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MP McLeod in the middle of satellite debate

Planet Labs was again not able to track its most recent July satellite launch through its Inuvik ground station. The company has become exasperated with Global Affairs Canada in its pursuit for a license. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Planet Labs missed its second chance to track satellites from its Inuvik station during its mid-July launch.

The company, along with Kongsberg Satellite of Norway and local business New North Networks, invested approximately $10 million in the commercial satellite station between town and the airport but its antennae have yet to be used as the company’s application for a licence still sits with Global Affairs Canada.

That has caused Planet to threaten pulling out of Inuvik.

“Although we expected an answer by the end of June, we have yet to receive an update from GAC on a licence to operate our ground station in Inuvik,” stated a Planet spokesperson in an e-mail to the Inuvik Drum.

“This delay is frustrating and we are beyond disappointed, and feel both confused and concerned about the future of our investment in Canada.”

The company requires two approvals: one from GAC, and the other from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Planet has previously stated that working with ISED has been no issue, but finds GAC’s process slow and arduous compared to other countries’ regulatory systems.

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod has been involved in the situation since it began and finds himself in the middle of a debate that very much has two sides.

“Is there a holdup?” he questioned the Drum reporter when asked about the situation. “The completed application was formally filed at the end of February. It’s been 150 days now. It’s a complex process.”

There are many factors to consider, from national security to defense and safety of the Canadian Armed Forces, he said. McLeod has been in regular contact with Minister Chrystia Freeland on the subject.

“I’ve asked her to let us know if there’s something that needs to be reconsidered or remedied in the process,” said McLeod.

About the time it’s taken for Planet to get an approval, he said “there is not a problem,” adding that he hasn’t compared Canada’s satellite approval process to those of other nations.

“It’s been 150 days and the process is rigorous,” said McLeod. “It involves many departments. It’s an independent review free from interference from politicians and other influences. It has to run its course. Can it be faster? Maybe. Can other countries do it faster? I don’t know.”

However, he has conveyed to Freeland that the project should not be left in limbo, and he said the industry is very important to Inuvik’s economy.

“If it takes too long, we may squander our competitive geographic edge,” said McLeod.

Asked if Canada has too much red tape, McLeod said he doesn’t know.

“Planet Labs is indicating that,” he said. “Tom Zubko (owner of New North Networks) has indicated that it’s too slow. The department is saying this is the standard process… I’m hearing it from both sides.”

At the end of the day, McLeod says he always has to support his constituents if forced to pick a side.

“If they say this is too slow, that’s the message I’m bringing forward,” he said.