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Quebec Premier designate Philippe Couillard speaks at a news conference on April 8 at the legislature in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Before becoming a politician, Yukon's premier Darrell Pasloski was a pharmacist. John Hamm, premier of Nova Scotia from 1999 to 2006 was a family doctor. Frank Miller, briefly the premier of Ontario in 1985, was a professional engineer.

None of them could be called scientists but all three are examples of provincial first ministers with professional backgrounds that called for a significant amount of science education.

Quebec's new premier designate, Philippe Couillard, is set to become the latest addition to that underpopulated category. As a former neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Sherbrooke, he may well be the most scientifically minded Canadian premier ever.

Not that a degree in science automatically guarantees "science aware" policy positions. Just consider Texas governor Rick Perry who earned his degree in animal science. That didn't stop him from voicing his skepticism of climate change during his failed campaign to become the Republican presidential candidate in 2010.

But Mr. Couillard is a former health minister who is known for being big on research and using terms like "evidence-based" and "evidence-informed" in the context of public policy.

Could that translate into a stronger focus on science from the Quebec government?

The answer may depends on how Mr. Couillard the politician -- in contrast to Dr. Couillard the brain surgeon -- sees the role of government in research.

"The question is, will he come back to the science policy of the former government of the Liberal party," says Yves Gingras, a professor in the history and sociology of science at the University of Quebec at Montreal.

Under Jean Charest's Liberals, Prof. Gingras points out, science was part of the Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Exploration. The focus then was on research as driver of industry and growth, strongly reflected in the science strategy developed by the Charest government in 2010.

When the Parti Quebecois took power in 2012 the emphasis shifted. Science was then combined with universities to form the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology. This change was popular with academics and research institutions who previously found themselves lumped into a much larger education ministry preoccupied with the running the Quebec public school system, Prof. Gingras said.

Quebec's science strategy continued to evolve under the PQ into a far broader National Research and Innovation Policy (NRIP) that was backed by $3.7 billion in funding over five years. Unveiled in 2013, the comprehensive policy encompasses both academic and industrial research.

"It's based on a very large consensus in the scientific community," Prof. Gingras said. "For that reason I think it will not be scrapped."

An important indicator of whether Mr. Couillard intends to stick with the PQ science plan or take things in a different direction will come when his cabinet is sworn in, expected after Easter.

If universities find themselves lumped back in with elementary and high schools, as they were under Charest, that could mean less government emphasis on academic research and more on the business sector.

The person who stands to be most affected by any such change is Quebec's chief scientist, Rémi Quirion, who chairs the province's three research granting councils which together dispense about $200 million in research funding each year.

(Canadians from other provinces may find themselves startled to learn that Quebec has such a role. The federal equivalent, a science advisor to the Canadian government, was dumped when Stephen Harper took office in 2006.)

The position is relatively new to Quebec. Dr. Quirion, a neuroscientist from McGill University, was appointed to the role in 2011 when Mr. Charest was still in power. He's the only one to have held the job. Now he'll find himself under a Liberal boss once again.

When asked whether there was any indication yet of where science might land in a Couillard government Dr. Quirion simply told the Globe and Mail, "I don't know."

As to whether an industry or university oriented ministry is the best place for science in Quebec, Dr. Qurion said that based on how the question is approach by other governments: "Both models seem to work."

"The strategy for us has been to try to develop programs that will make Quebec scientists more competitive at the national level," he added.

While Dr. Quirion will report directly to a minister rather than Mr. Couillard, it's clear that he and the incoming premier share a lot of common ground because of their brain-oriented specialties.

"It's actually very exciting for us," said Inez Jabalpurwala, CEO of Montreal-based Brain Canada, which channels public and private funding toward brain research. "We're seeing a convergence of a lot of neuroscience happening in Quebec right now."

Ms. Jabalpurwala added that while it was too early to say where neuroscience might fall among Mr. Couillard's priorities, "He certainly speaks eloquently and passionately about the brain in general and about mental health."