President’s Report

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2018)

Dear CASCA members,

As you’ve no doubt seen, it’s been a busy few months for CASCA on many different fronts! Firstly, I want to thank James Di Francesco, Jennifer West and Susan Di Francesco for their extensive work on not only changing over our hosting servers, but also working to improve our membership tracking and payment routines. While there have been a few small teething problems, I’m pleased to say the switch over is now complete. For a number of reasons our server hosting arrangement had to change, but the biggest step forward is we now have (voluntarily provided) demographic data on our membership that can be used as part of LRP2020, and for other reporting mechanisms. If you happen to see James or Jennifer please join me in passing on your thanks for their work!

The CASCA Board has also moved to holding meetings on a monthly basis rather than quarterly as was the tradition for many years. Our hope is that this will help speed-up actioning important issues. As many of you can no doubt guess, the struggle with administering CASCA as an organization is the comparatively uneven nature of the workload over the year, with some periods of intense activity and other periods of comparative calm. Thus far, I’m pleased to say that moving to monthly meetings seems to be helping on a number of fronts.

I’ve received a few requests over the past few months for CASCA to move towards a more project and process-oriented framework, reflecting its growth in size to the over 500 members that we have now. The short answer is: we’re moving in that direction. However, I’d like to re-emphasize that CASCA is largely a volunteer organization with many very busy members and there are limits to what can be achieved within an organization of this nature. As always, I pass on my most sincere thanks to all members and staff of CASCA for their efforts in helping the Society operate and continuing to move our goals forward. We simply can’t function without your efforts!

I would also like to note two non-CASCA items. Firstly, the appointment of Sarah Gallagher to the Science Advisor position within the Canadian Space Agency. This is an enormous step forward for science advice in Canada. I would – somewhat cheekily – ask you all to be nice to Sarah and not flood her with advice on what she needs to do! More seriously, I’m really looking forward to working with Sarah in her new capacity and if recently released recommendations from the Standing Committee on Finance are any indication, policy is moving in the right direction. Secondly, I’d like to mention the appointment of Luc Simard as the new Director General of Herzberg. Having worked with Luc over the years I am sure he will throw himself wholeheartedly into this role and bring his trademark energy and expertise – Herzberg is in great hands moving forward! Plus, I also have to thank Greg Fahlman not only for his many years of service that were recognized with the Executive Award this year, but also for him continuing to support Herzberg in a consultant capacity. Combined with the newly reformed Herzberg Advisory Board I’m looking forward to the connection between Herzberg and the wider Canadian astronomy community going from strength to strength. It is a key part of our community’s success!

2019 AGM and Beyond

Plans for the meeting in Montreal are moving ahead well and CASCA Vice President Sara Ellison is in regular contact with the LOC spearheaded by Daryl Haggard & Nick Cowan as Co-Chairs. I’m looking forward to an exciting and vibrant meeting in June (17th-21st)! Sara is also keen to start pinning down potential locations for CASCA 2021 and 2022. Having co organized an AGM myself, I’d say there are considerable advantages to volunteering to host early, so if your department has some interest in hosting in either of those years, please help make Sara’s job easier and send her an email!


LRP2020 has been consuming a fair amount of time, both for myself and the CASCA Board, over the past few months. I’m pleased to say that the Co-Chairs of LRP2020 are set and hopefully by the time this newsletter is released we will have made an announcement through the exploder. The decision to use Co-Chairs in LRP2020 mirrors the US Astro2020 announcement of Fiona Harrison and Rob Kennicutt as their Co-Chairs, although both decisions to use this structure were formed independently.

Setting up the appropriate framework for LRP2020 is a surprisingly delicate task. We’ve learned much from previous LRPs and I know a few people would like to see a more structured document with different funding scenarios and strategies associated with those scenarios. I’m sympathetic to that idea, but there are challenges in Canada that make that approach difficult. Firstly, the LRP has no official status within Government although we are very pleased that the NRC continues to use it to set the roadmap of priorities for HAA, and the agencies pay close attention to its recommendations. Secondly, we do not have resources available for detailed costing efforts. Budgets are always a challenging part of our LRP. Lastly, following LRP2010 we put the LRP Implementation Committee in place to handle issues arising post-release. My own view is this has been an effective strategy, although perhaps the name “Implementation Committee” is somewhat misleading since the committee has no mandate to implement anything, it can only recommend.

The above issues, and a number of others, have been carefully considered during the preparation of the Terms of Reference for LRP2020. After consultation with the Co-Chairs we have kept a similar form to LRP2010, that the essence of the LRP is a review followed by a prioritization exercise, but with updates to account for some key changes. The revised version is currently being reviewed by the CASCA Board and once that is complete our announcement of the Co-Chairs along with the Terms of Reference will be made. Time-wise the final release date is planned for late 2020, a few months after Astro2020.

Some of you may not be aware that the overall cost of producing the LRP runs into the six-figure range once teaching buyouts, travel and report preparation are included. I am pleased to thank ACURA for again being prepared to support the LRP with a pair of teaching buyouts. These buyouts are a vital part of helping the Co-Chairs give their utmost to the process. I am also pleased to say that I have had preliminary discussions with the NRC, NSERC, and CSA about support for LRP2020 and I am completely confident that we will receive the necessary support again.

Coalition Activities

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has been very active over the past few months as well. As always, I’d like to thank the Coalition Co-Chairs, Don Brooks (ACURA) and Guy Nelson (Empire Dynamic Structures) for their continued commitment to moving Canadian astronomy forward, and our consultant Duncan Rayner for his expertise. Duncan also took part in the Montreal space astronomy workshop, and gave a presentation on the operation of Government to help our community better understand communication and lobby strategies.

Building upon visits to Ottawa conducted over the summer, I’m very pleased to inform everyone that our visit to Ottawa in late November to meet with members of the Government was a great success!

For this visit we reverted to a format of meeting as many members of Government as possible, which meant simultaneous meetings on a single day. A similar approach was used over a decade ago by the Coalition to improve awareness of the LRP. To put as many sets of impressive feet on the ground as possible, we were joined on our visit by Emily Deibert (University of Toronto), René Doyon (Université de Montréal), Renée Hložek (University of Toronto), Laura Parker (McMaster University), Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal). I’d like to thank all of them for taking a day out of their busy schedules to help in this important part of our awareness efforts. Presenting the diverse nature of our community had a significant impact and we learned a number of important details ahead of the upcoming budget.

We took time to talk about TMT and its progress. As many of you are aware CATAC has played a highly active and internationally recognized role in discussions of the project, and following the Hawai’i Supreme Court rulings this fall, Michael Balogh was again called upon by the international press for statements. Government representatives had questions about how the project was moving forward and Don Brooks, as a TMT Board member, was able to give some important updates.

We also spoke extensively about space astronomy and the future of space-based science in general. Many of you will have seen the #DontLetGoCanada campaign advertisements on social media (funded primarily by MDA). The consortium of companies and organizations involved are calling on Canada to produce a new long-term space plan for Canada (LTSP), much like plans developed by Liberal governments in the 1990s. CASCA is a supporter of #DontLetGoCanada, and we have added our logo to their website. We strongly support the campaign’s primary goal, namely the creation of a new LTSP. On the back of an extensive advertising campaign in Ottawa (including advertisements on over 250 buses there!) investment in space is now recognized as an issue by the Government and we are quietly hopeful that we will see a significant policy shift on space funding in 2019.

The Coalition also communicated to Government during their pre-budget consultation process. Our message remains the same as in previous years, namely that Canada needs a formal process that avoids the unnecessary lobbying required for “Big Science” projects. We were pleased to hear insight on this concern from Government and an agreement that processes could be put in place to improve this issue. As always, we will have to wait and see what happens, the large cost of major infrastructure means any fund addressing these concerns would require significant monetary resources. Our second recommendation was on funding for space-based science, and we reiterated the funding request outlined in the space exploration white paper (Caiazzo et al 2017).

Other Community Planning Activities

The two community workshops held this fall, the Wide Field Astronomy in Canada meeting in Waterloo, and the Future of Space Astronomy meeting in Montreal were both a great success and you can find reports on them in this newsletter. Moving forward it is clear that these meetings serve not only to highlight opportunities, they also make key policy or organizational blocks more obvious as well. On a personal note, I was also pleased to be able to help the community, especially graduate students and new faculty, appreciate issues from previous LRPs that we should learn from. Another big thank you to all the organizers and attendees for making these important events happen and we hope to build on them during the LRP process!

To close, I would again like to thank our editor Joanne Rosvick for her continued commitment to producing Cassiopeia! And I’d like to wish you all the best for the holiday season and a productive and exciting 2019!


President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

I can’t begin this President’s message without first acknowledging the important and amazing work done by all the officers, committee members and staff of the Society. Thank you all so much. Whether it is volunteer work or paid, your service to the Society is absolutely fundamental to making us move forward on numerous important issues! While I would not normally single out an individual, I am compelled to thank the now Past-President Bob Abraham for setting an incredibly high bar for activity in the President’s capacity! Thank you Bob!

My first few days in the Presidency have been something of a whirlwind and it has been hard not to feel overwhelmed! As many of you are aware, especially following this year’s town hall meeting at CASCA, our space astronomy portfolio is in a dire situation with no official major commitment to new missions since 2009, other than the replacement for Hitomi, XARM, following the unfortunate events of 2016. The recent dropping of Canadian participation in WFIRST has been a major concern for our community and is particularly disconcerting as we consider moving towards missions with significant Canadian leadership, such as CASTOR.

This series of events has reinforced the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy’s view that moving our space astronomy needs forward with government is a major priority. Hence the Coalition, represented by Guy Nelson (Empire Dynamic Structures), Don Brooks (UBC), Sarah Gallagher (Western) and myself, made a visit to Ottawa on June 12th to discuss space astronomy in detail with the NRC, CSA and Ministry for Innovation, Science & Economic Development. Since the Coalition maintains a non-partisan position we also met with Conservative Science Critic Matt Jeneroux. The tone of the meetings was constructive, and we repeatedly emphasized the need for long term and sustained funding of space. But ahead of the upcoming Budget consultation process it was equally important for us to listen for what was being asked. Perhaps as might be expected, we need to outline the benefits we provide to society and economics to garner the major investment we need. It is also worth remembering that there are many other fields of space-based science that face similar funding problems to us.

At the same time we are seeing concern growing about how we develop and maintain our ground-based projects. I have already been involved in ACURA discussions about MSE, while writing letters of support for Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic as it, yet again, faces the threat of closure. As we build towards LRP2020 there are a great many issues to think about. TMT continues to evolve towards a site decision, the outcome of which will have ramifications across many areas. The SKA is moving towards some key decision points on Phase 1, while the precise level of Canada’s participation still needs to be negotiated. Plus I’m sure we can all appreciate that Dr Greg Fahlman’s replacement at Herzberg will enter the position at a highly critical time, so it is no surprise the community is strongly interested to see who is eventually chosen for this key position in Canadian astronomy.

In terms of action, over the next two months, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy will submit our response to the pre-Budget consultation process as well as exploring some new avenues of communication with important policy makers. The members of the Coalition are cautiously hopeful we can move things forward, but as many of you know following the length of time it took to gain funding for TMT participation, persistence and a coherent and uniform message will be needed. We anticipate we may well end up asking the community to help with the lobbying effort – stay tuned!

Despite these uncertainties over funding, our community continues to make strides on many fronts. Having worked closely with the Equity and Inclusivity Committee over the past 18 months, I am incredibly impressed by the work they are doing to provide information to help us improve our working environment. As emphasized in numerous workshops on equity issues, improving participation and working climate is a benefit for everyone.

I am truly honoured and frankly very proud to serve the CASCA community. I really look forward to meeting and working with you all over the coming two years. As always, there’s a lot to get done!

President’s Report

By Bob Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

Budget 2018: Mostly good news

The Federal Budget came out on February 27, and it appears to be favourable to Canadian researchers working in basic science. Funding for academic institutions for research-related activities is set to rise by $340-million in fiscal year 2018-19. By 2023, scientists can count on about $446-million more annually from the funding councils, including direct money for grants, research chairs and a new program to support interdisciplinary science and international collaboration.

The increased support for science was precipitated by last year’s Fundamental Science Review, led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor. While the increase in the budget falls well short of the $1.3-billion a year increase that the report called for, a 25-per-cent increase in funding basic research is hugely welcome. Over the past year, individual scientists and organizations such as CASCA have voiced support for the Naylor report, and support for the report has been a theme of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy’s periodic visits to Ottawa. On the whole, I think that all this advocacy appears to have paid off.

Another notable aspect of the Federal Budget is the way it calls for a return to a basic research role for the National Research Council. This comes after years of re-purposing NRC to focus strongly on industrial applications. Details remain sketchy at the time of this writing, but as far as I can tell, these changes at NRC are likely to be good news for both CASCA members affiliated with NRC and for Canadian astrophysics as a whole. In particular, I can see many ways that NRC being directed to place greater emphasis on basic research (and on research excellence) would benefit our community. I’d like to understand the plan in detail before commenting on specifics, but perhaps it is worth emphasizing a basic point made in our Long-Range Plans: the success of astrophysics in Canada relies heavily on the partnership between Universities and the NRC. For that reason, all astronomers in Canada should keep a close eye on developments at NRC.

Budget 2018: Some bad news

While the Federal Budget appears to provide mostly good news for astrophysics, many of us were disappointed to see an absence of a strong commitment to the Canadian Space Agency in the document. The implications of a dwindling commitment to Space by Canada were the focus of a recent newspaper article by Ivan Semeniuk. I think this article makes for some interesting reading:

Lost in space: Why Canada’s diminishing role in the heavens is a problem – The Globe and Mail.

There are several reasonable interpretations of the lack of a specific call-out to the Canadian Space Agency in the Federal Budget. My personal interpretation is that the government is simply not ready to commit to a rejuvenation of the CSA because it is still formulating its space policy. The situation is laid out in the following article:

New space policy not ready.

I was particularly struck by one portion of this article, which makes the following points:

  • There is at least one external factor that appears to have contributed to a delay: the ongoing uncertainty in the U.S. space program. Like it or not, right or wrong, the government is taking a wait-and-see approach to what happens in the U.S.
  • NASA has been rudderless, without an approved Administrator since the election of the Trump government in November 2016. And now, Acting Administrator Lightfoot is retiring at the end of the month. Yes, there is a new Space Council in place led by Vice-President Pence, but the dynamics between the White House, the Council and Congress are mired in backroom politicking with no cohesive strategy forthcoming.
  • Does Canada need to wait for the U.S. picture to clear up before making any plans? Are we that dependent on their strategy?
  • I wonder the same thing. Canadian astronomy has benefited hugely from our participation in multi-billion dollar flagship missions, in which we can play a relatively small but highly significant role. I personally believe that we need to contribute significantly to international flagship missions in the future. (Our participation in the James Webb Space Telescope is a great example of Canadian academia operating synergistically with Industry in this capacity, as is our small but important contributions to the success of the Herschel and Planck missions). But, in my opinion, taking advantage of the opportunities presented by international flagship missions should only be a component of a broader Canadian space astronomy ecosystem. We can (and should) aspire to a greater degree of independence and leadership in smaller impactful missions (the proposed CASTOR mission being one good example).

    Gearing up for the next LRP

    These are my opinions, but what are yours? The Coalition’s trips to Ottawa are input-output exercises. In terms of output, we describe what our community does, provide status reports, and explain our need for additional resources. But in terms of input, we take the opportunity to really listen to what the ministry and our elected representatives are saying. One of the most clear messages conveyed to us is that a major strength of our community is its cohesion. This cohesion is manifested by our Long Range Plan, which provides a strong central focus for our community’s activity. In less than a year we will kick off the planning for LRP2020, and the topics above will no doubt be the subject of considerable discussion. Your opinions matter. When the time arrives, please take the opportunity to fully engage in the LRP process, by talking with your colleagues, contributing to a white paper, and participating in the Town Hall meetings, both locally and at the CASCA AGM.


    While our community has significant concerns about the long term future of Canadian Space Astronomy, this should not blind us to the fact that the very near-term future is looking pretty damn good. The James Webb Space Telescope Cycle 1 proposal deadline is April 6! After being involved in this project for well over a decade, I can hardly believe that the day we can apply to use this spectacular facility is almost here. The Canadian Space Agency, working in partnership with astronomers led by René Doyon at the University of Montréal, have really delivered the goods for the present generation of astronomers, and they deserve our thanks. I can’t wait to see what gets discovered. If, like me, you find yourself a little overwhelmed by the proposal process, I recommend you make yourself a cup of tea and sit down in front of YouTube and watch the video recordings of the U de M JWST community preparation webinars.


    Michael Balogh (chair of CATAC, the Canadian TMT Advisory Committee) has prepared an excellent summary of the progress being made with the TMT project in this issue of Cassiopeia. You should definitely take a look at it, because a key instrument, the Wide Field Optical Spectrometer (WFOS), is being redesigned and this is an excellent opportunity for you to provide the instrument team with feedback on the specifications of the instrument that would best enable your science.

    Diversity and Inclusivity

    The Diversity and Inclusivity Committee (chaired by Brenda Matthews) is preparing a summary of the results from the recent Professional Climate Survey, and the committee has also been given a draft of a proposed CASCA Values Statement to mull over. I expect we will see discussion of both items at the upcoming CASCA Annual General Meeting in Victoria.

    CASCA 2018 and 2019

    As I’m sure you are aware, the 49th annual general meeting of CASCA is being held at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, BC from 22 May to 26 May 2018. The meeting is co-hosted by the University of Victoria, NRC-Herzberg, and the Astronomy Research Centre. It promises to be a spectacular CASCA AGM! You can check out the program on the CASCA 2018 website here.

    CASCA 2019 will be hosted by McGill University in Montréal, which is exciting news, as Montréal is such an amazingly fun city (my favourite, by miles).

    Signing Off

    The CASCA Presidency is a two-year term, and my time as your President is now winding to a close. The next President’s Message will appear in the Summer Cassiopeia and will be written by my successor (Rob Thacker from St. Mary’s University). It has been a privilege to serve you for the last couple of years, and I thank you for putting up with me (not to mention with putting up with these overly-long President’s messages – if you think it’s bad for you, think of poor Joanne Rosvick and Magdalene Normandeau, who had to edit them in spite of them always being late). Leading CASCA for a while has provided me with many opportunities to talk to you all and to share in your adventures, which in turn has shown me how great it is to be an astronomer in Canada. We are part of a community dedicated to excellence in science, and to making our profession better. We are joined together by many things, not least of which is our shared passion to learn more about the Universe and to share its wonders.

    Roberto Abraham
    University of Toronto