Thursday, March 08, 2018

Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector

         By Chuck Black

"I haven't read the story in SpaceQ," insists Marie Lucy Stojak, the chair of the Federal government Space Advisory Board (SAB) mandated by the governing Trudeau Liberals to help support the development of a new vision for Canada's space sector, "but we were certainly disappointed that space was not included as a key theme in the 2018 Federal Budget."

Not feeling tense at all. SAB chair Lucy Stojak. Photo c/o Mosaic HEC Montreal.

Stojak spoke with this blog over the phone on Thursday March 8th, 2018 to comment on the public release of an e-mail she originally sent out earlier this week to approximately 140 "stakeholders" who participated in a series of SAB meetings and consultations last spring. The data collected during those meeting was compiled into the August 17th, 2017 report, "Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard," and then released to the public.

According to the March 7th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "The Space Advisory Boards Emails Stakeholders That it Was 'Very Disappointed with Budget 2018'" Stojak's e-mail stated that:
As you know, the Federal Budget was released on Tuesday, February 27, 2018. Needless to say that the Space Advisory Board (SAB) Members were very disappointed with Budget 2018 as it did not include funding to address a space strategy.
It went on to say:
We were hoping the Government would signal specific measures to advance long-term plans and priorities for Canada in space. Despite the lack of signal, Space Advisory Board Members remain convinced that Canada needs a vision and investments in space to meet national needs and fulfill its aspirations.
Stojak and at least two other members of the SAB have confirmed to this blog that the e-mail does indeed reflect the beliefs of the board and that the original e-mail was sent out to those who participated in the SAB meetings held last summer.

"It's not the first e-mail I've sent to the stakeholders," she said.

According to Stojak and others, the e-mail was meant to be "public facing," although Stojak would not go into the details of how she felt about the SpaceQ post opening her e-mail up to a wider audience. "We recognize that the government does have priorities," she said. "But the SAB board report indicated that there was a need for an 'urgent call to action' to preserve and grow our space activities."

The complete French and English texts of the March 2018 email sent by SAB chair Stojak to "stakeholders" who participated in a series of SAB meetings held between April 19th 2017 to May 21st, 2017. A list of participants at those meetings is included on SAB website. It's worth noting that Commercial Space blog editor Chuck Black was included in the list of participants involved in the May 18th, 2017 "WebEx on Canada’s Youth and Next Generation Space Leaders." Graphic c/o SpaceQ.

The August 2017 SAB report made two central recommendations for consideration by Navdeep Bains, the Federal Minister responsible for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), as he moved forward to develop the "new space strategy" promised by the Liberal government since the election which brought them to power in 2015.

Those two recommendations were to:
Designate Space as a National Strategic Asset to ensure that:
  • the country (governments, industry, academia, and civil society) focuses on the importance of space to Canada’s economic and social growth; 
  • a whole-of-government approach is taken in the development and management of the national space program; 
  • the regulatory and procurement regimes support commercialization and export of space technologies; 
  • Canada has the capacity to develop and use space to meet national needs; and 
  • Canada has the specialized human resources required by government, industry and academia to conduct space activities.
Ask the Space Advisory Board to: 
  • engage stakeholders on plans for implementing the Space Strategy; 
  • provide independent advice on the implementation of the Space Strategy; and 
  • develop metrics for evaluation of the implementation of the Space Strategy.
The second recommendation included a specific request from the SAB to remain engaged with stakeholders in order to provide the independent advice and metrics required to develop solutions to the problems outlined in the initial SAB report.

Neither of those recommendations have so far been adapted by the Federal government.

One of the issues noted by the SAB which still hasn't been dealt with. New North Networks CEO Tom Zubko attended the May 19, 2017 SAB webex focused on "The North and Canada’s Future in Space," and the minutes of the meeting note that "stakeholders would like to see the Government take action to address of the recommendations from the independent reviews of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, released in 2012 and 2017," but nothing has been resolved. As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 post, "That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used," Zubko is still unable to move forward with his plan to provide local services to San Francisco, CA based Planet and Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT). Graphic c/o Commercial Space Media.

Part of the problem, as outlined in the August 25th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs," might simply be that SAB stakeholders and participants were discouraged from discussing specific policies or policy changes during the SAB meetings.

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.

This saddled the SAB with an inability to ask for concrete, definable improvements, unlike for example, the 2016 David Naylor led Review of Fundamental Science. As outlined in the  February 28th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Basic science makes historic gains in research-friendly budget," that report is generally credited with driving a "research-intense budget that commits approximately $3.8Bln CDN spread over the next five years for a range of science programs."

It's almost as if, had the SAB simply asked for money instead of respect (designating space as a "national asset," or requested "engagement," "independent advice" or the development of "independent metrics"), they would have been more likely to have received it.

That's something to note for the next time.

According to Stojak, "we are confident that the Minister (ISED Minister Bains) will continue to champion the space sector."
Editors Note: In an interesting turn of events, and as outlined in the March 9th, 2018 Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) e-mail, "Canadian Budget 2018-2019 Update," the CSCA has announced its disappointment over the 2018 Federal Budget.  
Graphic c/o Mailchimp.
According to the e-mail, the budget "did not reflect the urgent need to develop a vision for Canada’s long term space strategy," although the organization remained "confident that a (space) strategy is forthcoming." 
But the majority of the e-mail focused on items included with the budget which were expected to "benefit some of our members." These items include:
  • That "historic" investment in hard science research and consolidation of programs in order to create "a more client-focused federal partner for business." As outlined in the February 28th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Basic science makes historic gains in research-friendly budget," the 2018 budget allocated $3.8Bln CDN of new funding spread over the next five years to a range of science and academic programs and promised the substantial consolidation of Federal granting programs, down to thirty-five from a pre-budget total of ninety-two. 
  • $572.5Mln over five years, with $52Mln per year ongoing, to implement a Digital Research Infrastructure. 
  • A “re-imaginedNational Research Council (NRC) with additional funding ($540Mln over five years, starting in 2018–19 and $108Mln annually) for measures to "reinforce its research strengths and role as a trusted collaboration partner of industry." 
  • New funding ( $20.6Mln over four years, starting in 2019–20 with $5.1Mln per year ongoing,) for the POLAR Knowledge Canada program.
Graphic c/o Mailchimp.
In a related matter, and as outlined in the second March 9th, 2018 CSCA e-mail, "CSCA Seeking New Executive Director," the CSCA has announced the resignation of CSCA executive director Michelle Mendes, effective March 31st, 2018. 
Mendes is a member of the same Federal SAB chaired by Stojak. She will continue as a member of the CSCA the Board of Directors and retain her position as CSCA president, "for the time being" and as her time allows, according to the e-mail. 
As of Monday, March 12th, 2018, Mendes has not resigned from the SAB.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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