At the time this article was published
Réjean Landry was professor of political science at Laval University in Quebec
Do members of the Quebec National Assembly
control the development and implementation of The science policies of the
government of the province? The answer to this question requires an elucidation
of the scope and nature of Quebec's science policies. In this article the
author identifies the instruments of parliamentary control available to the
members and then examines ways in which such instruments are used to control
government science policies. In the last part of this paper, he looks at the
potential and the limitations of certain measures to increase the MNA's control
over the development and implementation of science policies. The issue is one
of accountability. In this case accountability as it applies to science policy.
The evolution of science policy in Quebec
since 1920 may be divided into three main periods. The years from 1920 to 1965
were characterized essentially by the establishment and growth of university
style research institutions. The 1965-1970 period was marked by a desire of the
provincial government to acquire institutions oriented more toward applied
research. The post1970 period has seen the development of an explicit science
policy, by, the government.
Bills respecting the establishment of
institutions intended to use science as a means of economic development were
tabled in the National Assembly (then known as the Legislative Assembly) at the
very end of the Quiet Revolution. In March 1966, the Liberal Minister of
Industry and Commerce, Gérard D. Lévesque, introduced Bills 6 and 7. The former
called for the establishment of a Quebec scientific research council
responsible for pure and applied research in engineering, natural and human
sciences. Bill 7 called for the establishment, in the form of a corporation, of
an industrial research centre to conduct research, in its own laboratories or
elsewhere, to develop industrial processes in co-operation with the other
parties concerned, and to collect and distribute technological and industrial
information. The two bills passed first reading, but the Liberal government was
defeated a few months later.
The Union nationale Party came to power in
June 1966 after an election campaign based on the need to slow down the growth
of government intervention in society. Despite this, it was the UN that set in
motion the essential measures that institutionalized research activity in
Quebec. Among the institutions established were: Hydro-Quebec's Institut de
recherche en électricité (IREQ); the Ste-Foy scientific complex, the Centre de
recherche industrielle du Québec (CRIQ); the University of Quebec and its
Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS). During the same period, the
UN government also set up the university research committee of the Quebec
council of universities.
It should riot be thought that the UN
government had thereby bestowed upon Quebec an explicit science policy. The
debate on Bill 71 respecting the CRIQ proceeded in an atmosphere of
considerable confusion. The members of the National Assembly, did not confine
their remarks to, Bill 71 but took the opportunity to talk about the INRS, the
scientific complex and the proposed High Council on Research. It was the first
time the members had shown such a strong interest in research, and ten years
would pass before such interest was shown again. By the end of the 1965-1970
period, the government had acquired a number of new types of scientific and
technological institutions, although it had not yet made an explicit statement
of its views on the science policy question.
The UN government lost the 1970 general
election, and the Liberals returned to power. The major research institutions
were on the point of reaching full development. The new government felt a need
to intervene in order to place more stress on the use of public research funds
to solve social and economic problems.
Robert Bourassa, the Premier of Quebec,
announced in March 1971 the creation of an interdepartmental committee on
science policy. The ministers of Education, Social Affairs, Industry and
Commerce, and the Environment were appointed to the Committee, whose terms of
reference were to define a science policy suited to the needs of Quebec.
The Committee made its report (Les principes
de la politique scientifque du Québec) to Cabinet at the end of 197 1. It was
based on the equation: policy + science = development. The Committee was given
responsibility for applying the principles It had expounded. However, it proved
to be impossible to proceed to the implementation stage for lack of government
activity to co-ordinate. An inventory of Quebec government R&D in 1972-73
showed that it had allocated less than one half of one per cent of its budget
to R&D ($21 million in 1972-73), and that about 35 per cent of its research
budget went to support university research. The Committee's work was
accordingly dominated by questions related to the latter.
The report of the Committee also recommended
the creation of a council on research policy, and this was done by
order-in-council in January 1972. The council was intended to be a consultative
body with representatives of the universities, industry, the public and
quasi-public sectors. Its role was to advise the Interdepartmental Committee on
the formulation of science policy and on ways and means of implementing it.
The Committee was abolished at the end of
1975, and its secretariat was converted into a bureau of science and
technology, placed under the authority of the Minister responsible for higher
education. While the beginning of the 70s marked the emergence of an explicit
policy on science and technology, the six or seven years that followed were a
somnolent time that came to an end in 1979 with the publication of the
government's green paper on scientific research policy in Quebec.
At the end of November 1977, the members of the
National Assembly once again demonstrated their interest in science policy in
connection with a question for debate referred to the Standing Committee on
Education, Cultural Affairs and Communications. A three-hour debate that was to
be confined to consideration of the government's policy on grants to university
research was marked by numerous interventions on the government's policies on
science and technology, particularly by Liberal members Thérèse Lavoie-Roux.
André Raynauld and Claude Forget. The debate also gave an opportunity to two
ministers, Jacques-Yvan Morin and Camille Laurin to say something about the
green paper on research policy the government was preparing. Mrs. Lavoie-Roux
wanted to know whether the green paper would be followed by a white paper, and
whether the government had planned any consultation mechanisms to hear the
views of the sectors of the community involved with scientific research.
The consultation that followed the
publication of the green paper took place in the fall of 1979. Industry,
government and universities submitted more than one hundred and fifty brief's
to the Minister of' State for Cultural Development, Mr. Laurin. The entire
process took place outside the National Assembly and at no time did the members
initiate a debate on the content of the green paper.
The government's white paper on scientific
research policy duly appeared in the middle of the referendum campaign, at the
end of April 1980. Once again, the MNAs had had no influence on the policy
defined in the white paper: it contained a statement to the effect that the
plan of action put forward was based on a consensus that developed during the
months of consultation on the green paper.
Members of the National Assembly not only
failed to control the development or implementation of Quebec's science
policies; they actually dissociated themselves from almost all attempts at the
formulation of explicit government policies. It is therefore appropriate now to
examine the instruments of parliamentary control available to the MNAs.
Instruments for Parliamentary Control
In a British type political system, like
Quebec's. the principle of ministerial responsibility means that the government
must be accountable to the elected chamber of the legislature. The control exercised
by parliamentarians, particularly those of the opposition parties, over the
development and implementation of science policies depends on their being able
to criticize and question the government.
The Standing Orders of the Quebec National
Assembly provide at least six ways in which criticism can be brought to bear:
- the expression of differing points of view during the debate on
- the introduction of bills that are opposed to the government's
- requests for documents and information through oral and written
questions to members of the government..
- dilatory incidental or privileged motions;
- general critiques delivered during the debate on the inaugural
message or the budget debate
- referral of a question for debate to a standing committee.
However, these instruments of parliamentary
control can be used effectively by members only if they have access to reliable
information. We must ask therefore, whether the members of the National
Assembly possess reliable information on science policies and, further, what
means they have chosen in order to exercise their function of parliamentary
control of science policies?
Except for industrial R&D, the results
of research are in most cases relatively intangible and almost always
indivisible. If we also take into consideration the fact that research
activities and the results are often fairly technical, we quickly realize that
the parliamentarians' task is not an easy one. How can they criticize and
question the government effectively when it is engaged in the production or
financing of goods and services that are intangible, indivisible and technical?
The control function assigned to
parliamentarians would be a very difficult one even if they were perfectly
informed. This, however, is not the case. The annual reports of government
agencies and departments that provide parliamentarians with information on
science policies generally do not distinguish the human and financial resources
devoted to research and para-scientific activities from those devoted to their
Thus, the resources the government allocates
to research activities are almost invisible, since for all practical purposes
they cannot be identified.
Not only, are the human and financial
resources devoted to research almost totally invisible, they are also very
diffuse in character, since they are allocated, not b\ a single source, but by
almost half of all the agencies and departments of the government. There are,
nevertheless. a few major sources, such as the departments of Education, Social
Affairs, Agriculture and Communications. MNAs could try to initiate control by
concentrating on them. It must be added, however, that the magnitude of the
human, material and financial resources managed by these major
"users" defies any such attempt, as long as their annual reports do
not identify more precisely the resources allocated to research. In a word,
parliamentarians are very far from being perfectly informed.
The information presently available to MNAs
scarcely enables them to post-audit the implementation of science policies. The
question referred to the committee by Mrs. Lavoie-Roux in 1977 shows clearly
how difficult it is to control after the fact. The members' remarks dwelt much
more on questions of principle than on the broader range of decisions and
interests that can be involved in policies on financial assistance to
university research, and in scientific research policy. In any case, the
control that members sought to exercise over the government at that point had
much more to do with a general control over the whole wide field of science
policy than with an in-depth look at the specific interests at stake in
university research grant policy. Seen from the point of view of parliamentary
control, the 1969 debate on the bill establishing the Centre tie recherche
industrielle is similar in all respects to that of 1977.
On the whole, parliamentary control
exercised by the National Assembly has been narrow, shallow and lacking in
intensity. It should be stressed that while opportunities for a priori
parliamentary control have been few in number, governments have taken the
initiative In stating their views before implementing them on at least a few
occasions. Parliamentarians did not try to initiate debate on the government's
Science policies in 1971, when the report of the Interdepartmental Committee
was published, any more than they did during the process of consultation on the
green paper. In a word, the members of the National Assembly have shown great
moderation in using the instruments of parliamentary control available to them.
They have not tried to advocate principles different from those of the party in
power during debates on government bills relating to science and technology.
They have not introduced bills relating to science and technology that are
opposed to the views of the government. They have not made many requests for
documents and information through oral and written questions to members of the
government. The few debates on science policies have not led members to make
dilatory, incidental or privileged motions. Nor have members seen fit to raise
the subject of science policies during the debate on the inaugural message or
the budget debate. On a single occasion, a question for debate on the subject
of university research grant policies was referred to a standing committee.
This was unprecedented: a question for debate had never before been referred to
a standing committee.
Increased Parliamentary Control of
To what extent is it possible to increase
parliamentary control of science policies in the National Assembly of Quebec?
There are two prerequisites for increased control: first, all elements of the
government's science policies must be made more visible; second, the terms of
reference of those responsible for such policies must be more clearly
identified and better defined.
Some of the measures set forth in the Quebec
government's white paper constitute a step in this direction. According to that
paper the government will be asking its departments and agencies to take an
inventory of their research activities. Each department will analyse its
approach and its research programs and will make clear how the government's
various research goals are being pursued or neglected, and each department will
henceforth identify in its annual report the human and financial resources it
devotes to the various categories of research activity or assistance to
A more precise identification of the human,
material and financial resources devoted to research, an explanation of the
aims of government programs of research and of assistance to research, and the
identification of their contribution to the goals of government or university
research, are all measures that will give parliamentarians the information they
need to exercise more control over science policies.
In addition the designation, in June 1980,
of M. Camille Laurin as Minister of State for Scientific Development and the
subsequent appointment of Jacques-Yvan Morin in the November Cabinet shuffle will
enable parliamentarians to seek an accounting from a person with a clearly
defined responsibility for science policies. In the government's view, the
Minister of State for Scientific Development will be a clear embodiment of the
Quebec government's political desire for a co-ordinated and democratic
development of scientific research in Quebec. The Minister would be
responsible, in co-operation with the sectoral ministers involved, for the
implementation of this plan of action, including the drafting of the associated
acts and regulations.
Appointment of a Minister of State does not
seem sufficient in itself, however. Consideration should also be given to
establishing a special committee of' the National Assembly which would meet
every three or four years for the purpose of examining in depth government
science policies and related programs and activities. The committee could do
its work even more effectively if its deliberations were based on a report by,
the government of its science policies. The committee could be instructed to
study the government document and report to the Assembly.
The availability of reliable information,
the appointment of a Minister of State and the establishment of some
legislative committee are essential measures to ensure parliamentary control of
science policies, but they are not enough. The extent, intensity and depth of
parliamentary control depend as well on the scientific and technological
expertise of the parliamentarians. The few debates that have taken place in the
National Assembly on science policies have shown that the members did not feel
very knowledgeable in the field. Some went so far as to state this explicitly.
Furthermore, it must be recognized that MNAs do not have sufficient time to
master in detail all the information relevant to science policy. The segment of
the electorate that is sensitive to such policies is so small that MNAs cannot
feel strongly motivated to invest their time in learning about what is involved
in them. However, the existence of a standing or even a special committee would
encourage the opposition parties to assign some of their research personnel to
analyze and criticize science policies of the government.
Parliamentary control of science policies in
Quebec has been notable for its narrow scope, its low intensity and its lack of
depth. Its members, like those of the House of' Commons in Ottawa, have much
too readily deferred to scientists in this matter. The autonomy science needs
has to do with the evaluation of research activities on the basis of scientific
merit. The development, implementation and control of science policies is still
a question of' parliamentary responsibility.