Ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest to pilot space industry relaunch plan

Canada’s aerospace industry has appointed former Quebec premier Jean Charest to chart a new course for the sector.

The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada is putting Charest in the cockpit to coax funding commitments and a long-term plan from the federal government amid fears the country’s star is fading.

“The industry has come to the conclusion that we sort of need a reset in terms of what the future of the industry is in Canada,” Charest said in a phone interview from Paris.

“There is a sense that we’re in a world where there’s much more competition. And it’s not that we’re doing badly, but the world is really moving fast.”

Charest, a former federal minister who served as premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012, highlighted government’s “very critical role” in funding, research and training for civil and defence aviation.

“The Trump administration has decided to create a new division for space,” he noted, referring to a newly announced military branch the U.S. president has dubbed Space Force.

“We can’t stand still,” Charest said.

Jim Quick, president of the aerospace industry group, said Canada is “not keeping up” with the sector growth and innovation of countries such as France, Germany and the United States, which have long-term strategies in place.

Britain is targeting 10 per cent of the global space market within 12 years, he pointed out. Luxembourg aims to dig into space mining such as harvesting asteroid’s for rare and precious metals.

Quick said the new initiative, called Vision 2025, will push Ottawa to include a long-term space plan in its budget next year, alongside a commitment to help provide advanced robotics for the Lunar Gateway — described as a third-generation Canadarm.

Charest, a partner at the McCarthy Tetrault law firm, will lead discussions with government and industry officials in several cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax, culminating in a report on aerospace priorities.

Aerospace leads Canada’s manufacturing sector in innovation-related investment, spending over $1.8 billion on research and development in 2017 — nearly one-quarter of total manufacturing research expenditures, according to the association.

Nonetheless, Ottawa’s investments in space as a percentage of GDP have dropped to 18th globally from eighth place in 1992, according to the association. The sector’s manufacturing employment has fallen by five per cent since 2012.

Canada hosts the world’s fifth-largest aerospace industry, contributing nearly $25 billion to Canada’s economy and almost 190,000 jobs in 2017, the association said.