On May 13, Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economy and Innovation, spoke before the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. He addressed the four years he has spent at the head of the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation and presented the broad strokes of his plan if re-elected in October.
He opened his speech by pointing to the economic progress in Quebec compared with its neighbours over the past four years.
“Our objective was to ignite investment to close the gap with Ontario. In four years, the salary of Quebecers has increased 20%. We are growing richer faster than our neighbours.” – Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economy and Innovation
Educating and training the population to prepare for the future
In response to urgent demands around immigration levels, Pierre Fitzgibbon reiterated the government’s line on the subject.
“We will not increase the threshold to 80,000; it is not what is best for Quebec. We have to stop talking about thresholds. It’s not the right subject.”
The Minister emphasized the nature of vacant positions and the availability of a workforce that can be quickly retrained.
“We have hundreds of thousands of people who could be added to the workforce. Just 13% of vacant positions require university degrees. That makes 210,000 positions that could be filled through retraining.”
Finally, Minister Fitzgibbon set out his vision of the role of schools and universities in the economic development of Quebec.
“We need to orient youth to science and technology to accelerate the shift to digital technology and the green transition. Our objective is to have 35% of young people obtain a degree in these fields.”
Squeezing more economic value out of innovation
A focal point of his speech, the Minister detailed the importance of innovation for the economic development of Quebec. This is particularly true for the startup ecosystem, which he believes still needs to make progress.
“We have a problem with startups. We are the Canadian province that has created the fewest new businesses since the beginning of the 2000s, and the lowest proportion in sectors of the future.”
Among the key solutions, Pierre Fitzgibbon illustrated his strategy using the Israeli example of synergy between research and the private sector.
“We need to take better advantage of the knowledge at universities. We have great researchers who are respected around the world. Let’s do what Israel does and transfer this knowledge to companies. We are still missing the connection between the idea and the market.”
Another sign of Quebec lagging is that local businesses are late in making the shift to digital technology. And yet this is a significant solution according to the Minister.
“To innovate, we need to digitize businesses. In 2020, we launched the digital transformation offensive, and we have already added supplementary amounts. Digitization will make it possible to make our businesses more competitive and decrease the pressure on labour.”
Pierre Fitzgibbon discussed the arrival of Moderna, using this example to show the strength of attraction related to local talent and the potential for innovation in Quebec.
“The arrival of Moderna is the biggest news in the sector in the past 20 years. Moderna’s criteria were talent and research. That’s what tipped the scales. With the Quebec Life Sciences Strategy, we will develop new sectors and strengthen existing ones where we dominate, such as genomics.”
Optimize the use of green resources and energy
Faced with climate challenge and the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, the energy transition is an inevitable question for Quebec. Minister Fitzgibbon has made this process the third pillar of his vision for the future of the province’s economy.
During his speech, he addressed the need to be in charge of our energy sources and ensure Quebecers benefit.
“The economic demand for energy exceeds our production capacity. We are at risk of increasing this deficit and facing an energy shortage. We want Quebec’s electricity to be used to serve Quebecers first.”
The Minister cooled ardours on green hydrogen by indicating that Quebec wants to position itself in the sector, while protecting the local energy supply.
“We don’t want to export our last megawatts when there is still work to be done. This is an essential sector; we are going to develop expertise before investing billions in projects. For the time being, it’s too expensive to be economical, and we are trying to reduce costs.”
Finally, he reviewed the success of the battery sector, pointing to the role his government played in developing this sector in Quebec.
“When it comes to batteries, we needed to act quickly to carve out a place in this industry of the future. We met with the major players, we learned, and we reproduced the Asian recipe. Today, we are in the right direction to have a complete chain. We will be able to make clean batteries.”