2020: A Year In Review

In this article, we look back on some of the highlights of 2020.

The Max Bell School has had a productive past year, cementing our role as a policy leader through our events and research, and ensuring that our MPP program maintained its high quality while being delivered online.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought public policy issues to the forefront, as governments across the world rushed to respond to the economic, social, and public health impacts wrought by COVID-19. In the first few months of this year, the School organized the lecture series Policy Challenges During a Pandemic. In these webinars and briefings, policymakers and the general public were provided with key insights from policy experts.

In terms of research, a highlight of this year was the launch of the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy — a research hub directed by Max Bell School Professor Taylor Owen aimed at fostering conversation around the rapidly-changing worlds of media and technology, and how they are reshaping our society and democratic systems.

We have now graduated our first cohort of MPP students, and welcomed our second class. In less than three months after graduation, 27 of our initial cohort of 31 had gained employment at prestigious organizations across Canada and the world, including the World Food Programme, HM Treasury, KPMG, and Martin Family Institute.

We have assembled this end-of-year recap article to showcase some of the many highlights of the past 12 months. We hope you enjoy catching up on what we've been doing!


Photograph of a crowd of people watching a lecture

Our roster of events over the past year has been extensive, with a particular focus on lectures presenting pandemic-related policy topics. In September, we held Choosing the Right Target, a conference on monetary policy that explored options for the Bank of Canada's mandate renewal.

The Future of Climate Change Policy and Politics in Canada

February 2020 | When thinking about the steps that governments must take to address the all-encompassing issue of climate change, it can be difficult to know where to start. In February, Chantal Hébert, Sébastien Jodoin, and Christopher Ragan sat down to demystify the debate surrounding climate policy and discuss how Canada should proceed on the issue. Read more.

Policy Challenges during a Pandemic Series

March - June 2020 | COVID-19 has posed an extraordinary challenge for policymakers. In the early days of the pandemic, we launched Policy Challenges during a Pandemic: a series of webinars and briefings with our experts that explored various policy topics pertaining to the current public health crisis: economic recovery, the role of the media, intergovernmental coordination, health equity, and more. Read more.

Choosing the Right Target Conference

September 2020 | With the Bank of Canada’s mandate renewal approaching, now is the time to give careful consideration to the various options — from lowering the inflation target, to maintaining the status quo, to abandoning the inflation targeting regime altogether. In September, experts from across the country virtually attended the Max Bell School’s Choosing the Right Target conference to examine and discuss six possible paths for the future of Canadian monetary policy. Read more.

Fall 2020 Policy Lecture Series

September-December 2020 | These lectures covered issues from the implications of moving civil society online, to the politics of pensions in communist and post-communist Russia. The line-up of speakers included Daniel Weinstock, Kristy Ironside, Yann Allard-Tremblay, and Howard Balloch. Read more.

MPP Program

This past year we graduated our first cohort of Master of Public Policy students and welcomed our second.

Field Trip to the New Hampshire Democratic Primary

February 2020 | The Max Bell School organized its first MPP field trip to New Hampshire where students got a close-up look at the U.S. Democratic Primary election process. The itinerary was carefully prepared and guided by David Shribman, who not only brought key guest speakers to talk about the political landscape, but also shared his expertise in American politics. Read more.

International Policy Leaders and Alumni Networking Evening

February 2020 | This networking event brought our first cohort of MPP students together with Montreal-based alumni of some of the most prestigious policy programs in the world, with representation from Oxford, Harvard, The London School of Economics, and a number of other top universities. Read more.

Johns Hopkins SAIS and Max Bell School Cooperative Degree Program

June 2020 | The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and the Max Bell School partnered earlier this year to launch a cooperative degree program. This 2-year program will be taken in part at the SAIS European branch in Bologna, Italy, and in part at McGill. Read more.

Policy Scholars Program

July 2020 | For the first year of its Policy Scholars Program, the Max Bell School, with funding from the Max Bell Foundation, partnered with three Canadian think tanks: the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Canada West Foundation, and the C.D. Howe Institute. Read more about this year's recipients — MPP students Momanyi MokayaSumaiya Kabir Talukder, and Paisley Sim — and the policy work they are conducting during their research fellowships. Read more.

MPP Policy Labs

August 2020 | A capstone element of our MPP program is the Policy Lab. As part of the Lab, sponsors were selected from among corporations, government departments, and NGOs to provide students with specific policy challenges. This year, our MPP students worked in teams to tackle issues including the possibility of a circular economy, power purchase agreements, Canada's legal cannabis industry, Canadian innovation policies, public transit, and seniors' housing. Read more.

Graduation of our First Cohort

August 2020 | The MPP class of 2020 was unable to come together in person for commencement this year, but faculty and staff passed along their well wishes and congratulations to the School's inaugural cohort during an online graduation ceremony. Watch our recap video to see what our students got up to during their year at the Max Bell School, and read the parting advice they were offered by McGill Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier, Former Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark, and Canadian Ambassador to China Dominic Barton, among others. Read more.

Introducing our Second Cohort

September 2020 | This fall, the 36 members of our second MPP cohort began their studies at the Max Bell School. Representing 14 countries, these individuals come from a wide variety of academic and professional backgrounds, but all share a drive to tackle today's complex public policy challenges. Read more.

Research and Initiatives

Our faculty members continue to be prolific in their initiatives and research on public policy. Here’s some of what they’ve been up to over the past 12 months.

Media Ecosystem Observatory

May 2020 | In collaboration with a team of academics from McGill University and the University of Toronto, Max Bell School Professor Taylor Owen launched the Media Ecosystem Observatory, a research initiative aimed at developing an evidence-based model for understanding the health of media ecosystems. Read more.

Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy

October 2020 | Professor Owen also directs the recently launched Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy — McGill's focal point on critical research and public debate about the role of media and emerging technologies in shaping democracy and public life. The Centre is committed to public-facing work through a range of events, podcasts and workshops aimed at translating cutting-edge research for policymakers and broad public audiences. Read more.

Reframing Canada’s Global Engagement

September 2020 | Professor Jennifer Welsh released two reports on reframing Canada’s global engagement, providing an assessment of Canada’s role and strengths in international affairs and presenting decision-makers with questions to consider when working to advance the security and prosperity of Canadians. Read more.

Introducing MAX Policy

October 2020 | Tackling the complexity of today's pressing policy issues requires innovative and sometimes provocative approaches. Straight from the minds at the Max Bell School, the newly launched MAX Policy features fresh ideas, designed to encourage bold thinking and spur conversation. To start things off, J.W. McConnell Professor of Practice Ken Boessenkool made the conservative case for embracing a carbon tax, our Director Chris Ragan weighed up infrastructure projects as stimulus to the economy, former Canadian Ambassador to China Howard Balloch explained why there are no simple choices for Canada when designing foreign policy for a rapidly evolving China, and Professor Pearl Eliadis discussed children’s exclusion from access to public health care insuranceRead more.


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