This is my first report as your newly elected President. I’m very honoured to be asked to take on this role, but I admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at all the things that need attention.
I would like to start by thanking our outgoing President, Laura Ferrarese, for the outstanding job she has done over the past two years. She has played a major role in our efforts so far to find funding for the TMT and most recently she has coordinated the start of the very important Mid Term Review (MTR) of our 2010 Long Range Plan. She oversaw a complete revamping of our society’s web site and has done a fantastic job of communicating with the members of our society through a variety of channels, including taking charge of the CASCA twitter account during the Quebec City AGM. I look forward to the benefit of her experience as she continues on the CASCA Board as Past President.
I would also like to welcome the new members to the CASCA Board. Bob Abraham is our new Vice-President, and Sarah Gallagher and Stephane Courteau are our new directors. I look forward to working with you all over the next two years.
We have just finished a wonderful CASCA annual general meeting in Quebec City. The science was exciting, the food was excellent, and the setting (including the weather) was beautiful! I want to thank again the LOC chaired by Laurent Drissen for all their hard work and dedication that paid off in a very successful meeting.
Immediately after CASCA we had a kick-off meeting for the Mid Term Review process. Further information about this meeting is given in the article in this issue by committee chair Rob Thacker. The individual presentations will be posted to the MTR area of the CASCA web site.
The most urgent task currently facing our community is to secure funding to enable our participation in TMT, our highest priority for a new ground-based facility. As you may recall, funding for TMT was not included in the February 2014 federal budget. As a result, Canada is currently an associate member of the TMT International Observatory (TIO), which voted to begin construction at their May 22, 2014 meeting. The members of the TIO are currently the University of California, Caltech, Japan, and China, with India and AURA as additional associate members. The coming year will be a ramp-up year for construction spending and so the window is still open for Canada to join the TIO if we can secure construction funding in the coming year.
Many of you may not be aware of the schedule and process that is followed in developing the federal budget; the following is my personal (probably incomplete) understanding gleaned from recent discussions and past experience. For a federal budget, which is typically released in February, most of the work is done in the preceding summer and early fall. Summer is the time when MPs are typically in their home ridings, and so this is the time when individual visits by voters (us!) are easiest to make. August 6, 2014 is the deadline this year for any “pre-budget submissions”; the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will prepare a pre-budget submission on TMT.
To fund TMT as a line item in the Federal Budget requires a “Memo to Cabinet”; this Memo would be prepared by the National Research Council under direction by Industry Canada and submitted to Cabinet by the Minister. My understanding is that Industry Canada has to ask NRC to prepare this Memo to Cabinet, i.e. that NRC cannot submit a memo without a request from above. We are not allowed to know anything about the existence or progress of a Memo to Cabinet; this was rather frustrating during our wait for the 2014 budget but is a long-standing policy (I remember similar rules during the work to obtain funding for ALMA over 10 years ago).
A potential new player in the funding arena is the Canada Research First Excellence Fund, which was announced in the February 2014 budget. No details are available yet as to how this fund will be distributed. However, under advice from the office of the Minister of State for Science and Technology, ACURA is exploring whether it may be a possible route for some of the funding needed for TMT. It seems likely at this time that individual universities may have substantial say over how these new funds are allocated, which means that interactions with university Presidents and university priorities may be important.
So at this point you may be thinking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” I would say the answer to that is “Yes”. The Coalition is pursuing what I would call a “tiered” strategy and the overall strategy is still being developed. One approach is to reach out to the Presidents of our universities for support; this will almost certainly be required for the new Excellence Fund and may be important as well for nudging a memo to cabinet forward. The second approach is to write to and meet with individual MPs. In early June, Laura Ferrarese wrote to a subset of about 40 astronomers with strong connections to CASCA and/or the LRP process to ask them to contact their MPs and university Presidents. Once we have a more complete strategy in place, I anticipate sending out a more general call to CASCA members via the email exploder. So stay tuned!