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Industry minister releases space policy details

OTTAWA - A framework that will serve as a guide for Canada's future in space is getting a cool reception in some quarters, with critics slamming the Harper government over past budget cuts.

Former astronaut-turned Liberal MP Marc Garneau says the real test is in the execution of the policy, which makes sovereignty and security its No. 1 priority.

Industry Minister James Moore unveiled the policy document on Friday, telling industry representatives and a group of local students the four other priorities are:

— Helping the space industry to develop cutting-edge technology.

— Partnering with other countries on major projects.

— Promoting Canadian innovation.

— And inspiring Canadians to pursue a career in space.

"The net benefit of all of this (policy) is that Canada will be stronger, more assertive and more prosperous and with a brighter future in space," Moore said.

Garneau called it a good framework, but said he'll wait and see whether "the grand words...are actually going to turn into something positive for Canada's space program."

"This is a winner for Canada," said Garneau, a former president of the Canadian Space Agency. "We just have to execute it, but that does mean more money and we'll see if the government puts it in.

"Let's remember last year, the government with its cost-cutting, cut the space agency's budget by 10 per cent — that's $30 million. We had to lay off people."

The agency's current annual budget is $260 million.

The NDP blasted Moore's announcement, saying that after nearly running the CSA into the ground with short-sighted budget cuts and sheer incompetence, the Conservatives are now trying to convince Canadians that they're its biggest champions.

"They make a framework announcement that really doesn't have any teeth, and they want Canadians to get excited," NDP industry critic Chris Charlton said Friday.

"I think both Canadians and Canada's space program deserve better."

When a reporter asked Moore if there would be more money for the CSA, he would only say that Walt Natynczyk, the new head of the Canadian Space Agency, will get what he needs.

"Without a doubt, I'm certain Mr. Natynczyk will have the capacity and the financing to do his job," he said.

Moore noted that there were difficulties in the past with the former leadership at the agency. That was believed to be a reference to Steve MacLean, who quit a year ago.

The industry minister said there is now a new leadership, a new approach — and a new policy.

"The Canadian Space Agency, under Walt Natynczyk has, we think, plenty of money certainly to achieve its mandate," he added.

Jim Quick, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, welcomed the policy announcement, saying it's about time.

"We've been asking for a very long time to have a long-term policy framework and a vision for space for Canada and this is where we are today," he told The Canadian Press.

Quick said the industry can now go back to the government every year to see how it's doing and remind it of the need for investment in space.

He also noted that, in the past, there had to be lobbying for every project the government was interested in.

"Now we have a vision and now we have a plan.. so this gets incorporated into the government's financial and economic plan," he said.

The association represents about 100 of Canada's aerospace companies, including MDA, builder of the Canadarm; Lockheed Martin Canada Inc.; Magellan Aerospace; and Telesat Canada.

Moore also reaffirmed Canada's continued support for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will eventually replace the Hubble telescope in space.

He announced that Canada will invest $17 million in the new telescope.

"The telescope's images will serve thousands of astronomers worldwide over the coming decades, including helping them to determine if there are other planets capable of supporting life," Moore said.

Natynczyk told reporters that James Webb is an $8-billion project, with the cost being shared among NASA, the European Space Agency and the CSA.

It's now expected to be launched in 2018.

Canada's space industry, which employs 8,000 people, generates revenues of $3.3 billion annually.

— With files from Lina Dib

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