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Waypoint: Of ministers and associations

Bye-bye birdy, an aviation colleague said to me the other day. Our conversation was in relation to Transport Minister John Baird heading out the door. On August 6, Prime Minister Harper shuffled his cabinet and once again the top seat at Transport Canada has changed – the latest Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities is Chuck Strahl.


September 27, 2010
By Rob Seaman

Topics

Bye-bye birdy, an aviation colleague said to me the other day. Our conversation was in relation to Transport Minister John Baird heading out the door. On August 6, Prime Minister Harper shuffled his cabinet and once again the top seat at Transport Canada has changed – the latest Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities is Chuck Strahl. That, by my count, is three in two years. Shall we hope for third time lucky?

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Let’s start by giving our new minister the benefit of the doubt. He is not new to politics and by all accounts appears to possibly have something to offer those of us in the world of transportation. According to Conservative Party web data, the B.C. native was first elected to Parliament in 1993. He was re-elected in 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. In February 2006, he was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board. In August 2007, he was named Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.

Prior to entering politics, Strahl was a partner in a successful road construction and logging contracting firm, and held the responsibility of managing several operations throughout the Fraser Valley where he has lived his entire life. Hopefully that sets him up for a good understanding of transportation and makes him predisposed to a positive interaction with the aviation community.

Ottawa is now a flurry of “getting to know you” meetings. Each “alphabet” organization representing all the various elements of aviation is lining up for a first meeting with the minister to introduce their group and what it stands for. They hope to come away with some notion of how they may or may not be able to work together. The rush of calls and emails started before the ink was even dry on the new appointment. And these are just the groups from aviation!

Party politics aside, we really do have a lot of groups working for aviation in Canada. Now, not to be critical, but realistically speaking – how do we expect anything to be achieved when our interests are so spread around? Each of the groups has a role – no question. Each has a focus and special interest to address – given. But with so many all trying to garner what is, at best, limited attention and influence change, how can anyone really expect results – especially when the top job would appear to have a tenuous at best chance of being around long enough to realistically get something done? This is not a personal opinion. There are many who share this view.

We have divided the collective aviation interest in several ways. There is the regional split (because most provinces have a provincial aviation council or association). Then we have divided interest again by commercial, business and general aviation. Add to that the combinations and permutations for maintenance, avionics, safety, float, home-built, ultralight, powerless and so forth. Remember, too, the navigation and airport categories. And then there are certainly more divisions that have been forgotten. The bottom line is that somewhere in there, the big picture gets compromised and the message diluted. In some cases, the various groups fail to talk to each other properly and that adds to the watered-down effect. In the end, how can aviation hope to get the attention it needs from a new, getting-up-to-speed minister – or others for that matter?

There is no suggestion we should merge or disband these groups. However, some folks have suggested that coming together and focussing on common causes from time to time could help to present issues and get results – especially at the higher levels where not only the minister, but even more so, the higher-placed civil service ranks, change with frequency. Perhaps an annual gathering of all the aviation group interests in one place, at one time could afford the opportunity to not only share concerns, but resources, results and timing. This may allow a collective presentation to not only the rule makers and governing authorities, but also the public at large. It is something to think about. In the interim, we say welcome to the new minister. We’re forever optimists in aviation. We hope to get to know you in a positive and productive way from here on.


Rob Seaman is a Wings writer and columnist.


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