For any nation seeking a prominent place in the knowledge-based economy, the health of its universities and colleges and their ability to generate top-flight talent are essential prerequisites. But as Canadians know all too well, education falls firmly within provincial jurisdiction, creating an environment for inter-jurisdictional wrangling in which innovation and research inevitably become entangled.
The role of the provinces in maintaining a vibrant, productive, post-secondary system is a critical function of any innovation system. It's confounding, therefore, to witness the behaviour of the Quebec government of Jean Charest. Since taking the reins of power, post secondary and research investment has ground to a halt. The result is a growing sense of unease as the cumulative debt of Quebec's universities spirals out of control.
The recent Quebec Budget did nothing to rectify the situation, despite the urging of prominent Quebecers from all walks of life (see page 3). The contrast with provinces such as Ontario and Alberta reveals the extent to which post-secondary policy and its implementation affect the ability of a province and a country to innovate. The Ontario and Alberta Budgets last week directed substantial resources to education, with Ontario taking the additional step of stoking commercialization in several key areas.
Quebec isn't a innovation backwater yet. It's still benefitting from the inspired leadership of the previous government and its support of research and innovation. That advantage will vaporize, however, if the government fails to heed the early warning signs.