A handful of countries and regions have a chief scientist within their government, including the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. In Canada, Quebec is the only province or territory to have created this position. Rémi Quirion was appointed as the Quebec’s first chief scientist in 2011, when he gave up his position as scientific director of the Douglas Institute Research Centre at McGill University to take on the new post. Eager to compare notes with his counterparts, Dr. Quirion decided to organize a meeting of chief scientists, the first of its kind.
Now three years later, his project will finally see the light of day. He and his colleagues will meet on June 10 as part of the Conference of Montreal, an annual international forum that brings together heads of state, government officials, business leaders, academics, trade unionists and citizens at large. Scientific advisers from other countries with roles similar to that of chief scientist as well as observers who are interested in scientific policy will be invited, too.
“The agenda has not yet been set,” Dr. Quirion said in an interview, “but in a nutshell, we will discuss best practices, compare our roles and learn from each other. For instance, in my case, in addition to advising the government on matters of scientific development, I chair the boards of the three [major Quebec] research funds [on nature and technology, health, and society and culture], a role that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world.” At the end of the meeting, the chief scientists will decide whether they want to make the meeting an annual event.
A number of Canadians have been invited to attend, namely Pierre Duchesne, Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology; Maryse Lassonde, Renaldo Battista and Normand Labrie, the scientific directors of the three major Quebec research funds; Howard Alper, chair of Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council; Gordon McBean, chair of the Canadian Climate Forum and a professor at the University of Western Ontario; Paul Dufour, a professor at the University of Ottawa; and Mark Henderson, managing editor of Re$earch Money.
Dr. Quirion has other irons in the fire as well. In conjunction with Montréal International, a non profit organization promoting economic development, he is actively supporting the bid of a consortium of municipalities – of which Montreal is one – to host the permanent secretariat of Future Earth, a 10-year international research initiative focusing on sustainable development and climate change. Each city would be assigned different responsibilities. “Our chances are good,” Dr. Quirion said. Future Earth is expected to announce its decision this summer.