Documents: ministers' offices helped plan Canadarm event that snubbed Garneau
Marc Garneau takes part in the Liberal leadership debate in Mississauga, Ont., on Feb.16, 2013. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA -- This is Ground Control to Major Marc: you didn't make the grade.
Documents show at least two ministers' offices helped plan a Canadarm event that snubbed Canada's first astronaut, Marc Garneau, now a Liberal MP.
The May 2 unveiling of a Canadarm display at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum featured dozens of VIPs as guests.
But curiously absent from the guest list was Garneau, who had operated the space arm on two space-shuttle flights and was later made president of Canada's space agency.
Garneau was miffed at being excluded, blaming the lapse on the "highly partisan" Conservative government.
Two senior ministers, however, said museum and space agency staff fumbled the ball and that their own ministerial offices played no role.
But internal emails, guest lists and proposals show that the offices of James Moore, Canadian Heritage minister, and Christian Paradis, industry minister, were closely involved in the planning for more than two months.
And media-relations specialists in the prime minister's own department had certified the event as the government's "message of the day."
A so-called Message Event Proposal, a standard planning tool to boost the government's image, was sent to Paradis' office in mid-February for vetting as details of the Canadarm unveiling ceremony were being worked out.
Internal emails are full of references to telephone calls and other exchanges with the ministers' offices.
Numerous draft lists of potential VIP guests included at least four former Canadian astronauts: Julie Payette, Roberta Bondar, Steve McLean and Robert Thirsk -- with Garneau's name conspicuously absent.
The roster swelled to 62 names by the time of the event, though not all invitees accepted. Cmdr. Chris Hadfield participated by video link from the International Space Station.
Names were supplied by museum officials, the Canadian Space Agency and MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, the firm that recently refurbished the 15-metre Canadarm, which made its space debut in 1981.
The Canadian Press obtained the Canadarm museum file through the Access to Information Act, though no correspondence from the ministers' offices was included. Some key elements of the file were also censored.
The proposed date of the Canadarm event was changed several times, and Moore finally agreed to be the attending minister since Paradis was busy.
"I just received an email from my minister's (Paradis) office," a space agency official said on April 19.
"It seems that Minister Moore will do the unveiling on May 2. All the information and documents were transferred to his office by my minister's office."
The then-head of the museum corporation, Denise Amyot, apologized to Garneau four days after the event, calling it an "oversight" without providing details.
Garneau says that "in my opinion, she took the fall."
He notes that he contacted Moore's and Paradis' offices long before the unveiling to urge them to install the Canadarm at the Ottawa museum, rather than at the space agency's offices near Montreal, so that more Canadians might see it.
Garneau says that after the unveiling, "ministers Paradis and Moore told me they played no role in organizing the event."
A spokeswoman for Moore insists the museum and space agency "organized the event and were responsible for the invites."
"The minister's office was not consulted on the guest list," Jessica Fletcher said when asked about the apparent discrepancy.
The museum, meanwhile, continues to shoulder the blame for the gaffe.
"The reason Mr. Garneau was not invited is the result of an unfortunate and regrettable oversight," said museum spokesperson Olivier Bouffard.
Another key figure in the development of the Canadarm, Ottawa resident Garry Lindberg, was also inexplicably left off the final guest list although his name appear on earlier versions.
Lindberg, who in the 1970s and early 1980s was project director at the National Research Council for Canadarm development, declined comment. In an email to him, Amyot blamed the space agency for the missing invitation.