Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by quoting Albert Einstein: “Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.” Although he said many things, we do not often hear that quotation.
I found that quotation very appropriate, because today is one of those rare times when we talk about science in this House. I want to congratulate the member for Kingston and the Islands for moving this motion because it is something we rarely talk about, but something that is so important in today's society, that it would be a serious mistake to ignore it.
The current government policy on science focuses strictly on innovation. This approach reduces the importance of science as a tool for development in a broader sense, because if it cannot be immediately useful, the Conservatives take no real interest in it.
Furthermore, the motion addresses the muzzling of scientists. As many people have pointed out today, we need to differentiate between the sharing of knowledge and public policy. Everyone knows that public policy is the realm of politicians and that sharing knowledge falls to scientists. It is therefore crucial that we trust the ethics of scientists to make that distinction.
If what scientists say ever becomes embarrassing, a responsible government should take that opportunity to improve whatever needs to be improved for the common good. We can use those instances to improve our society.
In my riding we have a university and a high tech park. The scientific research continuum is very important to Louis-Hébert. Aside from the education sector, obviously, the continuum starts with basic research. That is where it all starts. Then, there is applied research, commercialization—meaning publicizing it—knowledge transfer and innovation.
That is why there is a high tech park associated with Laval University. A number of good ideas made it through all of these steps, and as a result we have some value-added industries with a strong focus on science in the Quebec City high tech park.
Innovation is the end of a process. It is not a beginning or an end in itself. Innovation must go through all of the steps I mentioned. If we make innovation an end in itself, I worry that we are making Canada less competitive over the long term. It shows a lack of foresight of the development of our society and of our ability, as a country, to compete with other high-tech countries.
In 2012, Yves Gingras, a professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal, wrote an article entitled “From Science Policies to Innovation Strategies”. In this very short but informative article, Mr. Gingras illustrated how governments' science policies have changed over time.
For example, from the 1960s to the 1980s, the government had science policies, but in the 1980s and 1990s, during economic crises, for example, the government's policies gradually moved towards technology and, now, innovation.
The objective of the article was to illustrate how we went from a desire to produce knowledge, in the broad sense, that the various spheres of society could use, to more specific applications of existing knowledge.
By all accounts, this has a fundamental impact on our perception of government operations, programs and what gets subsidized. Université Laval is in my riding. I am told that although the government is increasing funding, money that goes to basic and applied research is drying up. In fact, certain areas involving innovation are being heavily subsidized instead. No effort is being spared. Abandoning basic and applied research will allow for short-term gain, but will be costly in the long run.
Limiting scientific research and innovation is tremendously short-sighted. There are two opposing ideas in the debate we are having today. We have not really put a name to it. On one hand, the government is proposing a knowledge-based economy. The policies on innovation attest to that. On the other hand, we would like to go back to a knowledge-based society, a society where knowledge and expertise are disseminated and shared in every part of society, including the economic sector. It is more encompassing. It is important to see how these two concepts compete when it comes to economic policies and proposals.
We cannot envision a society without being able to make the distinction between the two. I much prefer a society based on knowledge, where every aspect of society has access to knowledge and where this knowledge is shared as broadly as possible. Obviously, that does not mean we must not invest in a knowledge-based economy. However, we must not make it an end in itself.
What is important in our society today is to have the ability to generate, disseminate, share and use knowledge. We need to look beyond the almighty economy. Of course, we need money to live on. We need all that and that is what is most important, but if we still want to be on the cutting edge in 5, 10 or 20 years, it is important and fundamental to be able to consider science, scientific research, communication and the dissemination of information as key elements. In 2001, Quebec had a science policy that took all of those factors into account. That made it possible to develop a consistent set of policies that encompassed every aspect of knowledge development. Finally, we need to trust in science and the ethics of scientists. We will be better off for it.
In closing, I would like to quote a 19th century Algerian, Abd el-Kader, who said:
Good and sound knowledge means understanding in such a way that one can see the difference between telling the truth and telling lies in speech, between truth and falsehood in beliefs, between beauty and ugliness in actions.