THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL — An organization that represents firms in the Canadian space sector says the industry has not been a priority for the current government and it is hoping that will change after the Oct. 19 federal election.
“The Canadian Space Agency and Canada’s space program has definitely taken a back seat since the Conservative government has been in power,” Marc Boucher, executive director of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, said in an interview.
“We’re seeing that in terms of research and development dollars — not just in the space sector, but in the science sector and technology sector.”
Boucher warns that Canada is falling behind other countries.
His organization is using the election campaign to call on all parties to commit to a long-term space plan that “all the stakeholders in Canada have a voice in.”
The group represents companies small and large, including MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, builder of the Canadarm.
Boucher said his group is trying to push for the plan to be available by the end of 2016.
While the government released a space policy framework in Feburary 2014, Boucher noted it doesn’t provide any details or an actual plan of what Canada will do over the next five or 10 years.
Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space, presented a strategy in 2003 during his four-year tenure as president of the Canadian Space Agency.
Garneau, who is seeking re-election as a Liberal MP in a Montreal riding, said the Conservative policy framework contained “absolutely nothing new and informative.”
He also noted that Steve MacLean, another astronaut and former CSA head, developed a long-term space plan in 2009 that went nowhere.
“I can remember the frustration that he felt,” Garneau recalled. “The Conservative government just did not react to it at all, which to me is a clear indication that they were not committed to Canada’s space program.”
Garneau is promising a Liberal government would produce a long-term plan.
He said it should include “a very strong signal that Canada is going to use space to help us, particularly with respect to the environmental changes that are occuring on our planet and in our oceans.”
Garneau also indicated there would be more funding for research and development under a Liberal government.
“We have been a leader in communications technologies and we need to provide more in terms of R&D for that sector,” Garneau added.
NDP industry critic Peggy Nash echoed those comments.
“We need a long-term plan that companies can count on that’ll create opportunities and so we’ll work with the (space) sector to develop that plan,” she said in an interview.
Nash said Canada’s current future space plans are not clear.
“We need a clear direction and the space industry — businesses that are investing millions of dollars in this cutting-edge field — need to know they’ve got a reliable partner in the government of Canada,” she said.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair has already committed to setting aside $40 million over four years in the Canadian Space Agency’s technology development program to help companies commercialize new technologies.
A former Conservative MP and former chair of the “space caucus” in Parliament had no comment when asked about a long-term plan for the space industry.
Instead, Jay Aspin sent an email pointing out that Canada has “an incredibly proud reputation in space” with its renowned Canadarms, which helped build the International Space Station.
He noted that one of Canada’s two astronauts is guaranteed a flight into space by 2019, the other by 2024.
Aspin, who is running again for the Tories, also pointed to millions of dollars of space sector investments, although they were already announced in the last federal budget.