Policy Case Studies

Between the 6-week modules in each term, one week is spent on Policy Case Studies, taught by practitioners. The case study classes are small and highly interactive between students and instructors. Each case study spans five half-days, developing the complete storyline and multi-dimensional complexity of an actual policy, including:

  • problem recognition and context
  • the need for new policy action
  • identification of various policy options
  • economic, environmental, fiscal, political, and social analysis of policy options
  • identification of key policy trade-offs
  • necessary stakeholder engagement
  • communication challenges
  • final policy decision, implementation


Policy Case Studies will be drawn from the following list:

The Many Dimensions of the Lac Megantic Railway Catastrophe

The response efforts to the accident at Nantes, Quebec, were both large and multi-faceted. Provincial and local authorities rapidly assumed control of the response required in terms of public safety and environmental remediation. Lacking both internal resources and sufficient liability insurance, MM&A filed for bankruptcy protection a few days after the accident. Investigations were launched, criminal charges were laid and class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims. Legal actions remain underway five years after the event. Costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars were incurred by governments to deal with contamination, losses of income and property, and reconstruction. While there are other important aspects to this tragedy, the policy case study will focus mostly on areas under federal responsibility namely the safety regulation regime applicable to rail transportation, and the financial framework in place to address liability and compensation issues.

Instructor: Louis Levesque, CEO of Finance Montreal

The Economics and Politics of Alberta's Climate Policy

With its 2015 climate change leadership plan, Alberta joined a very select group of petroleum producers (Norway, Holland and the UK) who have reached for a global leadership role in addressing climate change. In this policy case study, Brian Topp, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s chief of staff in 2015 and 2016 and one of that plan’s architects, will outline his perspective on its background, genesis, and fate – a case study in economic and political strategic governance.

Instructor: Brian Topp, Former Chief of Staff to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and to Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow

Pregnant Women, Midwives and the Issue of Clinic Access in Nunavik

One issue raised during the first Canadian Inuit Health Summit Summit was the lack of obstetric services in the northern Quebec area of Nunavik, that part of Quebec above the 55th parallel. With a land mass of over 500,000 square kilometres it represents one-third of the province. Its population is roughly 11,000. Inuit women were being transported to Montreal to give birth, despite the presence of Inuit midwives unable to legally practice because they lacked accreditation from Quebec’s Order of Midwives. The proposed solution was to accredit Inuit midwives to practice only in Nunavik. The Department was initially resistant based on the fact it would create two classes of accredited midwives in Quebec, always a hard sell to a “one size fits all” bureaucracy yet this resistance was later overcome. This policy case study covers the process undertaken to arrive at this solution.

Instructor: Russell Copeman, Former Borough Mayor of CDN/NDG

The Rise and Fall of State-Owned Liquor Monopolies

Shortly after the eighteenth amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920, the Canadian provinces had varying reactions. While Ontario embarked on a provincial prohibition until the creation of the LCBO in 1927, the Quebec government passed the Alcohol Beverages Act and created the Quebec Liquor Commission in 1921. By the late 1920’s each province had their own liquor board. The debate around the role of government in the distribution of alcohol has captured stakeholders for decades, and there has been a philosophical divide between eastern and western provinces. Alberta was the first to fully privatize in 1993, while British Colombia began licensing private liquor stores as early as 1988. Today, Saskatchewan and Manitoba continue to pursue a hybrid model by licensing private retailers, while Quebec and Ontario have maintained their traditional structures with modest changes to support the creation of a local production industry in wine, beer and spirits. The purpose of this case study is to understand the complexity of alcohol distribution and develop a policy position that supports the primary objectives of provincial and federal governments.

Instructor: Nathalie Duchesnay, President of NextStep Services

Preventing Violence Against Women and Children in Kenya

This case study is drawn from a ground-breaking African initiative combating sexual violence against girls and women. It started from an unusual place: strategic public interest litigation in Kenya as the catalyst for a major series of policy changes. The issues had multiple dimensions: high levels of rape (“defilement”) of vulnerable young girls in central Kenya; inadequate policy intervention, an indifferent judiciary and political class; and community inertia in the face of these crimes. But a group of girls ranging in ages from 3 to 17 years of age, working through the NGO that had sheltered them after their attacks, brought a human rights challenge against the Kenyan police. They secured a landmark victory in 2013. But that victory turned out to be just the beginning. In this case study, students will have the opportunity to examine how public policy can be reformed and official attitudes changed starting with civil society organizations and the courts.

Instructor: Pearl Eliadis, Adjunct Professor in McGill’s Faculty of Law

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission as a Creative and Effective Policy Institution

Instructor: Dale Beguin, Executive Director of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission

CMHC in Motion: Present & Future of Housing Policy in Canada

This case study will survey the parallel efforts to develop and implement Canada’s first ever National Housing Strategy and to transform a public sector organization to be singularly focused on achieving the intended results. The case study will address policy development, leadership and culture and the challenges of aligning strategy and operations in a Crown corporation with a changing policy environment.

Instructor: Evan Siddall, Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Maneuvering Behind the Scenes of a Major Multilateral Trade Agreement

When Canada first approached USTR about joining the TPP talks in 2010, U.S. response was lukewarm because Canada was already a member of the NAFTA. And, at the time, there was not even a strong consensus among Canadian officials about the benefits of membership. What changed to motivate Canada to the pressure the U.S. for entry? What changed to make the U.S. take Canada’s appeals seriously? This policy case examines how the TPP moved up Canada’s policy agenda as a result of the interplay of international and domestic politics and how Canada convinced a reluctant U.S. to admit Canada to the negotiating table. During this case study, participants will examine the political and economic elements of a country’s decision to pursue an international trade agreement. They will explore how external factors can change domestic political calculations and vice versa; and they will evaluate the influence of third countries (Mexico, China, Japan) on negotiation outcomes. Class discussions will be augmented by simulation exercises and a guest presentation by a Canadian trade negotiator. By the conclusion of the session participants will understand better the interplay between trade policy and geopolitics, acquire a foundational knowledge of negotiation strategies and two-level game theory; and gain experience writing policy memos and recommendations.

Instructor: Laura Dawson, Director of the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute

Information Policy in the Information Age: The Case of the GDPR

This policy case study will explore the challenges of creating smart information policy in what many commentators have dubbed our information age, by a close examination of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. What are the theories that shaped the GDPR? Who are the various stakeholders and experts that informed it, and how is it being implemented? The course will encourage students to appreciate communication policy issues through different lenses; particularly the perspectives of policy makers from different countries and cultures, along with the perspectives of competing businesses, police and security force, as well as NGO’s and individual users/citizens/consumers. While theories that inform communication policy will be explored, the course will focus on the real world implications of policy making and policy impact.

Instructor: Mark Lloyd, Former associate general counsel at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission

The Failure of Ontario ’s Green Energy Act

This policy case study examines a decade-long, politically driven effort from 2008-2018 by an industrialized jurisdiction of about 13 million people to design and implement a set of changes in the electric power system -- Ontario's Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA). The generating mix at the time of the policy’s launch was based on nuclear, hydroelectric, and coal. The mix of policy objectives included (i) ending coal-fired generation to reduce atmospheric emissions (both smog and greenhouse gases), and (ii) developing technology and manufacturing industries in non-hydro renewable energy (wind and solar). Participants are responsible for ensuring they have a basic understanding of how a modern electricity system works, major types of environmental impact, and how various energy sources produce those impacts. This is essential for undertaking the case study (and, as will be seen, is also essential for making public policy in the energy sector). The case study emphasizes the importance of subject matter expertise in policymaking, and the need for nonpartisanship (or cross-partisanship) in long-term planning exercises.

Instructor: John Stewart, Director of Policy and Research of the Canadian Nuclear Association

Cases in the Pursuit of Justice

Instructor: Irwin Cotler, Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights

Several case studies will be offered during each one-week period; students will choose two. Students will be evaluated with an individual writing assignment based on the cases (op-ed columns or briefing notes). Each student will be required to take four Policy Case Studies in the MPP program.

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