VICTORIA, British Columbia — Space is playing a small but key role in Canada’s federal election campaign as parties position themselves with promises to help the domestic space industry if elected.
Both the Liberal and New Democratic parties are vowing to commit to and move ahead with a long-term plan for space. The Conservative Party had promised to release a long-term space strategy in 2014 but never did so. However, it is has committed to funding a number of projects including the Thirty Meter Telescope.
The Liberals, New Democrats and Conservative parties are in a tight three-way race to form the next Canadian government after the Oct. 19 election.
“We are seeing for the first time since the 1970s or early 1980s where space policy or the space industry is being mentioned in an election,” said Canadian space analyst Chuck Black. “Space won’t be a game-changer but at least the political parties are paying attention.”
The focus has largely been on how the space sector could contribute to jobs or the economy.
New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulcair pledged Sept. 8 during his campaign that if his party formed the next government he would commit $40 million Canadian dollars ($30 million) over four years to a technology development program at the Canadian Space Agency.
That program would help Canadian firms commercialize new space technologies, he noted.
Mulcair also said as prime minister he would ensure government support for trade missions promoting domestic space and aerospace industries.
The Canadian Space Commerce Association, which represents large and small firms, also received a letter from NDP candidate Peggy Nash pointing out that an NDP government would cut the tax rate for small businesses, a move that “will provide badly needed tax relief to Canada’s small space companies.”
“The NDP will work with the sector on a long-term space plan that creates opportunities for Canadian companies and well-paying jobs,” she noted.
Canada’s space sector supports around 8,000 jobs and contributes about 3.5 billion Canadian dollars to the country’s economy.
Liberal Party candidate Marc Garneau, a former Canadian astronaut and former head of the Canadian Space Agency, said a Liberal government would also produce a long-term space plan as well as boost funding for research, for communications technology.
Marc Boucher, executive director of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, noted that Canada’s space program appears to have stalled under the Conservative government, which was first elected in 2006.
The Conservatives did not respond to the association’s call for the political parties to commit to a long-term space plan.
But Boucher said such a plan is key for the space industry. “It is important to have more direction, to have a very clear position going forward for five or 10 years,” he explained. “It’s also a signal to the international community on where we are going. But we haven’t had that from the current government.”
In 2012 the Conservatives promised to reboot Canada’s space program by producing a long-term space plan.
The promise followed an extensive examination released in November 2011 of Canada’s space sector by David Emerson, a former Conservative government cabinet minister.
Emerson’s report called on the government to recognize the importance of space to national security and economic prosperity and recommended the country’s Industry Minister produce annual, five-year and 10-year plans for the Canadian space program. Those plans would be brought to a cabinet committee for discussion and approval each spring.
In February 2014 the Conservative government issued a 13-page document, Canada’s Space Policy Framework. But that provided only broad-brush strokes of the direction the country wanted to go in space and had few specific details.
The government promised the release of a long-term space plan by the end of 2014 but that never materialized.
Boucher said he is hoping the plan will emerge after the election. “I’m optimistic if there is a Liberal or NDP government we will see a plan,” he said. “I’m not quiet as optimistic if the Conservatives come back in power.
In an interview in May with SpaceNews, Industry Minister James Moore defended the Conservative government’s track record on space.
He noted that Canada had decided to renew participation in the International Space Station. That guarantees one Canadian astronaut will be sent to the space station in 2019, the other in 2024.
In April 2015 Canada announced it would provide 243 million Canadian dollars toward the Thirty Meter Telescope Project over the next decade. Canada will build the telescope enclosure and the adaptive optics system.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Moore said of the country’s space efforts.
In the two months before the election was announced on Aug. 2 the Conservatives also announced a flurry of aerospace projects, including 10.5 million Canadian dollars to MDA Corp., to continue technical support for Canadarm2 and Dextre.