I would like to wish you all health and success in this new year! Indeed, 2019 promises to be most exciting for the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) and Office of the Chief Scientist. With the election of a new provincial government last October and federal elections this fall, a number of challenges and opportunities lie ahead.
A new government in Québec
Since the provincial election, quite a few people have asked me who the chief scientist and FRQ report to. The answer is Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economy and Innovation. I have met with Minister Fitzgibbon, members of his cabinet and senior officials in his department on several occasions, and I can certainly attest to their openness and vested interest in research, science and innovation. Owing to his distinguished career as an entrepreneur who commercialized discoveries by university researchers, the Minister is familiar with academic research. He is also very pragmatic and focused on action: two great qualities in a boss!
In addition, the Legault government affirmed its intention to pursue the main lines of action to implement the Stratégie québécoise de la recherche et de l'innovation (SQRI, 2017–2022) set out by the previous government. This is a very positive development since the SQRI was well received by most stakeholders in Québec's research and innovation sector. And the same goes for the other government strategies adopted in the past two years. We can therefore concentrate on the plans of action and objectives of these strategies, which involve the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, as well as the majority of other departments.
FRQ: governance and budget
With regard to the FRQ, I hope to be able to announce the name of the person who will lead the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies very soon. We have also begun the process to recruit a new scientific director for the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS). I would like to take this opportunity to thank Serge Marchand for all he accomplished in just a short time, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with him in his new position at Génome Québec. Of course, the projects that kicked off under his leadership, such as the reform of the centres and institutes program, will continue in 2019.
In December, the boards of directors of the three Fonds approved their respective strategic plans, which were then submitted to the Minister for approval by the National Assembly. Once approved, the plans will be communicated to the research community. Beginning this year, we will be working in collaboration with Minister Fitzgibbon and his department to maintain the FRQ's budgets associated with the SQRI in the long term. It is essential that these sums be sustained since the FRQ provide long-term funding for a range of research infrastructures (up to 6 years) and training awards (2 to 4 years).
Major societal changes
In terms of major societal changes, we recently announced the creation of the International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Technologies and the Réseau Inondations intersectoriel du Québec flood research network. Both intersectoral groups bring together interdisciplinary experts and institutions, making Québec a global leader in these key strategic research sectors. We will be following the development and advancement of these two significant initiatives very closely.
This month, we should also be launching a call for proposals to support intersectoral research projects on demographic changes and ageing—ageing well, that is! The expansion of our older population unquestionably constitutes a major challenge, particularly in a period of full employment. One of the upcoming program's components will be modelled on the Audace program to foster the submission of highly innovative and ambitious initiatives. We hope to launch more targeted Audace-type calls for proposals on topics including climate change and artificial intelligence and digital technologies.
Our policy on the responsible conduct of research, which we rolled out a few years ago, will be updated in 2019, and we also expect to finalize our action plan on environmental liability in research. What is more, the FRQ's Ethics and Legal Affairs group is working to set out our policy on open access to the scientific publications—a focus on which we have somewhat fallen behind, especially as compared to our European peers. We will also be pursuing our many communication activities and increasing our social media presence. Further to the discussion activities organized in 2018 on citizen engagement in research, an FRQ initiative is expected to launch in 2019. Stay tuned!
In collaboration with the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), of which I am a founding member and currently serve as vice chair, my office will spearhead a number of scientific advice and diplomacy activities in 2019, including a workshop in Québec in March, a breakfast at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting on the creation of a North American (Canada, USA and Mexico) chapter of INGSA and two training sessions in French-speaking Africa (Cameroon and Burkina Faso). Indeed, our African colleagues have expressed significant interest in developing scientific advice networks, and Québec has affirmed its leadership in this area. Finally, in September 2020, my office will organize the fourth INGSA conference in Montréal. I'll be sure to keep you posted on the event!
Rémi Quirion, O.C., C.Q., PhD, FRSC