The impact of the new Quebec government’s turnaround on S&T is already being likened to the governments of Mike Harris and Gordon Campbell in Ontario and British Columbia. A scant few weeks after taking power, Charest’s Liberals are going after business subsidies with a vengeance that appears to be more ideologically than practically driven.
In its recent Budget, assistance to high-tech businesses was scuttled and cuts were administered to university funding research programs and the cherished provincial R&D tax credit. The cuts have many longtime observers and participants in Quebec’s highly admired system of innovation support deeply worried.
The debate between advocates of interventionism and those who see market forces and entrepreneurship as the best approach typically splits along left-right lines. In Ontario, the cuts to business subsidies coincided with a booming economy and S&T has grown both in overall quantity and profile. In BC, the Campbell cuts were delivered at a time when the economy was in a shambles, and the damage is still reverberating throughout the S&T community.
While Quebec’s economy is relatively robust, a looming economic slowdown could change all that, making the removal of business subsidies a bitter pill to swallow. The province has a Cadillac innovation system that has yet to prove itself, but those seeking to dismantle its underpinnings seem to be moving before the evidence is in. It took many years and alignment with two different political parties before Charest was able to form a government. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to his head.