federal Liberal party. After all, the Liberals provided many verbal indications of support, but never came through with funding or anything tangible.

The Liberals didn't need to. They knew instinctively that any advocacy group that couldn't support itself or develop solutions wasn't going to influence the next election and didn't deserve their support.

Even CSCA members knew this. Over time, the smart ones went back to work at their day jobs, moved abroad (where the political climate for space and newspace projects was certainly more favorable) or joined domestic organizations such as the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) or the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), which possessed lobbying expertise, access to the levers of power in Ottawa and independent sources of funding. 

And that's why the CSCA cited insolvency for it's closure. They had no money and no real members. 

Nor should they have had any. They had no solution; only a litany of problems needing to be addressed.

There were even indications that Mendes was self-funding the organization out of her own pocket near the end. While laudable, this lack of community support for the CSCA must have been troubling for those involved.

So rest in peace, CSCA. Maybe the next time, someone will come up with a real plan of action and a proper source of funding.

As for the SAB, they're subject to the same constraints as the CSCA. If SAB chair Stojak doesn't start changing her strategy soon and start coming up with a few solutions for the Federal government to ponder, the SAB will be the next advocacy group to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Editors Note: According to this July 18th, 2018 CSCA Advisory on the CSCA website, the organization has "filed an application to commence insolvency proceedings and is immediately ceasing all operations. The Board has appointed insolvency practitioners David Sklar and Associates to act as the independent administrator for the CSCA."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog. From 2007 until 2014 he was on the board of directors of the Canadian Space Commerce Association.

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