Why Policy? Why Now? Why McGill?
Sound public policy is a foundation of peace and prosperity, though its importance is often underappreciated. It is usually hard to draw precise lines of causality from specific policies to detailed elements of our lives, but nobody should ever view public policy as unimportant.
It matters how we tax our citizens and regulate our pensions. It matters how we engage and trade with other countries. It matters how we assist our neighbors when they’ve lost their jobs or become ill. It matters how we design our cities and build our highways. And it matters how we manage our forests and protect our water. All of these policies – and many more – affect our quality of life on a daily basis, even though we rarely recognize their direct impact. And all of these policy areas are more complex and contentious than they seem at first blush.
They are technically complicated, as it is usually hard to determine the precise impacts of any one policy. They are politically contentious, with people passionately disagreeing about the role of government in a free society. They are economically challenging because most policies create tangible gains for some and losses for others. And most complex policy ideas are difficult to communicate with the general public, whose support is ultimately required to implement the policies.
Looking forward, it is likely that tomorrow’s policy challenges will be even more complex—as they will conflate difficult scientific, economic, social, and political issues.
How can the benefits of new technologies be enjoyed while ensuring that people whose jobs are displaced continue to have satisfying careers? Can Canada’s prosperity be better shared by all segments of our society without slowing the engine of growth? How can our Indigenous populations be better included in the economic and social life of the nation? How can countries continue benefiting from open markets while collectively addressing the challenges created by large-scale migration?
The growing complexity of these challenges demands that we think about policy differently, that we develop our policy leaders differently, and that our best policy schools be designed a little differently.
We must bring together people from varied perspectives to think about innovative policy solutions. We need to go well beyond the theory of public policy and emphasize the many details that complicate policy development in real-world settings. We need to appreciate the complex machinery of government and how it interacts with partisan politics and special interests. And we must get better at communicating difficult policy ideas with policymakers and the general public.
Why is McGill University the right place to build such a new policy school? Because we are already so richly endowed with the three key building blocks.
Our long history of excellence in applied policy research, across many faculties and disciplines, allows us to build a new policy school on a strong and diverse foundation.
From our base in Montreal, we have built strong connections with governments at all levels, across Quebec, Canada, and many parts of the world—connections that lie at the heart of a policy school’s mission.
And we have long been blessed with truly outstanding students from many countries, McGillians who will rise to influential policy positions in business and governments across the globe.
Designing a new and innovative policy school involves taking risks, from developing a new curriculum and launching more effective communications, to having closer connections with our policymakers and supporting our graduates in finding their policy voices.
Throughout his remarkable life, Max Bell understood that some risks were worth taking. Risks involved in building a newspaper business. Risks involved in prairie ranching. Risks involved in oil exploration.
Like the ones he faced, our risks should not be taken lightly. The driving motivation should be the potential for reward. And the reward in our case is better public policy, and the better lives that follow.
Today, we launch a venture that I hope Max Bell would admire. He saw the nobility of actions taken in pursuit of the public interest. He knew the importance of public policy in building a strong and prosperous society. And he knew that doing policy well is difficult, but certainly worth the effort.
I think he would say that, for the benefit of future generations, building a new and innovative policy school at McGill is a risk we need to take. I am delighted to be involved in such an exciting and promising venture.
Director, Max Bell School of Public Policy