Quebec’s decision to combine its three provincial granting councils under the banner of Recherche Québec and the leadership of a chief scientist is an audacious move that could have ramifications beyond the province’s borders. Designed to enhance Quebec’s stature as a jurisdiction that supports fundamental research, find administrative efficiencies and capture research or related activities that may currently be missed by the existing councils, the amalgamation has become a major source of debate within the research community.
One may question the government’s lack of consultation prior to the merger decision, and many details still have to be worked out. But if the experiment in strategic, unified research management is successful, Quebec will once again demonstrate its leadership in innovation policy.
Tech transfer and certain cross-disciplinary research may indeed fare better under a single structure, provided the uniqueness of the respective research communities are safeguarded. And there are unconfirmed rumours that policy makers at the federal departments of Industry and Finance are examining the pros and cons of enacting a similar merger at the national level. As for the role of a chief scientist, Israel, the UK and others embraced the concept, and several federal Canadian ministries have installed chief scientists at one time or another.
Thinking outside the box should be encouraged. If the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, different administrative structures and policies should be developed and implemented. All eyes will be on Quebec in the months to come.