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The passage of research under Fitzgibbon is debated

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar20,2024

Consultations on the subject of Bill 44, which should enshrine the definitive transfer of responsibility for the scientific research file to the Ministry of the Economy, Innovation and Energy, begin today in Quebec. If some have reservations, chief scientist Rémi Quirion believes that they are unnecessary.

The passage of research under Fitzgibbon is debated

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The Minister of the Economy, Innovation and Energy submitted a project at the beginning of February of law definitively passing the file of scientific research in Quebec into its hands.

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Bill 44, presented by the Minister of Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon in early February, introduces significant legislative changes in the governance of research in Quebec.

For more than ten years, even if the University Research Funds were theoretically under the Ministry of Higher Education, successive decrees ensured that they were in fact under the responsibility of the Minister of the Economy and Innovation.

Bill 44 permanently enshrines this change, while proposing the merger of the three Quebec Research Funds – Nature and technologies, Health, Society and culture – to keep just one, as well as the expansion of the role of the chief scientist of Quebec.

These modifications are necessary to ensure the compliance of the Quebec Research Funds with the Act respecting the governance of state corporations, we explain to the cabinet of Minister Fitzgibbon. The creation of a Quebec Research Fund will create greater coherence and coordination of actions, adds the minister's communications manager.

These changes are far from being viewed favorably by certain actors in the scientific and academic community of Quebec.

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Acfas is one of the groups which will testify on Wednesday before the Committee on the Economy and Labor as part of the consultations and public hearings on this bill.

The message from the association bringing together French-speaking researchers is clear. The current system is fine, it has proven itself. This bill was not necessary, says the new president of Acfas, Martin Maltais.

However, since the government is moving forward, we must put in place guidelines that will ensure that the system will continue on this path. There are amendments that must be put in place to reassure the scientific community, adds Mr. Maltais.

This bill came as a surprise for us, adds the president of the Quebec Federation of University Professors (FQPPU), Madeleine Pastinelli, who simply wants the bill to be abandoned. There was no prior consultation with the academic community. This raises a lot of concern among our members.

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Madeleine Pastinelli is the elected president of the Quebec Federation of University Professors. She will officially take up her position on September 1, in time for the start of the university year.

For the FQPPU and the Quebec Student Union (UEQ), who will also testify on Wednesday in Quebec, it would have been desirable to see a return of the file of research in the courtyard of the Ministry of Higher Education (MES).

What concerns us is the risk that research will be subordinated to other responsibilities of the MEIE. This is where academic autonomy and freedom will be best respected, according to Ms. Pastinelli.

For us, the place of research is in higher education and not in the economy.

A quote from Madeleine Pastinelli, president of the Quebec Federation of University Professors (FQPPU)

If the Quebec Research Fund remains under the Ministry of the Economy, this risks leading to a certain politicization behind research which is not desirable, adds Catherine Bibeau-Lorrain, the president of the Quebec Student Union.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The merger of the three Quebec Research Funds opens the door to an imbalance between the different fields of research, according to Ms. Bibeau-Lorrain.

We do not want research in areas such as the human and social sciences to be put aside in favor of oriented research, with economic or marketable aims.

A quote from Catherine Bibeau-Lorrain, president of the Quebec Student Union

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Catherine Bibeau-Lorrain, president of the Quebec Student Union (UEQ)

Madeleine Pastinelli of the FQPPU shares this concern and adds to it. We also fear that [this merger] will lead to a standardization of programs and criteria, so that the offer of financial support will be profoundly unsuited to the reality of research in certain sectors.

To avoid an imbalance or a problem of fairness in the allocation of sums between the different fields of research and to avoid endangering the research ecosystem in Quebec, the bill should be modified, adding safeguards. crazy, according to Martin Maltais, from Acfas.

For example, he recommends amending Bill 44 to specify that the amounts invested take take into account the specific characteristics and needs specific to each of the three major areas of research.

For Quebec's chief scientist, Rémi Quirion, there is no reason to be alarmed. He worked in collaboration with the MEIE throughout the process of drafting Bill 44 and welcomes it, while also recommending making some modifications.

According to him, the merger of the three Quebec Research Funds is none other than a consolidation of activities and budgets which will be done while retaining the weight and specificities of sectoral activities. It will also facilitate intersectoral and multidisciplinary research, which is desirable, in his opinion.

Concerns raised regarding a future imbalance between fields of study are therefore irrelevant, he assures in an interview with Radio-Canada.

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Rémi Quirion became Quebec's first chief scientist in 2011.

Yes, we have to be careful [to the fact that we are associated with the Ministry of the Economy]. But that's why we included academic freedom and the importance of free research and fundamental research in the Quebec Research Strategy, he explains.

We consider that PL44 in no way constrains the freedom of the scientific community: support for free and fundamental research will remain the essential orientations and financing of the new Fund.

A quote from Extract from the brief of the chief scientist and the Quebec Research Fund regarding Bill 44

He recognizes that there are concerns in the scientific community in Quebec, but I think that what has been done in recent years shows that we understand the importance of all sectors of research, he says. And on a unified board of directors, there will be equal representation for each of the major sectors, recalls Mr. Quirion

Bill 44 also includes provisions regarding the role and method of appointment of the chief scientist. This must be chosen by the Council of Ministers from among three candidates selected by a committee composed of at least three members appointed by the government.

The FQPPU is of the opinion that the chief scientist should instead be designated by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, as is the case for the public protector or the chief electoral officer. Acfas would like at least one person engaged in a scientific research career to be part of the selection committee for this person, to ensure greater independence for the role.

The chief scientist himself is of the opinion that Bill 44 should better specify the method of appointing his position. For the position of chief scientist, but also for other positions, whether members of the board of directors of the Research Fund or scientific departments, it would be necessary to ensure that a good number of active researchers are part of the selection committee, not just bureaucrats.

The Quebec Student Union also sees in Bill 44 an opportunity to integrate an indexing mechanism for scholarships.

Although these have recently been improved, which is far from being the case for federal scholarships, it is not enough, according to Catherine Bibeau-Lorrain. In our opinion, it stands to reason that student research grants should be indexed to keep up with current cost of living and inflation.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my natasha@thetimeshub.in 1-800-268-7116

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