The decline of innovation and research as top priorities of the Quebec government shows no signs of abating. Finance minister Michel Audet delivered a Budget last week that keeps the lights on at a few institutions but ignores the desperate financial plight of post-secondary institutions and the needs of the research community.
The Budget provides just $75 million over three years in new innovation and research-related funding - an amount one observer termed "ridiculous" - and continued the gradual dismantling of the network of innovation-related incentives for business built up during the 1990s and early 2000s.
At a time when the competing jurisdictions of Ontario and Alberta are pouring money into post-secondary education and research , Quebec has resisted any suggestions that it reinvest in its education and research base. That includes advice from the recently formed Council of Partners for Innovation (CPI).
"When you compare the situation with the rest of Canada, clearly there are problems," says Dr Robert Lacroix, former rector of the Univ of Montreal and a member of CPI. "It's also a lack of vision concerning the new trends in the knowledge-based economy and the emergence of nations like India and China."
Lacroix estimates that Quebec's universities are underfunded to the tune of $400 million annually, resulting in a deterioration of the learning environment. He says the CPI worked to convince government that an urgent reinvestment into research and education is required. "Up until (premier Jean) Charest, Quebec was a model for the rest of Canada. We need a new vision," he says.
The Budget's lack of research and innovation measures is all the more bewildering considering recent statements. Just last October, the government said it hopes increase provincial R&D spending to 3% of GDP, requiring an increase from $6.5 billion in 2002 to $10 billion by 2010.