Quebec research community tense as it awaits new provincial innovation strategy

Guest Contributor
September 19, 2006

A tense stand-off between Quebec's university research community and the government of Jean Charest could peak in the coming days with the release of a draft provincial research and innovation strategy. The clash began earlier this year and escalated over the summer with the departure of noted McGill Univ research Dr Tom Hudson to take up the reins of the new Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (R$, August 21/06).

The decision by Hudson — director of the McGill University and Genome Quebec Innovation Centre — to leave the province prompted the release of an open letter by Dr Denis Thérien, McGill's VP research and international relations, to Raymond Bachand, minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade (MEDIET).

In the letter, Thérien said Hudson's decision to accept an "exceptionally ambitious offer" from Ontario "underscores the province's vulnerability in scientific competitiveness". He called on the government to "establish a coherent and forward-looking research strategy that will enable Quebec to regain its leadership position in research in Canada and remain competitive in the global knowledge society".

"Quebec is at a crucial turning point where it will lose its place on the world research stage unless it makes strong strategic commitments in its outstanding researchers and research facilities," said Thérien. "We are calling on the Quebec government to take immediate steps to build Quebec's role as a leader in science, research and innovation."

In an interview with RE$EARCH MONEY, Thérien says Hudson's departure sparked his letter but its intent was to illuminate a trend that has been several years in the making. Quebec has stood by while other provinces have grabbed the leadership mantle for innovation. BC and Alberta have made significant strides, but it is Ontario that has been received the most attention. Major funding has been committed to research and innovation and its ambitious research and commercialization strategy is being implemented through the recently created Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI), with premier Dalton McGuinty as its minister.

"Other jurisdictions are taking steps and the Quebec government needs to be aware of it. It must decide if it wants to keep pace. The bar has been raised very high especially in Ontario and British Columbia," says Thérien. "I'm not positioning myself as an opponent of the ministry (MEDIET) but as someone who wants to collaborate with the ministry and improve the situation."

According to Thérien, research funding was not the only or even the primary motivator for Hudson's decision to move to Ontario. "He wants to cure cancer and Ontario is where it's happening," he says. "It's not only a question of money, it's also climate and visibility ... You need a commitment in people and infrastructure."


Like the rest of the provincial research community, Thérien is eagerly anticipating the province's draft research and innovation strategy. But he notes that the process of developing the strategy did not involve the stakeholder community or the Council of Partners for Innovation (CPI) which was created to advise the government and provide input into the reworking of the 2001 S&T strategy (R$, February 12/01).

"It (the draft document) will be circulated for comments to suggest improvements but the universities have not been involved," he says. "It's a funny process to create such a document without the experts or the universities. The advisory committee (CPI) had no input."

The CPI was rocked with controversy of its own earlier this year with multiple defections that included CPI co-chair Dr Camille Limoges, architect of the 2001 S&T strategy and a fervent advocate of university research. The decision by Limoges and four others to quit the CPI was in reaction to the province's spring Budget which was supposed to include a significant S&T component based on recommendations the government solicited from CPI.

Since the Charest government took power, funding to Quebec's provincial granting councils have been cut, university operating funds have been frozen and funding for the highly effective Valorisation-Recherche Québec was allowed to expire.


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