Mark Carney wanted orbiting Chris Hadfield at $5 polymer note unveiling

Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney intervened in plans to promote new $5 and $10 polymer notes to have astronaut Chris Hadfield participate from the International Space Station at an unveiling event in April 2013, documents obtained by CBC News reveal.

Before intervention by former Bank of Canada governor, live link to space station was 'impossible'

Astronaut Chris Hadfield unveils the new $5 bank note while aboard the International Space Station as then-finance minister Jim Flaherty and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney look on. New documents reveal Carney made the decision to beam Hadfield in live. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Remember the Bank of Canada's unveiling event for the $5 and $10 polymer bank notes? The one where Canada's first commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, was beamed in live — floating $5 note and all?

New documents obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act reveal the decision to beam Hadfield in came from the very top of the Bank of Canada chain of command — then-governor Mark Carney himself. Carney was in his final months in the role before heading off to take the helm of the Bank of England.

"In recent conversations with the governor, he said that he would like to have Chris Hadfield's participation at the event. I believe you are of the same opinion," communications chief Jill Vardy wrote in an email dated Feb. 26, 2013.

"Remember that Hadfield has a $5 note in space and will be taping a short segment for us that was to be used for the issue event (not the unveil)."

At this point in time, both Hadfield and the new $5 note, which carries a depiction of the Canadarm2, was already circling the Earth onboard the ISS. According to email correspondence among Bank of Canada staff, the original plan was to air a taped video of Hadfield during the issue ceremony in Ottawa, scheduled for fall 2013. 

The April unveiling event — only a few months away as of the February email — was meant to be "low-key, in a local school or the Garden Court, with the governor and minister of finance only."

A responding email sent on the same day agreed to explore the suggestion.

A communications staff member said he liked the Hadfield ideas and had raised the live feed idea with a co-worker "the week before last, who advised it was impossible."

"If something has changed, then we should try this or the taping. Either seems like a very topical approach given all the exposure Hadfield has been getting," reads the email. 

A meeting between senior staff and Carney was then arranged for March 6. 

On March 7, an internal Canadian Space Agency email, contained within another set of documents CBC News previously reported on, shows the change of plans.

"The [Bank of Canada] VIP really wants a LIVE event with Chris," the note read. 

There was brief consideration of the potential risk involved with the satellite downlink, due to a spacecraft launch to the ISS that was taking place around the same time. But five days later, the space agency appeared to have worked out the kinks.

Along with the possibility of a space debut, Bank of Canada staff floated the idea of having the CEO of Via Rail debut the $10 bill from a train (the bill features a Via Rail train journeying through the Rocky Mountains). That idea ultimately wasn't picked up. 

'Journalists' questions not wanted

The documents also reveal that promotional planning for the $5 and $10 polymer notes began even earlier than the February 2012 mark last reported.

An internally sent email dated Aug. 12, 2011, from a Bank of Canada staff member said he received a call from a Canadian Space Agency employee Fabienne Lebranchu.

"She's calling because she's heard that the new $5 note will feature the Canadarm on it. She said Chris Hatfield [sic] will go on a space mission in 2012 and she would like to see if there's any way he could bring the new note (or a prototype, if it's not available yet) with him on the mission," reads the email.

Canadian Space Agency spokesperson Julie Simard told CBC News that Lebranchu was not the originator of the idea, but was merely co-ordinating with the bank to take care of "the logistic behind the official flying kits." 

"What is not reflected in the documents you have, are the discussions and meetings that took place in both organizations prior to that specific phone call," Simard said in an email. 

At any rate, the nearly two years' worth of planning culminated in a highly scripted unveiling, which went off mostly without a hitch, save for then-finance minister Jim Flaherty finishing his speech early and having to bide time before the link with Hadfield went live. The event also included three contingency plans in case the satellite link went awry

The planning was so carefully planned, in fact, that Bank of Canada communications staff caught one big no-no in a draft of the script for the event photo-op.

"Please don't use the word 'photojournalists' as is in the script. Say something like 'photographers and videographers are now invited to a photo op (details here)... a reminder that this is a photo op only — the minister and governor will not be taking media questions during the photo op,'" reads an email.

"It won't stop reporters from asking but it will at least draw the line. Jeremy and Kathleen will both be there and can give you the signal to shorten the photo op if it gets too unruly."

Live broadcast 'even better than pre-recorded clip'

When reached for comment, Carney's current spokesperson at the Bank of England directed CBC News to the Bank of Canada, which confirmed Carney's intervention in the plans.

"The governor and other senior officials felt the event would be more appealing to media if Commander Hadfield unveiled the note from space while he was there," spokesperson Alexandre Deslongchamps wrote in an email to CBC News.

"This presented a unique and unprecedented opportunity to showcase Canada's contributions to space exploration. Following that line of thinking, it became clear that having a live broadcast from space — were it possible — would be even better than a pre-recorded clip."

Deslongchamps noted that a pre-recorded clip "wouldn’t have attracted the same media attention, even if it would still be innovative."

He said the goal was to maximize media coverage in a cost-effective way. As CBC News reported in January, the live feed from the International Space Station alone cost just over $9,000.

"The Bank of Canada was able to create a compelling event for media and Canadians in general, thereby reaching its goals."