Researchers and scientists have won a partial victory in their battle over funding with the Quebec government.
For years, university researchers and scientists in Quebec, secluded in their laboratories, quietly complied with the freeze on their operating budgets imposed by the province.
Then last November, the Parti Québécois government tabled a budget calling for a zero deficit by 2014, slashing $63-million from the province’s research and innovation funds.
Universities and hospitals would need to reduce funding for experimental treatment for cancer and other diseases. Money would be cut off to postgraduate students. Health facilities threatened to downsize their research centres.
For the first time, researchers and scientists resolved to fight back. Borrowing a page from last year’s student strike, they mounted a Web campaign relying on cancer patients to explain how experimental research gave them hope. Their testimonies shocked the public.
Bowing to pressure, the government restored part of the money on Wednesday by injecting $26.5-million back into the fund that included $8-million for medical research. The government promised more money after a new research and innovation policy is adopted this spring. “We haven’t had an increase in our budgets in 10 years,” said Dr. Serge Rivest, director of the Quebec City Hospital Research Centre. “Our budgets are small but we can do so much … With this money we can generate $50-million, $60-million with other partners in the private sector, the federal government and outside the country.”
At least 50,000 people in the province are participating in experimental treatments with the hope of one day being part of a cure for their disease.
“They are on protocol because nothing else works. The government needs to be part of this research and play an important role in helping to create that hope,” Dr. Rivest said. “Research is hope … and if the government needs to cut, this is not where they should take the money.”
Pierre Duchesne, the Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation, acknowledged that the government may have gone too far by blindly imposing the same level of budget cuts on research centres as other programs. He insisted that the restored funding will help bridge the gap between the current needs and the yet-to-be-defined new research policy. “Discussions will be held in April and we should be able to define a new national policy by the end of spring,” he said.
During last summer’s election campaign, PQ leader Pauline Marois set ambitious targets, saying that the equivalent of 3 per cent of the province’s gross national product should be invested in research and innovation projects. However, reaching a zero-deficit has become Ms. Marois’s main priority since she took office – often at the expense of other commitments.