The nation’s policy makers showed me what it takes to tackle complex problems

Alumnus Raúl Scorza Figueroa reflects on his trip to Ottawa to learn about the policy making process.

In November 2022, the fourth cohort of Master of Public Policy candidates visited Parliament Hill to learn firsthand from policymakers. Organized by the Max Bell School including visiting professor Neil Bouwer and alumnus Enzo Zorigtbaatar, the inaugural trip was designed to educate and inspire. A few MPPs - Elisa, Aftab, Linda, Gianna and Raúl - reflect on the experience.

I like to think that one of the many reasons my colleagues and I were drawn to McGill’s Max Bell School of Public Policy program last year is that we all enjoy puzzles. We nurture the curiosity that drives us to understand where and how pieces fit together. When we combine them to reveal a greater whole we feel a sense of accomplishment, like when we’d solve a now-widely popular, daily word puzzle the mornings before class. But there are larger puzzles that will have important consequences for Canada and its place in the world.

With natural resources accounting for almost 15% of gross domestic product and supporting more than 1.9 million direct and indirect jobs in 2020, how could Canada enable a just transition that supports workers, protects the environment, and puts us on a path to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions? What role will immigration play in tackling pressing labour and housing shortages in the country, and what types of specific supports for newcomers will be needed for them to thrive? And how can Canada ensure that policies that are meant to address these and other public policy challenges are also designed and implemented to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples?

Recently, I was given the opportunity to join the current 2022-2023 Max Bell student cohort in a unique trip to Ottawa that increased our understanding of the many pieces surrounding questions like the above. Over the course of two days, the Max Bell community – alumni, faculty, visiting professors and scholars, and administrative staff – organized a series of events that examined the full complexity of the policy process:

  • A panel of Members of Parliament from different political parties highlighted how crucial collaboration is for committees to get work done.
  • The Minister of Public Safety, and the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, shared lessons on the nature of public service and their efforts on vital public policy issues.
  • Chiefs of staff noted just how tough but rewarding it can be to adapt to the unforeseen and still deliver on policy goals.
  • Officials and analysts from the Privy Council Office and Canadian Heritage spoke about the notion of being in a state of “policy readiness”, allowing action on the small windows of opportunity that can bring a policy idea to life while maintaining team resiliency.
  • Officers from the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board Secretariat provided Central Agency perspectives on policymaking, including on how innovation can be fostered within their structures and mandates.

…and in between all these events, the organizers also somehow managed to arrange a tour of the House of Commons, schedule an in-person viewing of Question Period, and connect us with the McGill Alumni Association in Ottawa!

Throughout the whirlwind trip, I was impressed by the students in the current cohort. Their passion, commitment, and eagerness to engage with public policy became evident thanks to the questions they asked the speakers - questions asking how civic participation and democratic involvement could be increased; how barriers to entry into politics could be reduced, especially with a lens towards improving equity and diversity in political life; and how Indigenous voices and knowledge could be incorporated in a sustainable energy transition, to name a few. Just as importantly, it became evident that the students care about each other and their wellbeing as they continue their intensive, 11-month program.

These are attributes that reflect the same sense of bonding that I experienced with my colleagues when I was at Max Bell. They will also be crucial as we enter a year marked by new and ongoing policy challenges, as we discussed during a last presentation led by the Secretary of the Treasury Board. The impacts of crises like climate change and media dis/mis-information are already being felt in Canada and abroad. Yet I hold on to a sentiment expressed in that final discussion: that it is during the greatest crises that the greatest moments to meet these challenges present themselves. I am confident that much like the pieces of a puzzle, the Max Bell students and community will keep coming together to help create a better, more just future.

Raúl Scorza Figueroa is a Max Bell School of Public Policy alumnus, 2021-2022.


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