Thursday, June 22, 2017

Classic Trek Offers Advice to the Canadian Space Industry on Our Latest Postponed Space Plan

         By Chuck Black

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) has gone on record to address the rumours that an expected report from the Federal Space Advisory Board will not be ready in time to meet the government's self-imposed June 2017 deadline for publication.

As outlined in a June 22nd, 2017 e-mail from ISED media relations officer Hans Parmar, the report is to be updated to become more "action oriented."

Parmar provided no estimate of when the final report would be completed and refused to answer a question on whether it will be ready for September, when an expected Federal Cabinet shuffle could potentially plop a new Liberal face into Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains' current portfolio and cause the entire process to reset to zero. 

According to Parmar:
Based on feedback from the Space Advisory Board consultations, the government heard that Canada needs a long term approach that recognizes the strategic importance of space and that is action-oriented.

The Government of Canada continues to work on a space strategy that will support growth in the sector and leverage the benefits of space for all Canadians.

This strategy will set a new approach for space – setting clear directions, promoting partnerships and defining a future role for Canada in space. This comprehensive approach will help to coordinate policies and programs across government, including Canada’s Defence Policy and the Innovation and Skills Plan.
An "action oriented" Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet at the 2014 Farnborough International Air Show. There's nothing like a quick reminder of the great many political fish still to fry on the Innovation Minister's plate and the June 22nd, 2017 CTV News Post, "Boeing plays down Bombardier dispute, still hopes to sell fighter jets to Canada," notes two in a single post. Another, as outlined in the April 17th, 2017 post, "'Massive' Review of Federal Science Funding Finally Released; Will Likely Soon 'Drop Down the Memory Hole'" also directly affects science funding and the Liberal "Innovation Agenda." A fourth crisis, the looming purchase of Canadian satellite communications provider Norsat by either an American hedge fund or a Chinese conglomerate is playing out this week in Vancouver. Photo c/o AP/Sang Tan.

While expected for some time, the delay first surfaced in the June 21st, 2017 SpaceQ post, "New Canadian Space Strategy Delayed," which didn't reference any primary sources, but did give two potential reasons for the delay.
  • First of all, "the Space Advisory Board was not announced until mid-April providing it little time to consult with stakeholders and to formulate a report for the government to analyze," which is true enough as things go, but could also indicate incompetence, since government reviews normally take far longer than the two and a half months the ruling Liberal party allotted. This would have been known in advance. 
    Nice, but not "action oriented." Graphic c/o CSA.
  • Secondly, "there was a greater response to the consultation process than was expected including numerous written submissions. What this all means is the government has a lot of input to digest." It could also indicate a lack of understanding of the complexity of the issues facing our space industry.
There is also the possibility that the Space Advisory Board was convened to give the space industry the perception of participation in the process for when the Liberal party rolled out another generic, but mostly useless document in the same vein as the February 7th, 2014 Conservative Party Canada's Space Policy Framework.

A potential template for this new paper might even have been one of the policy documents which derived from the "1st Canadian Space Policy Symposium," focused on "Aligning Canada’s Future in Space with Canada’s Innovation Agenda," an agenda chock full of Liberal party buzzwords, which was held in Ottawa on November 8th, 2016.

As outlined in the November 13th, 2016 post, "Generalists, Data Miners, Lotteries, Comedy, Open Access and the Future of Science in Canada," the Commercial Space blog mentioned the event in passing, as part of the coverage of the larger 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference, but was refused admission to the space policy symposium.

Talk, but no action. Graphic c/o CSCA.
It's interesting to note that many of the people currently active in the Space Advisory Board did attend the 2016 Space Policy Symposium.

If the outline of the current postponed space policy document was known last November, then a three month turn around time becomes understandable, since the Space Advisory Board would be expected to simply "glad handle" and build consensus for an already existing plan, but wouldn't need to develop anything new.

In retrospect, it seems as if participants in both the 2016 Space Policy Conference and the more recent round table discussions of the Space Advisory Board were sold a bill of goods by the organizers, since people who might possibly disagree with the anticipated policy document were refused admission to the Space Policy Forum, and a reasonable discussion of options relating to Canada's Future in space, including contrary viewpoints, doesn't seem to have occurred until the round tables were held.

Now that expectations have been raised, the government will need to spend some time either distilling the round table discussions into a real policy document, or they'll need to find a way to bury the report.

Of course, this isn't the first time that a Federal minister has offered up a plan to "revitalize" the Canadian space industry and our space agency. 

Back in 2008, then Conservative Industry Minister Jim Prentice, offered up the following mandate to the then new Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Steve MacLean:
Jim Prentice. Photo c/o Wikipedia
I have given Steve a mandate to make sweeping changes at the CSA. 
As we stand at this crossroads, he will revitalize the Agency. He will restore its ability to punch above its weight in an international quest. He will develop Canada’s capacity for a new era of prestige and achievement.  
And to that end, as one of Steve MacLean’s first acts as new President, the CSA will begin consultations with stakeholders that will lead to a new Long-Term Space Plan. 
I expect this plan – the fourth in the series – to be as influential for our generation of exploration and development as any plan that Canada has produced for charting our future in space. 
That’s a tall order. I know that Steve is capable of bringing together the stakeholders. Time is of the essence, and I look forward to the plan in the coming months. 
But after the 2008 election, Prentice moved on to became Minister of Environment. MacLean wrote his report, but it was never released to the public and, as outlined in the May 8th, 2017 post, "Steve MacLean's 2010 Long-Term Space Plan Surfaces, CSA Clarifies its Communications Policy & California's Rocket Tax," that document eventually became marketing material for the Gordon Group, an Ottawa based marketing company which assisted with its creation.

During the 2016 election, and as outlined in the October 13, 2015 post on "Part 2 of "Abandoning the Emerson Aerospace Review?," both the Liberals and the NDP wanted a review of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review (perhaps even culminating in a new "long-term space plan"), but once the Liberals gained power in October 2015, that review fell by the wayside.

The current Liberal government mostly supports the Emerson Review, but would prefer the electorate forgot that Emerson happened under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and currently enjoys wide bipartisan support.

As Mr. Scott, the Chief Engineer in the 1967 Star Trek episode, "Friday's Child," once said, "Fool me once, Shame on you. Fool me twice, Shame on me."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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