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Interview with Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientific of Québec

Interview with Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientific of Québec

In conjunction with the event, “Sguardi incrociati Québec - Italy. The scientific research in the field of the environment, sustainable development and climate change”, organized by the National Research Council and the Delegation of Québec in Rome on December 5, the Centro Studi Italia Canada met Prof. Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientific of Québec, with whom there has been a discussion about the opportunities for collaboration between Italy and Québec in the field of Scientific Research.



Prof. Rémi Quirion, after your participation to an important opportunity for discussion, such as the meeting organized at the CNR between Italian and Quebec researchers, and considering the importance of a dialogue between two not so different realities, such as Italy and Québec, which are, in your opinion, the strengths on which to exploit and what are the weaknesses to contain / limit for the purpose of a collaboration between the Italian and Québec scientific research?


The strengths are represented by the scientists themselves, both Italians and those of Québec, and their collaboration, already in place, on scientific issues and innovation, to which we add the similarity between our two countries in the way of thinking, in the cultural level and in the way in which to do business and research, which can help a lot for future collaborations.

The main weakness, on which to reflect is always the same, money: there are not enough resources to be exploited for both countries. A second weakness is represented by our neighbors, Europe for Italy and the United States for Québec, since 80/90% of our collaborations are with the state. So to have scientific innovation between Italy and Québec, we need to face a comparison internally. There is still a lot of work to be done on this field and economic availability is not enough, so it is necessary to work jointly.


The Italian scientific research, although multiskilled, is facing years of uncertainty due to political-economic causes. What are, in your opinion, the attractive factors and the unique characteristics of the scientific field of our country which make interesting a collaboration between Italy and Québec?


Probably the culture, the way of thinking, creativity. There are creative minds, both in Italy and in Québec, that make the collaboration stimulating, also because we have a shared way of thinking and, therefore, I believe that, both now and in the future, our governments should cooperate and collaborate on several fronts. There are several very interesting sectors developed in Italy, such as the aerospace industry, artificial intelligence, agriculture, agrifood, food security, the Italian slow food movement, another one is lifescience, biotechnologies industry and especially art and culture. Today in Montréal, for example, there are many people working in the art sector and not yet in the aerospace or science industry: this is a great starting point to start collaborating together in all these different sectors.


In light of what you already knew about the Italian scientific research system and what you learned during the meeting at the CNR, what would you like to suggest to our system? And what would you bring with you to Canada, what particular attitude or 'Made in Italy' approach?


It's hard for me to say what you should do or not do in Italy, but I think it is necessary to find a way to increase the number of young scientists in the system and create new job opportunities. In Québec we strongly believe in the potential of young people and we do a lot of training to ensure that they integrate quickly into the system. We expose them to real life not just at the academic level, but making them work in companies of great or small scale and, often, these young people, after the training period, find a stable employment in those companies where they were trained. It is a practice that we have start to do a few years back and we want to carry on, because it represents a turning point. We first started with the industries and, now, we also implement this approach with museums, where students immediately start training and working in the structures.

One thing we would like to integrate more in Québec is investment in very large infrastructures; there is a lot of demand but we have to work carefully. In Italy you have better models that we would like to implement in Canada too.


As Chief Scientific of Québec, you hold a position of prominence and prestige in the field of Canadian scientific research presiding over the councils of the three Québec research funds and acting as adviser to the Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation in the subjects of his competence. But, in general, you gave a lot to scientific research and know your country very well. So, what do you think the R & D sector in Québec still needs?


The needs that we have are a bit similar to those identified in Italy. The government in Québec has invested quite a lot in research and development, but our challenge is on the industrial, because the private sector is not very involved. We need to find a way to involve big companies and it's a big challenge for us, considering that there are not many big companies in this field. We are focusing on the quality of human resources and we try to invest in them to generate something new.


A reflection to conclude: last October the Meeting of the Great Rivers of the World was held in Rome, an international event in which Canada took part through the representation of the Saint Lawrence River by the Québec Emissary for Climate Change. The establishment of a figure, such as Emissary, in charge of managing climate change, shows the importance that Québec gives to the management of water resources and, above all, reflects your renowned aptitude to proactivity.


In terms of climate change, I can say that Jean Lemire is an exceptional individual, with a great experience in this field and has a lot of credibility. For years the Québec government takes the subject of climate change and the impact it has on our society very seriously. It is a national issue or rather a global one that we have been carrying forward for some time. Jean, with his work, is trying to find new partnerships and collaborations, to work with the public and to make people understand that the impact of climate change in our society is remarkable.