EDITORIAL: Satellite licensing limbo MP’s burden to bear

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Unless the federal government gets its act together, it’s looking more and more like space won’t be the final frontier for a satellite array in Inuvik.

The Beaufort-Delta community is an ideal location for satellite farms due to its proximity to low polar orbits, roads and infrastructure to service them.

Norwegian company KSAT and California-based Planet Labs spent $10 million building a ground station in Inuvik on the heels of a $100-million investment by the territorial government to lay a new fibre-optic cable for carrying data to the south.

The ground station was viewed as the cherished fruit of this investment – and bound to encourage more companies to head North to take advantage of this prime location – but now it is at risk of being a lost opportunity thanks to federal red tape that has kept this joint U.S.-Norwegian venture in limbo for nearly two years.

Global Affairs Canada, the federal agency responsible for satellite array licensing, announced last week that it is working closely with the two companies to approve licensing after Planet Labs announced Feb. 13 that it will remove the ground station if it does not receive a remote sensing licence by June 1.

But even if Global Affairs does make the deadline much damage has already been done.

As noted last year by Tom Zubko, president of New North Networks, the contractor tasked with maintaining the station: “There are places in the world where these guys have gone and set up satellite dishes, ground stations and they’ve gotten everything processed in a month. In Canada, there have been applications for this station in the hands of the government for a year now, and they still don’t know when they’re going to get their licence.”

Planet Labs has launched 136 satellites since February 2017 – all of which were linked to satellite stations in other countries – and with an estimated $1 trillion in annual revenue being generated by space-related activities, the NWT is missing out on another serving of economic pie.

Many countries, in an effort to attract and develop cutting-edge space technology, are harmonizing their regulatory processes and subsidies but Canada lags behind.

The NWT’s Liberal MP Michael McLeod told News/North last year that he has briefed Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, the minister for Global Affairs, of the importance of the project to Inuvik’s economy.

Well MP McLeod, whether entirely deserved or not, the federal government’s foot-dragging on this project is your burden to bear.

What’s the point of voting Liberal in the Beaufort Delta if they can’t get things done for the people living there? For those keeping score, this is strike two after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unilateral ban on drilling for oil and gas in Arctic waters.

McLeod will have to work overtime on two fronts: convincing Liberal higher ups that they need to do more to foster economic development in the territory instead of hindering it. And, convince voters in next year’s election that he remains the man to do that job despite his party’s spotty record.

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