Innovation can resolve societal issues, says Minister Fitzgibbon

Stephane Rolland, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL – Innovation is not just a “rich” concept aimed at creating wealth in companies, argues Economy and Innovation Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon. With its new strategy in this regard, the Legault government wants to show that research can be used to solve societal problems.

“Innovation isn’t just about building a new Bombardier aircraft,” the minister said Thursday on the sidelines of the unveiling of the Quebec Strategy for Research and Investment in Innovation 2022-2027 (SQRI).

“People need to feel like it’s helping them, too,” he adds. If we address societal issues, I think we will be able to get people to accept that innovation is at the heart of Quebec’s economic development for years to come.”

By promoting innovation, Québec wants to contribute to the search for solutions to societal problems such as global warming, health or the aging of the population.

Mr Fitzgibbon also wants government to innovate in the way it delivers services. He cited the healthcare system as an example. “We have the best therapists. We have good doctors, but the system is a little lacking.

To accelerate social innovation, institutions must be made more open to innovation, believes Luc Sirois, director general of the Conseil de l’innovation du Québec. Created by the government in December 2020, the body is an advisory committee that advises the minister to encourage innovation in business and society.

“If we want to accelerate the impact on people’s lives, institutions need to be open to innovating and making things better and adopting new technologies on a daily basis.”

At Quebec solidaire (QS), we rate the “rhetoric of innovation as good on paper”, but the strategy does not fit the needs of SMEs, judges business spokesman Ruba Ghazal.

“If the CAQ government wants to continue obsessing over Ontario, let them do so by being inspired by the policies that help the normal world: raising the minimum wage, introducing rent controls, and encouraging foreign investors who buy, a tax of 20% imposed on real estate.”

True to Prime Minister François Legault’s “obsession” to catch up with Ontario, the SQRI includes several targets and comparisons with the neighboring province. The government wants to halve the labor productivity gap with Ontario in companies. This gap was 5.8% in 2019.

The government also wants to increase the proportion of students entering science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science at the Abitur level. That proportion was 23% in Quebec, compared to 37% in Ontario during the 2018-2019 session.

Linking research and business

The government is therefore providing an additional US$2 billion for the new version of the SQRI, bringing its funding to US$7.5 billion over five years. Of that $2 billion, $1.3 billion will come from budgetary funds, a further $600 million tranche will be investment capital, and $75 million will come from the Quebec Infrastructure Plan (PQI).

With the new SQRI, Mr. Fitzgibbon wants to make it easier for companies to use basic research. “Quebec’s problem is that we’re recognized worldwide for being good at basic research,” he says. Where there were flaws was that we couldn’t bring it to market. We are trying to correct this situation.”

The capital required to start a business means it’s sometimes difficult to find entrepreneurs “willing to carry the ball” by commercializing basic research, explains Mr Sirois. The government’s financial commitments are therefore to be welcomed, he said. “In the beginning you still have to pay the bills. Pre-financing, maturity financing, that makes the difference.”

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