Now that Steve MacLean has made the decision to leave the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) after an exemplary 29 year career of which he served 4 1/2 years as President, who replaces him?
MacLean whose first term as CSA President was ending at the end of August, and for which he could have been reappointed, partly reorganized the agency, but never got the support from government he was expecting.
It’s ironic that the day after MacLean was appointed President in 2008 that the then Minister of Industry, the Honourable Jim Prentice, made a major space policy speech which would sow the seeds of MacLean’s eventual demise.
It was a grandiose speech, and it contained some key points which MacLean would act upon enthusiastically, perhaps too much so, and for which the government would reverse its course dramatically.
In the speech, Prentice preceded his key points with these words;
“Ladies and gentlemen, in the next phase of the great adventure, our vision is to ensure that Canada stays at the forefront of space exploration and development. At this crossroads, Canada will take the road that leads to a future of scientific and technological excellence. Canada will be among those bold nations that go on to new exploration and new development.”
And then Prentice went on to list and talk about three key points:
– First, we needed to revitalize the CSA with new management and new governance.
– Second, the CSA requires a President capable of achieving the very ambitious goals of the Agency.
– Third, we need to develop a space plan worthy of this great spacefaring nation and its traditions
MacLean had his marching orders and there was optimism within the CSA and the community.
Now 4 1/2 years later, we’re back at square one, and the enthusiasm evident in 2008, is gone.
MacLean did exactly what he was asked to do. He had begun reorganizing the agency, he, in concert with stakeholders, submitted a long-term space plan to government and he was also showing leadership qualities that any agency would want.
Unfortunately for MacLean, his tenure coincided with the greatest global financial crisis since the depression era. And in another irony, the government, in a effort to help industry through this rough stretch, pumped an additional $110 million into the CSA budget, meaning MacLean actually served at a time when the CSA budget reached its zenith.
The stimulus money actually only masked an ongoing erosion of the CSA budget and future budgets are looking leaner still.
It wasn’t only the economy which hampered MacLean’s effort, it was also his style and enthusiasm.
In the bureaucracy of Industry Canada, MacLean’s style didn’t mesh. He had a job to do and it was up to Industry Canada to play ball.
As an example, MacLean made an excellent public speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver in mid-February last year. Even though the speech was public, the CSA said a transcript of the speech was not available. However SpaceRef obtained a voice recording of the speech and had it transcribed. MacLean at one point talks about the budget cuts and says “and my biggest fear in these budget cuts is if the space agency gets hurt a lot, we’re going to lose that and we’ll see what happens. Is there media in the room? Thank you. I have to think now.” He was referring to job cuts and losing Canadian talent to other countries. But what it shows is that he even though he wanted to talk about the consequences of the coming budget cuts he was in essence being muzzled by those he reports to.
But in the end, with the government entrenched in preserving the economy, this meant that long-term plans and being bold just wasn’t going to happen.
With the writing on the wall and perhaps knowing that his continued efforts were for not, MacLean decided it was time to move on to other challenges.
MacLean was the right leader but at the wrong time.
So who replaces MacLean?
It would seem with MacLean’s departure imminent that an interim head of agency will be appointed. The logical choice would be current Vice-President, Chummer Farina.
Previous to his appointment as Vice-President of policy, external and government relations, communications and public affairs at the CSA he was director general of the Aerospace, Defence and Marine Branch. Farina has a doctorate degree in policy from the University of Manchester in the UK.
Dr. Farina could also be under consideration as the next President as sources inform SpaceRef that he has a good working relationship with Industry Canada and government.
Another name that has surfaced is Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette who is currently the Scientific Authority for the government of Quebec in Washington. However it would be a surprise at this point if Payette was selected.
The most likely scenario is that the government will appoint an interim leader with a permanent President appointed by September according to our sources. This would allow enough time to put together a committee to find a suitable replacement.
Whoever that person is will have to deal with an agency whose budget will see ongoing cuts for the foreseeable future.
With the government adverse to long-term planning and spending, being bold is out of the question. So whoever is selected will also have to be a team player, as in play nicely with Industry Canada and the government.
The job description will be, do the best you can with the budget, don’t make waves and lead within those constraints.
The just completed Aerospace Review will also be a factor for whoever is the new President. Industry Minister Christian Paradis has repeatedly stated that the Aerospace Review report “is not a report that is going to sit on a shelf collecting dust.”
The government though can now take more time to decide on what to do with the Aerospace Review report. It needs to find a new leader for the CSA first.
Until the economy really picks up, it seems unlikely the conservative government will make any serious long-term plans for the CSA. Nor it would seem, that any major new projects will move forward.
One major project that has been rumoured is a Canadian rover for an international mission to the moon led by NASA. And while at one level within the community that could be true, the reality is that NASA is in a state of flux itself.
NASA’s current administrator Charlie Bolden could be replaced. He has certainly clashed with his boss in the Oval office at times. But even if Bolden stays, NASA’s budget is hampered by huge cost overruns from the James Webb Telescope and the Mars Science Laboratory. And there is an ongoing policy fight between what the President wants, Congress wants and what Bolden wants. So is Canada going to provide a rover for a future moon mission? Maybe, but not anytime soon.
For the next President of the CSA the task will be to run the ship smoothly during these turbulent times. The only major project for the foreseeable future is the recently fully funded RADARSAT Constellation Mission. With the parameters of today’s reality, that’s the best that can be expected it would seem from our government.