By Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)
On June 10, the CASCA Board published a statement regarding the recent confirmation of the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Reservation School. This news has been the latest heart-breaking reminder of Canada’s long history of colonial atrocities. To the full CASCA Board statement (English; and French), I add my personal thoughts and prayers to those in grief and pain, to the communities and families who have lost loved ones, and to the Indigenous members in our Society. I encourage our Society members to reach out to your Indigenous colleagues and friends in their time of sorrow.
Addressing inequity, bias and racism is a recurrent theme in CASCA’s Long Range Plan 2020. Despite its infancy, the first steps in this broad-reaching decadal initiative have now begun. As I described at the recent AGM, we have a new implementation and oversight structure that convenes the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC; welcome to Will Percival as the new Chair), the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy (JCSA), the LRP Community Recommendations Committee (LCRIC) and the CASCA Board. The Chairs of these committees have already begun regular communication over the coordination and tracking of LRP progress. Discussions with other CASCA committees will also ramp up over the coming months as we mobilize towards working on the recommendations in our charge. I refer you to the LCRIC update in this newsletter for more information on community updates. On the dissemination front, I can report that the hard copies of the LRP have been received by both the ACURA office and at Temple Scott Associates for distribution amongst our university and external contacts. However, with tele-working still in place for the vast majority of workers in Ottawa, as well as many universities, it is anticipated that the final delivery will be made in the Fall once people return to their offices and are receiving mail (major stakeholders have been previously sent electronic versions).
CASCA 2021 attracted a record number of attendees – some 500 strong from across the astronomical community. This year’s AGM additionally broke new ground for the Society with an unprecedentedly broad scope in its sessions, including an Indigenous cultural awareness session by Bob Joseph, and keynote presentations by Ninan Abraham and Astrid Eichorn on academic racism and the carbon footprint of research in the EDI and Sustainability sessions. The feedback we have received on these sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and sends a clear message that our annual gathering should be a place where we meet to not only discuss science, but also where we consider our place in an equitable and responsible society. CASCA 2022 (“Canadian Astronomy in the Roaring 2020s”) will again break new ground, as the Society’s first hybrid meeting, with the in-person component taking place at the University of Waterloo (LOC Chair: Will Percival). In case you missed it, the video invitation to CASCA 2022 (May 10-16) presented at the end of this year’s AGM can be found here. Those who attend CASCA 2022 in-person will be able to pick up a hard copy of the LRP!
The #1 ranked space facility in the LRP is the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR). As reported at the AGM, and in the dedicated article in this issue, CASTOR continues to make steady progress and gather momentum under the Canadian scientific leadership of Pat Côté and John Hutchings. A significant ramp-up in activity (both development work and promotional efforts) is expected in the latter half of 2021.
CSA is funding an extensive technical contract for CASTOR that will run until May 2023 and have also have approved a Phase 0 study to begin later this year that will run concurrently. Taken together, these studies will allow CASTOR to move to flight development, once the mission is approved and funded by the government. International partners continue to work closely with the CASTOR team: JPL have demonstrated their support by approving technical work using internal funds, the UK group have offered detector testing as part of the STDP work and the partnership with India through ISRO continues to develop, albeit with some COVID-induced delays. ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy are being kept up to date with developments so that they are briefed for engagement within universities and in Ottawa.
In ground-based priorities, the SKA project continues to progress rapidly in anticipation of the start of its construction phase. Since the SKA update at the AGM, China has ratified the SKA Observatory (SKAO) treaty convention to become the 7th Full Member, France has announced that it will accede to the SKAO, and Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has signed a cooperation agreement with the SKAO to allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision is made by their government to join the Observatory. As you are all aware, the SKA was not listed explicitly in the Federal budget that was announced on April 19, and Canada is now relegated to `observer’ status, with no involvement in the governance of the project. As described by the Canadian SKA Science Director, Kristine Spekkens, at our recent AGM, there is a pressing need for commitment by the end of this month if we are to avoid the loss of our provisional industry contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars. Lobbying for SKA has been the primary activity of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy in the last year. Our most recent meeting took place in late May with a senior Policy Advisor from Minister Champagne’s office. This is the first time that the Coalition has been able to secure a meeting with the Minister’s office since Francois Phillippe Champagne took over from Navdeep Bains as Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry in January 2021. Through a variety of communication channels, the government is fully briefed on the SKA and are aware of the project’s timelines and the stakes if we do not commit imminently.
In other news from Ottawa, on May 26 the House of Commons unanimously passed a private members motion from former Science Minister Kirsty Duncan that will create a permanent House Committee on Science and Research. However, the Committee will not be created until the next Parliament (i.e. after the next federal election). Speculation for an upcoming election is buzzing around the capital. The Government’s legislation to implement the 2021 budget (Bill C-30) has been studied at Committee in the House and the Senate, and efforts are now underway to get it passed before the mid-June summer recess. Passing that legislation is generally considered an imperative if the Liberals want to call an election for the fall. Once Parliament recesses for summer, it is not due to resume until September 20 – and that is assuming an election is not called before then. However, as perhaps the clearest signal yet that a 2021 election is likely, all parties agreed to a motion allowing MPs not running again to give their farewell addresses in the House on June 15. The Liberals also invoked their “electoral urgency” clause regarding riding nominations. Without Parliament sitting, the only means for the Liberals to trigger an election before September 20 is for the Prime Minister to ask the Governor General (or acting Governor General) to dissolve Parliament. That request would almost certainly be granted. Finally, the House of Commons Finance Committee has launched its annual pre-budget consultation, with submissions due on August 6. As we do every year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will make a submission to this call.