Sunday, May 1, 2016

‘Mushroom management’ and the Canadian space industry

According to the Urban Dictionary, mushroom management is a style of business management where people are kept in the dark and have dung thrown on them. (The Urban Dictionary uses a more colourful word for dung, but let’s keep this classy.)

Previous governments have been adept at mushroom managing the Canadian space industry. They’ve had a meeting or two (usually secret), a few photo ops, and that’s about all. It’s starting to look like the new Government of Canada is continuing that tradition with the recent meeting of the Space Advisory Board.

The board was set up in 2014 by Industry Minister James Moore from the previous Conservative government. According to the press release from 2014, the board “...will provide expert advice to the government on Canada's role and future in space. The board includes experts from across the country who will help lead Canada's space policy in the years ahead.

If you want to know who’s on the board, you can see a list in this post at the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA). Note that this seems to be the only place you can find it.

Now, about that meeting. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), met with the Space Advisory Board on April 21, 2016. He tweeted this picture about it.


You probably didn’t know about the meeting since ISED didn’t announce it. Neither did the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The only mention of the meeting seems to be the tweet from the Minister’s Twitter account. And speaking of that account, don’t bother asking questions on it. Apparently, it’s for broadcast purposes only.

So what happened at the meeting? What was said?

Whatever it was, only the participants know. Nothing was released to the public, not even a simple press release. That’s in keeping with the secrecy of the previous meeting of the group with Mr. Moore. Nothing came out then, either.

When you consider that this new Liberal government made a big deal about transparency, you might think that they’d say something. After all, it’s in the public interest.

The ISED website has nothing. Neither does the Canadian Space Agency’s website. The CSA must have known about the meeting—the smiling man on the left in that photo is Sylvain Laporte, the CSA’s current president.

If they won’t tell us what’s going on then the best course of action is to ask them. I emailed ISED and asked if the details of what was discussed at the meeting would be made public.

ISED responded with this:
“As this was the first full meeting of Minister Bains with the Space Advisory Board, much of the discussion was about the Minister's priorities as part of his overall mandate, and in promoting a strong space program and ensuring a sustainable space sector. The meeting provided an opportunity to establish an open and ongoing dialogue as the Government's priorities on innovation, science and economic development take shape.
Minister Bains also highlighted the Government's support for the space sector, including Budget 2016 commitments to provide up to $379 million over eight years to extend Canada's participation in the International Space Station to 2024 and $30 million over four years to support Canada's participation in the European Space Agency's Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems program.”

OK, let’s say this meeting was meant to be nothing more than a meet-and-greet. Are they planning future meetings? I emailed that question to ISED.

This was the response (It’s not an excerpt. This was the entire response):
“It is expected that the Minister will meet with the Space Advisory Board again in the coming months.”

This is starting to take on a familiar smell, isn’t it?

I’m not trying to paint the ministry as the bad guys. It’s not like they aren’t doing anything for the space industry. For example, ISED helped Telesat get priority rights to Ka-band spectrum for the satellite constellation the company is developing.

But it’s not enough for ISED to work behind the scenes. They need to keep the industry aware of developments, and that includes meetings and events of significance. When that isn’t done, it sends a message: You guys aren’t important enough.

ISED thought it was important enough to issue a press release announcing Faster, more reliable Internet coming to rural British Columbia, but nothing about a meeting with an advisory board that could affect an entire industry, an industry that brought in $3.49 billion in 2013 to Canada’s economy?

Come on Minister Bains, shed a little light. Talk to us.

Curious mushrooms want to know.