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Quebec’s new innovation policy aims to boost R&D

Province commits $3.7 billion over five years.


This article was originally published in Re$earch Moneya subscription-only publication. 

Quebec research and innovation will receive an unprecedented $3.7 billion over five years at a time when other provinces and the federal government are holding the line on research and development investments. Initiated by the previous Liberal administration and completed by the Parti Quebecois, the National Research and Innovation Policy (NRIP) includes a host of measures to stimulate the province’s knowledge-based economy and knowledge translation. It allocates $1.3 billion directly to research and enhances support for new and small companies with a series of direct and indirect (tax-based) measures.

The government hopes that the policy’s myriad initiatives and emphasis on collaboration will help boost R&D spending in the province to three percent of GDP — a goal shared by OECD nations and by the federal government in the early 2000s. Quebec’s R&D-to-GDP ratio is currently 2.4 percent but rose to as high as 2.8 percent in 2002.

Announced Oct. 16 — just nine days after the province’s new jobs plan — the NRIP is receiving high marks from most quarters for its holistic approach to research and innovation, its emphasis on intersectoral collaboration and a five-year window that allows for greater funding predictability. It replaces the Quebec Research and Innovation Strategy, the governing science and technology policy that was last updated in 2010 and was being updated again when the Parti Quebecois gained power.

“The funding for the first three years is there and the last two years are guaranteed at the third-year level. It provides $500 million more than the previous strategy,” says Rémi Quirion, Quebec’s chief scientist and board chair of the Fonds de recherche du Québec. “Even in these difficult economic times, the government is saying that research and innovation are critical for the future development of Quebec.”

With the change in government, research and innovation are now situated within a new ministry, changing from the Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade to the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (MHERST). The NRIP is designed to address three major challenges facing the province: an ageing population, sustainable development and the Quebec identity. It also focuses on seven strategic priority areas, encouraging greater collaboration to capture the synergistic benefits of intersectoral programs and projects.

A “democratic” policy

To assist in the formulation of its new policy, the government enlisted the assistance of two external organizations — Association for Research Development and Innovation in Quebec (ADRIQ) and the Association francophone pour le savoir (Acfas) — to consult with their respective communities and report back to the ministry. Dr. Quirion says the shift of research and innovation to the new ministry, MHERST, is evident in the policy’s broader scope and a more holistic approach to research and innovation.

“The previous strategy had a key focus on five big research projects that had a private sector orientation. This one has three major challenges and seven niche areas. It goes to the next phase and includes all disciplines. It’s still thinking about the economy but with a different lens,” says Dr. Quirion. “The in-house policy development worked well with the two outside groups. There’s been a lot of consultation and it’s paying off.”

Acfas president Louise Dandurand says: “It’s not just a policy for research, it’s a policy for the common good. Research and innovation have to permeate every aspect of policy making.” She adds, “We see our ideas and suggestions reflected in the policy. Every segment of the community has the impression that the government has listened. It’s one of the most democratic policy documents I’ve ever seen and I’ve been around a long time.”

National Research and Innovation Policy Expenditures
($ millions)
Area of Investment 2014-17 2014-19
Base envelope 937.8 1,563.0
Green and Electrification of Transportation funding 75.0 79.0
NRIP Envelope 434.6 941.0
Strategic reinvestments in universities 147.0 340.0
Major developmental projects 100.0 100.0
Total Budget Cost 1,694.4 3,023.1
Investments in research infrastructure 291.0 400.0
R&D Tax Credit enhancement 176.0 291.0
Total NRIP 2,161.4 3,714.1
Source: Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (MHERST)
NRIP Measures Supporting Research Excellence
($ millions)
Initiative FY14-17 FY14-19
Support for full costs of research 319.5 626.0
Support for Quebec researchers 286.3 478.7
Support for College Centres for Technology Transfer (CCTTs) 60.9 102.2
Participation in international research 47.5 81.5
Research Chairs 5.0 9.0
Total 719.2 1,297.4

NRIP goes a long way towards restoring the morale of the academic research community, which was shocked when the PQ government cut funding to the Quebec granting councils that wasn’t included in their A base. It gives a 25-percent boost to their budgets from $146 million to $187 million as of April 1. Combined with new money for training awards and for programs in collaboration with industry, the funding under management by the granting councils tops $200 million.

“After a difficult year, morale was low. Now that’s all changed,” says Dr. Quirion. “The politics of the strategy are strong. There’s a solid buy-in from everyone.”

The new policy also addresses the perennial issue of the indirect costs of research, and criticizes the federal government for its chronic underfunding which, in Quebec alone, amounts to $181 million. It encourages institutions to lobby the federal government for enhanced support and commits $626 million of its own funds over five years to cover the shortfall.

A major plank of the new policy is the creation of a Quebec Research and Innovation Network (QRIN) to pull together the province’s nearly 120 organizations dedicated to knowledge mobilization. Modelled on the Fraunhofer Society and France’s network of Carnot Institutes, the initiative will receive $130.2 million over three years to provide a single entry point to those seeking to collaborate with universities and colleges. The network also will accept research hospitals, research centres and companies as members.

The network of college technology transfer centres — College Centres for Technology Transfer (CCTT) — also receives $102.2 million to promote applied research results in an international context, make the results available to public and private-sector stakeholders, and engage in multidisciplinary and multisectoral projects for the training of new researchers.

Funding for social sciences and humanities

To support the policy’s theme of enhancing the Quebec identity, up to a dozen research chairs will be created, with $9 million over five years. The first chairs will focus on history and the French language; the program aims to generate new researchers with globally recognized expertise.

“The theme of Quebec identity is an important challenge. For the first time, we have a strategic challenge that can be addressed by the social sciences and humanities,” says Dr. Dandurand, who is a former vice-rector, research and graduate studies, at Concordia University. “It shows that the policy takes a balanced approach between basic and applied and all research disciplines.”

The government also plans to enhance its own role in stimulating knowledge and innovation, launching five initiatives with a modest price tag of $30.6 million over five years:

  • promoting innovation through public procurement;
  • implementing a policy on research ethics and integrity currently under development at the Fonds de recherche du Québec;
  • supporting the use of French in research;
  • creating an inter-departmental working group to ensure better cohesion among departments and agencies engaged in research and innovation; and,
  • providing greater access to public data and scientific publication.

For the last measure, the policy slams the federal government for cancelling the long-form census and commits to exploring ways in which provincial data can be collected, maintained and disseminated.

“This policy is much more encompassing than the [previous Liberal strategy]. It provides continuity but with a more global view of what innovation is,” says Yves Gingras, Canada Research Chair in the History and Sociology of Science at Université du Québec à Montréal.

“It tries to put everyone together to maximize impact through collaboration and alignment. It’s big and it’s good news for Quebec researchers. The minister [Pierre Duchesne] consulted widely and looked at all the right aspects.”

Mark Henderson is the editor of Re$earch Money.

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