Since my last message in January, the scientific research sector has been marked by many events. The most significant among them are the 2017–2018 budget of the government of Québec (Plan économique du Québec, March 28) announcing major reinvestments in research and innovation, the new government strategies in research and innovation (Stratégie québécoise de la recherche et de l’innovation, May 12) and in life sciences (L’innovation prend vie, May 5), the new international policy (Le Québec dans le monde : s’investir, agir et prospérer, April 11), the launch of a report on basic research in Canada (Naylor report, Investing in Canada’s Future, April 10) and a range of initiatives to update the strategic plans (work begun in December 2017 and planned for January 2018) as well as to modernize the information infrastructures of the three Fonds de recherche du Québec (implementation of FRQnet, the new integrated awards and grants management system, beginning in July). In addition, my office has expanded its social media presence (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube).
Budget increases for the FRQ
The Fonds de recherche du Québec will benefit from major investments under the most recent provincial budget. Starting this year, an additional $20M will enable us to sustain our significant support for the development of the best and brightest scientists, as we fund 263 new training awards as compared to our initial budget scenario, make our research groups more competitive by providing better funding for the strategic clusters, centres and institutes and jumpstart the intersectoral research programs to address our three major societal challenges: demographic changes and population aging, climate change and sustainable development, and entrepreneurship and creativity.
Tying into the Stratégie québécoise de la recherche et de l’innovation (SQRI), an additional amount of $40M per year - an increase of close to 20% as compared to the 2016–2017 budget - was pledged to the Fonds. These additional funds will be used to support young researchers and those in the early stages of their careers, as well as research groups and initiatives related to the major societal challenges. These amounts will account for the elements outlined in the 2017–2018 provincial budget, the SQRI and the FRQ’s 2018–2021 strategic consultations, which will get underway shortly.
The 2017–2018 budget of the Government of Québec includes a series of other initiatives and programs focused on research and innovation and involving the FRQ’s skills, such as Odyssée St-Laurent, genomics, artificial intelligence and digital technologies, northern studies, entrepreneurship, access to government databases and public-private partnerships. A detailed analysis of the budget is available on the website of the ministère des Finances.
The new 2017–2027 Stratégie québécoise des sciences de la vie sets out several programs and opportunities at many levels for sector researchers. The focus lies on integrating innovation into our health and social services system, major public-private projects and access to government databases is particularly promising. The FRQ will work closely with the respective authorities to promote the strategy and ensure its success. The same goes for Québec’s international policy, which highlights the importance of science, research and scientific diplomacy in international relations. We are currently in discussions with a number of nations and regions around the world to promote the leadership of our researchers and student researchers, and facilitate their participation in international programs.
The very recent launch of the SQRI is especially significant for research and innovation. This ambitious five-year strategy consists of specific and realistic objectives. It targets sectors of excellence and considers and provides additional support for basic research. The strategy also provides new opportunities to promote research careers as early as the elementary and high school levels. Training for new generations of researchers is also a priority, as is the attraction of talents from across Canada and abroad and the development of inter-level partnerships with the private sector and NPOs to facilitate innovation in all its forms, including social innovation. The key science and society component of the SQRI should foster links between researchers and citizens - ties that are critical in this post-truth era of alternative facts. In this regard, researchers must play a greater part on the public stage and the FRQ must better recognize and support outreach activities in all their programs. The SQRI will certainly serve as a reference in the development of the FRQ’s own strategic plans.
In addition, Investing in Canada’s Future, a report on basic research in Canada, was released in April. I had the pleasure of being a member of the committee chaired by Dr. David Naylor that was mandated to draft the report. The task was both tremendous and very enriching. Your support to the key recommendations outlined in the report is critical so that we may convince the federal government to encourage the nation’s basic research ecosystem in its entirety. The prosperity of Canada’s future largely depends on upcoming investments in basic research and innovation.
Start of the consultations
The public consultations on the FRQ’s strategic plans are set to begin in a few days and will include researchers, young scientists, the Fonds’ long-standing partners (government departments, paragovernmental organizations, universities and colleges) and citizens. The citizen consultation will be led in collaboration with the Institut de la gouvernance numérique du Québec. A digital platform will be accessible as part of the event. The citizen science-type consultation should extend from mid-May to late June 2017. Researchers, students and partners will be asked to express their views by filling in a survey. Keep an eye on our website and don’t hesitate to share your comments and suggestions.
The findings of the consultations will be assessed and discussed at a special event organized in Québec in late September by the boards of directors of the three Fonds. The final drafts of the FRQ’s strategic plans should be submitted to the Québec Government for approval in early 2018.
The FRQ and my office will be very busy in the coming months with our participation in a series of government missions, the updating of the strategies that were recently announced by the province and the strategic plans and interdepartmental, intergovernmental and international partnerships that are to be finalized, all with greater financial means.
I would like to end this message by extending my most sincere thanks to Renaldo Battista, scientific director of the FRQS, for his invaluable contribution to the Fonds’ mission. His mandate comes to an end in June. I would like to highlight the quality of the work he has carried out over the past five years - namely his role in the creation of the new Oncopole, whose future is most promising - as well as his vision to update the thematic research networks program and keen understanding of the challenges involved in the reform of the research centres program led by the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. Dr. Battista has always supported efforts to promote intersectoral research to tackle the complex challenges faced by Québec society. I wish him success and happiness in the next phase of his career.
Please do not hesitate to contact us. It is always a pleasure to exchange with you via email and social media.
Rémi Quirion, O.C., C.Q., PhD, FRSC