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

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!

Rob

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