Thursday, December 14, 2006

Head in the sand

The Cons can claim a direct hit in their war on effective government, as Maxime Bernier has managed to contribute to the decay of Canadian research and development, surrender a hard-won market niche, and alienate a wide range of international allies in a single bone-headed move:
The federal government has turned down a request by Canada's space industry to support a contract that would have allowed the companies to build the European Space Agency's Mars surface rover, CBC News has learned.

The decision stunned the companies and has left the ESA scrambling to find a new partner, as no European firm is adequately prepared to match the technical abilities of Canadian firms to build its ExoMars rover...

The project required no additional funding from Ottawa, but was contingent upon $100 million over 10 years from the existing CSA budget being redirected to the program by restructuring priorities and cancelling or postponing other projects, according to documents obtained by the CBC.

But just a few short weeks after the presentation, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier told the companies the government hadn't made up its mind about the future of Canada's space role and didn't want to go forward with the project.

The project had the approval of the United States, which also wanted Canada to continue its robotics role and had signed off on Canadian firms to design at least the robotics component on equipment and vehicles used on its planned mission to the moon in 2020.

Canada has never failed with any project it has handled for NASA, which has earned it the trust of the U.S. as it gathers international support for its space programs.
It's hard to see who stands to gain anything from the refusal to participate, as even the CSA whose budget is affected would presumably prefer to continue to be a reliable international partner rather than having its role cast into so much doubt. But then, there is one exception: namely, any Con who wants to repeat the 1950s so desperately as to be happy to re-enact Canada's worst mistakes from that era:
The rover decision has the companies threatening to take their operations south of the border, which observers fear could lead to a brain drain of Canadian designers and scientists similar to the one suffered in the wake of the abrupt cancellation of the Avro Arrow fighter-interceptor program in 1959.

After the Diefenbaker government axed the Arrow, many of the Avro Canada engineering and technical staff left Canada for the U.S. to become lead engineers, program managers and heads of engineering in NASA's manned space programs Mercury to Apollo, which led to the first man on the moon in 1969.
We'll have to hope that history doesn't repeat itself entirely. But with Canada's So-Called Government apparently willing to let high-tech industry atrophy while continuing to give needless handouts to resource extraction, it's clear that it'll take a quick change in political leadership to avoid an entirely preventable loss of talent and economic development.

Update: Just to highlight how unnecessary the loss of the project was, note as well that even if the Cons didn't want to divert other CSA funding, they could have funded the whole project by simply paying what the military's new aircraft are worth rather than paying more than double the going rate.

Edit: Might as well use PMS' own terminology to describe the Cons' regime.

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