Keep RADARSAT-2 in Canada

National Post (Latest Edition) - - Issues & - SCOTT BRI­SON & MICHAEL BYERS

Last week, In­dus­try Min­is­ter Jim Pren­tice an­nounced that he would take 30 ex­tra days to con­sider whether to ap­prove the pro­posed sale of the space di­vi­sion of B.C.-based MacDon­ald Det­twiler & As­so­ciates (MDA) to Al­liant Tech­sys­tems of Min­nesota.

It was the right move. For­eign in­vest­ment is gen­er­ally a good thing, but not in this in­stance.

The sale in­cludes RADARSAT-2, a newly launched re­mote sens­ing satel­lite de­signed specif­i­cally with Arc­tic sovereignty in mind. Gen­er­at­ing im­agery of re­mark­ably high def­i­ni­tion even at night and through clouds, RADARSAT-2 is the per­fect tool for track­ing ships and map­ping sea-ice.

With the North­west Pas­sage open­ing, los­ing RADARSAT-2 would be like los­ing our eyes. Forty per cent of Canada is lo­cated in the Arc­tic. De­tect­ing and track­ing ships and mea­sur­ing the thick­ness of any re­main­ing ice is an es­sen­tial com­ple­ment to hav­ing the means nec­es­sary to reach and board sus­pect ves­sels.

RADARSAT-2 was de­vel­oped through a pub­lic-private part­ner­ship be­tween MDA and the Cana­dian Space Agency, with tax­pay­ers con­tribut­ing $445-mil­lion or about 85% of the to­tal cost. In re­turn, Canada ob­tained RADARSAT-2 im­agery and “shut­ter con­trol” — the abil­ity to re­strict the kinds of images be­ing down­loaded from the satel­lite for rea­sons of na­tional se­cu­rity or for­eign pol­icy — as well as “pri­or­ity ac­cess” in emer­gen­cies.

This shut­ter con­trol and pri­or­ity ac­cess is now at stake. Once the satel­lite is sold to Al­liant Tech­sys­tems, Ottawa will lose the abil­ity to con­trol the satel­lite and com­man­deer it in emer­gen­cies. And the equip­ment could then be used in ways that con­tra­dict our in­ter­ests: sup­pose that the United States sends a ship into the North­west Pas­sage with­out Canada’s con­sent, re­ly­ing on RADARSAT-2 im­agery and, per­haps, deny­ing us ac­cess to it?

Then there is the is­sue of re­tain­ing a Cana­dian space in­dus­try. Canada has al­ways been a world leader in space. In the field of com­plex Earth-ob­ser­va­tion satel­lites, most coun­tries fo­cused their ef­forts on pow­er­ful cam­eras; Cana­dian sci­en­tists in­stead de­vel­oped syn­thetic aper­ture radar through the RADARSAT pro­gram. Canada now leads the world in this tech­nol­ogy, but we will lose our lead — and the abil­ity to build even more ad­vanced satel­lites — if the pro­posed sale goes ahead. In this sense, RADARSAT-2 is the mod­ern day equiv­a­lent of the Avro Ar­row.

Ev­ery coun­try with a se­ri­ous space pro­gram di­rects gov­ern­ment money to­ward its do­mes­tic space in­dus­try on the ba­sis that some pub­lic good, such as na­tional defence, will not be pro­vided by the mar­ket alone. But now that RADARSAT-2 has been launched, the Cana­dian in­dus­try lacks any ma­jor fol­low-on projects — and Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment is hes­i­tat­ing about fund­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of RADARSATS.

The same gov­ern­ment has also failed to seek ex­emp­tions to the United States’ In­ter­na­tional Traf­fic in Arms Reg­u­la­tions (ITAR) which have im­peded the Cana­dian space in­dus­try’s ac­cess to the lu­cra­tive U.S. mar­ket. In other words, gov­ern­ment in­ac­tion has con­trib­uted to MDA’s de­ci­sion to sell RADARSAT-2.

In­stead of equiv­o­cat­ing, the gov­ern­ment should block the sale of MDA’s space di­vi­sion and part­ner with the com­pany in de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy fur­ther. In­stead of giv­ing up when we’re ahead, we should do what it takes to stay at the cut­ting edge.

Un­der the In­vest­ment Canada Act, the in­dus­try min­is­ter can block a sale that is not of “net ben­e­fit” to Canada. The act sets out a se­ries of eco­nomic and in­dus­trial fac­tors to be used by gov­ern­ment to mea­sure the im­pact the sale of a com­pany or re­source may have. But noth­ing pre­cludes the con­sid­er­a­tion of noneco­nomic fac­tors, such as na­tional se­cu­rity.

Mr. Pren­tice will re­mem­ber how, as re­cently as Oc­to­ber, he stood be­side RADARSAT-2 and said: “This satel­lite will help us vig­or­ously pro­tect our Arc­tic sovereignty as in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in the re­gion in­creases.”

He was ab­so­lutely right. What could be more im­por­tant to Canada’s na­tional se­cu­rity than our abil­ity to mon­i­tor all of this vast coun­try, es­pe­cially in emer­gen­cies? What for­eign in­vest­ment could be of net ben­e­fit to Canada than sell­ing our eyes?


Scott Bri­son is the Lib­eral critic for in­dus­try, science and tech­nol­ogy and co-chair of the Lib­eral party elec­tion plat­form com­mit­tee; Michael Byers holds the Canada Re­search Chair in Global Pol­i­tics and In­ter­na­tional Law at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

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