Senior scientific advisor on support to municipalities
Will the appointment of Quebec’s first chief scientific advisor change the way elected municipal officials govern? That’s the bet taken by the city of Victoriaville, which pioneered the appointment of a university researcher to support the city council in exploring new innovative practices.
On Monday, the municipality announced the appointment of Simon Barnabe, a professor at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, as chief scientific advisor. A first in the province at least, maybe in Canada.
“Currently, scientific advice to governments is mainly focused on state governments or national governments. This has not yet happened at the local government level and we are pushing for it with this new status. As far as small and medium-sized cities are concerned, this is really a first,” explained Mr. Barnabe, both holder of the Municipal Research Chair in Sustainable Cities since 2020 and co-founder of Industrial. Research Chair in Bioenergy and Regional Bioeconomy, in an interview with the Canadian Press.
According to the respective director, the municipal chief scientific advisor function is “a new way for small and medium-sized cities to bring science closer to their municipal decision-makers and help them play a central role in the research ecosystem. and innovation”.
The use of the scientist can only be beneficial for the people and businesses of Victoriaville, notes its mayor Antoine Tardif. “We’ve always had big ambitions when it comes to sustainable development,” he says. Now we can have a greater impact on our environment, our citizens, our city and also be a positive leader for other municipalities in Quebec.
More informed decisions
The collaboration between Victoriaville and Professor Barnabe has been going on for several years now.
“As a municipality, we face more environmental challenges such as combating climate change, protecting biodiversity and reducing GHGs,” Mr. Tardif enumerates. “Mr Barnabe’s role is to advise us completely independently: we have action plans at all these levels, but we still have to choose and analyze which actions will have the most impact.”
The chief scientific advisor, for example, investigated possible uses for sediments found in Beaudet Reservoir, Victoriaville’s main source of drinking water. “We started looking for scientific information on what could be done with this type of sediment, to see what was being done elsewhere and to look around to see if local companies were interested in using it. make good use of it,” explains Mr. Barnabe.
He was also tasked by the City to identify business opportunities with companies in the region to promote the local energy transition.
“Victoriaville has the ambition to develop a green and circular economy,” says Mr Tardif. The battery sector is in full swing in the Becancour innovation zone and we asked Mr. Barnabe to find out how we can integrate into the Energy Transition Valley thanks to his connections at the University and local research chairs.
The appointment of the scientific worker as the chief scientific advisor of the municipality – a function not paid by the latter, it should be noted – therefore formalizes the already established practice, while giving him certain advantages.
“With the official appointment by Quebec’s chief scientist, Rémi Quirion, this gives us a direct link to the top scientist in the Quebec government, Mr. Tardif points out. It also gives us access to the network of contacts of Mr. Barnabe, his research colleagues and other institutions he collaborates with, which will be beneficial to us as we do not have a university in our area to have this expertise.
Towards a network of senior scientific advisors?
The partnership will not prevent Professor Barnabe from being appointed chief scientific adviser to another municipality in parallel, although he hopes his peers will soon join.
Alim would like other cities and municipalities to follow suit, creating a statewide network of science advisors to share their expertise and discuss issues that may be common to several communities.
According to the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ), which welcomed the initiative, the reality is not so far off.
“Victoriaville has always been at the forefront of the environment and demonstrates this once again with this designation,” said Martin Damfous, Mayor of Varennes and Chair of the UMQ Climate Change Committee. I am sure it will be small and this role will eventually become important in cities.
For example, accelerating climate change impacts are forcing municipalities to review their practices; To deal with this, the contribution of science will be important.
Recent studies carried out by the firms Ouranos and WSP on behalf of UMQ “demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the impact of climate change adaptation will represent the largest new costs for cities in the future, on average 12%. of our budgets. This is huge,” comments Mr. Damfouss.
However, the current municipal infrastructures, which are built and repaired in a traditional manner, are not designed for these extreme weather conditions. That’s why the chief scientific advisor could make innovations possible by getting elected municipal officials to “think outside the box.”
“In order to avoid tomorrow’s tragedies, we are obliged to think about it today,” says the elected official.