The Max Bell School of Public Policy was in London last week to celebrate its recent launch and the unveiling of its flagship teaching program – a one-year Master of Public Policy (MPP) – which is now accepting admissions for the 2019-2020 academic year. Committed to leading the conversation on the world’s most pressing policy issues, the Max Bell School marked the occasion and visit to the UK by hosting a panel discussion at Canada House. The event featured three distinguished alumni, Daniel Costello, Canadian Ambassador to the European Union, Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-chancellor of McGill University. Each shared their expertise and insights on how to survive and thrive in a world of changing trade patterns and disruptive technological change, among other complex issues.
The evening began with the acknowledgment of one very important guest, Garvin Brown, who gave generously to support the newly established Diamond-Brown Chair in Democratic Studies. Made possible by a $5 –million gift from Garvin Brown and Steffanie Diamond Brown, the Chair will promote further scholarship and public outreach, encourage public discussion of key challenges facing the world’s democracies, and contribute to evidence-based policy decision-making. In recognizing Brown’s generous donation, Suzanne Fortier compared him to McGill University’s founder, James McGill, whom she said shared the same vision, seeing education as a building block for a better society. Principal Fortier presented Brown with a James McGill statue in honour of his contribution, adding that his support of ideas and research will contribute to a stronger democracy.
In his opening remarks, inaugural Director of the Max Bell School, Chris Ragan, acknowledged the generosity of many who contributed to the creation of the School, notably the Max Bell Foundation. He also underlined the importance of events such as this one that bring leading thinkers together to engage with the public on important policy issues.
Moderated by Ragan, the panel discussion tackled the Canadian government’s and the G7’s recent focus on achieving inclusive growth in an era of unprecedented upheaval and deep political polarization. The group addressed how questions about global trade, peace, security and rapid technological change pose serious threats to social harmony and economic prosperity.
Touching on one of the key G7 themes, preparing for the future of jobs, Mr. Costello stressed the importance of engaging citizens when defining international priorities. He also suggested we look beyond the concerns and consider some of the opportunities.
“Inclusion is key. We have to engage not just at an international level in this discussion. We need to learn from each other and we need to engage our citizens. We know that there are ethical concerns, we know there will be an economic impact and certainly for training and for skills. We also know there are already more collaborations through translation and interpretation. There are new roles that will be required in the economy. I have also heard about how AI is helping us identify unconscious bias. We need to look for opportunities and make it part of a broad, inclusive, society-wide discussion.”
Universities will play a huge role in this discussion and in policymaking, entrusted to mold and prepare future policymakers. Principal and Vice-chancellor Suzanne Fortier explored this idea, elaborating on what institutions should be prioritizing in order for students to succeed in labour markets.
“The one thing I would like graduating students to take away from university, in addition to their degree, is having discovered the great capacity for learning. This is the most important thing I think we can leave with students. They learn how to learn, but also learn that they have an enormous capacity for learning. This is what they will be using throughout their lives, and I think this is what universities need to strive for.”
Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, spoke of how fundamentally challenged the pillars of democracy are, due in part to the distrust of elites, distrust of institutions, overheated political discourse, and online bullying, which he believes makes it difficult for individuals to exchange views outside of their own circle. “I think it is a moment to pay attention and to engage around democratic politics. I think, therefore, a public policy school has an incredible role to play in that regard.”
On rapid and dramatic technological changes, Toope warns that we should pay very close attention to how these new technologies are regulated before we find ourselves in a very uncomfortable position.
“The changes are so dramatic and so fast, that we could find ourselves in a similar position as we were in in 2008. All of the financial instruments that nobody understood caused dramatic consequences for the entire world. We are developing technologies that people deeply do not understand. We need to pay attention to how we as societies come to terms with those technologies and try to understand what their implications are.”
In his closing statement, Mark Weinstein, Vice-Principal of University Advancement at McGill, echoed the important role of institutions like that of Max Bell School,
“I think one theme that has come through loud and clear this evening is the fact that sound public policy is vital to our society and our democracy. In today’s turbulent world, the Max Bell School of Public Policy is a welcome and important voice.”