Master of Public Policy

Policy Case Studies

Between the 6-week modules in each term, students spend two weeks 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


The Policy Case Studies for 2023-2024 are drawn from:

A School Food Program for Canada: A Case Study of a Successful Social Movement for Policy Change

Policy change often comes after years of cultural change and its more visible expression in the development of grassroots engagement, organizing and mobilizing. This course will examine the decades-long work of the school food movement in creating a successful campaign for “A School Food Program for Canada”. Focusing on this process, Debbie Field and David Kraft will reference the experiences of other movements for change, to provide a conceptual framework and a practical approach that is relevant to understanding, analyzing and participating in the development of any social movement for policy change.

Instructor: Debbie Field & David Kraft

Ontario’s Green Energy & Green Economy Act

This is a case study in public policy 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

Alberta’s Climate Change Plan

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

Preventing Violence Against Women and Children in Kenya

This case study is about a ground-breaking initiative aimed at combating sexual violence. It started with public interest litigation in Kenya following multiple cases of sexual assault against young girls in central/eastern Kenya. The case involves not only issues of criminal law, but also policy issues that were the product of indifferent governments, inadequate policing, and community inertia. A group of girls ranging from 3 to 17 years of age, working through an NGO, sued the Kenyan government for the damage they had experienced, not only physically, but all in terms of lack of access to personal security, to education, and to life opportunities. 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, and ending with a police training, political and policy changes, and engagement through the arts and sports to improve awareness. Concepts such as instrument choice and the policy cycle will be reviewed, as well as legal tools to analyze concepts of gender equality. Students will also review leading cases on violence against women in national and international jurisdictions. This course will be of particular interest for students who would like additional background in preparing for the Law, Human Rights and Public Policy course. Please note that this course addresses difficult and sensitive topics and may be disturbing or triggering for some students.

Instructor: Pearl Eliadis

Government Procurement Policies and Practices in a Highly Contested, Globally Competitive Industry

This case studies will provide insights into how a multinational enterprise goes about government and other stakeholders’ engagement to protect its interests and strengthen its positioning vis-à-vis major government procurement opportunities, in a globally competitive and highly contested industry.

The students will learn about how global trends can feed into local considerations and decisions, and how international trade obligations interact between them and constrain margins of maneuver for government decision-makers.

Through the case study, the students will be able to learn from a real-life example of a successful advocacy campaign to increase domestic content on a rail transit project, bucking a growing trend in the country towards less local preferences. The students will receive a first-hand account of how legal arguments were combined with imperatives to level the playing field for domestic firms, to achieve the campaign goal. Key learnings will include how to mount and implement a complex stakeholder engagement strategy, and how to combine public and private interventions for maximum impact. Comparisons will also be drawn between government procurement in the civil infrastructure sector, in which the case study is situated, and defense procurement which is shaped by additional strategic and national interest considerations for nations. Further, we will examine through this parallel, how differences in international trade obligations could be determinant for nations’ decisions and behaviors.

Instructor: Pierre Pyun

Seeking to convince Russia to eliminate a Non-Tariff Barrier: Stakeholder Management by a Multinational Corp

This case study provides an insider’s view of Stakeholder engagement an influencing in a high-stakes business environment.   At its core is Russia’s steadfast refusal to provide airworthiness certification to Canadian- and Brazilian-made Regional Jets and their US-made Aero-engines.  This refusal was a blatant attempt to preserve the Russian market for an indigenous RJ in development (the Sukhoi SuperJet). Important context for the case study includes Russia’s ongoing but as-yet incomplete accession to the WTO and Sukhoi’s own attempts to market and sell its aircraft internationally.  We will explore how a group of MNCs from Canada and other countries devised and managed a sophisticated stakeholder engagement campaign at the highest international levels, seeking to change this Russian policy.  

Instructor: Michael McAdoo

How to Reduce Poverty in a Big City: a Community Approach

Municipalities are often described as the level of government closest to the population but are traditionally viewed as having a limited role in reducing poverty. Despite its national and provincial aspects, poverty reduction should also be a major preoccupation for municipal leaders. This case study will examine a bottom-up local policy initiative on poverty reduction in the Borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CDN-NDG), the City of Montréal’s most populous and diverse neighbourhood. It will examine how and why this initiative was launched and the challenges associated with such community driven policy development, risk taking, and innovation.

Instructor: Russell Copeman

Federal Impact Assessment: Rewriting the Rules for Major Projects in Canada

Major projects can have major impacts on the economy, the environment and the people living nearby. In order to assess those impacts and to determine if they are in the public interest, the Government of Canada relies on the framework set out in the Impact Assessment Act. The process to decide whether an approval should be granted has been the subject of significant policy and political dialogues. What projects should be subject to a federal impact assessment? What factors should be considered? How long should the process take and who should decide? How should governments balance economic development with environmental impacts? How should the process address the concerns of Indigenous Peoples and local communities?

This case study will examine the genesis of the current federal impact assessment process and explore the real-time policy choices facing the Government of Canada as it responds to a recent Supreme Court of Canada opinion finding the legislation to be unconstitutional. Students will learn about nationwide protests against lost environmental protections that lead to a political mandate to change major project assessments at the federal level. They will explore policy development through the lens of an expert panel, a government response and a legislative process that led to over one hundred and eighty amendments to proposed legislation. The case study will conclude with an examination of a recent Supreme Court of Canada opinion that found the Impact Assessment Act to be unconstitutional and it will explore the options available to the Government of Canada as it presents new legislation to Parliament for consideration. This case study provides a real-life example of how political mandates become law and some of the tools that can be used to engage Canadians in the development of the laws that impact their lives.

Instructor: Jesse McCormick

From Canada to Timbuktu: Peacekeeping in the Quicksand of Mali

In 2015, the Trudeau government committed to restoring Canada’s historic leadership in peacekeeping as part of Canada’s foreign policy renewal and campaign for a UN Security Council seat. Following extensive consultations across the government, with the UN in parallel with allies, the government opted for a one-year Air Task Force in Mali as the centerpiece of its effort. What factors led to this decision? At the time, Mali hosted the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission, struggling to protect itself. Mali’s peace process had stalled in the years since French and partner military forces wrested the country from a combination of terrorist and rebel groups. Can Canada help bring peace to Mali? How did the military mission complement other Canadian and international tools to build peace, such as diplomacy, policing, security sector reform, stabilization programs and development assistance?

Instructor: Andrew Ng

Transitional Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda

In post-conflict nations, who is held responsible for mass atrocities and what processes should be used? How do governments manage difficult political and social transitions while attempting to reconcile torn societies? States must achieve a fine balance between political stability and social peace on the one hand and demands for justice and accountability on the other. This case study examines how the Rwandan government, donors and the ‘international community’ sought to resolve those tensions in the years following the 1994 genocide in a decimated nation with an obliterated justice system and a traumatized population. The seminar will focus on how institutional policy instruments were created and implemented in the late 1990s and early 2000s to provide students with a framework to analyze difficult public policy choices in contexts where none of the usual policy prescriptions apply.

Instructor: Pearl Eliadis

Canada, Quebec, and Immigration 

Successfully adopting comprehensive immigration policy continues to present a major challenge for Western democracies. In the United States, polarizing contentious debates surrounding border control and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants have been ongoing for years with no consensus in sight. In Europe, a failure to deliver a comprehensive and effective immigration framework has resulted in some member states refusing to take in a significant number of migrants. Despite the many challenges to building, adopting or reforming immigration policy, Canada’s point-based immigration system is generally well regarded by both Canadian citizens and the international community. This course will allow the participant to gain a better understanding of the challenges to finding consensus on immigration reform, with a special emphasis on the Quebec perspective. The Canada-Quebec Accord of 1991 takes into account the province’s distinct francophone identity, and gives Quebec complete jurisdiction over economic immigration. This makes Quebec the only province in the country to control the selection of over seventy percent of its immigrant population. In the midst of the contentious reasonable accommodation debate on the rights of religious minorities (2007), the Quebec government moved to adopt an immigration plan that increased immigration levels over the next 3 years. Though the 2008-2010 immigration plan was adopted, the provincial government’s plan was met with sustained opposition throughout the consultation process. Participants will explore questions including: How does one advance policy under contentious circumstances? How are stakeholders identified and how can they be persuaded? Should the government have pulled back and changed course in spite of the data confirming the advantages of the policy? Participants will also explore the often-invisible work that supports the development of an immigration plan and its ultimate adoption. Discussion will address the importance of consulting different constituencies and stakeholders, consensus building, and the importance of communicating a vision. Through this case study, participants will explore the inherent challenges of framing a policy response in the world of identity politics, the media’s influence on debate and the relevance of setting up performance indicators to test the policy strengths and weaknesses.

Instructor: Yolande James

Managing Principled Trade-offs in International Public Policy: Lessons from International Peace, Security and Humanitarian Interventions

International public policy makers continually manage trade-offs among often-competing principles in complex and highly politicized environments. United Nations officials working in situations of violent conflict around the world are faced with daily decisions on how to balance political vs. humanitarian priorities, short- vs. long-term objectives, and expedient vs. principled solutions. Each decision has life and death implications for those affected by conflict, for the effectiveness of the United Nations, and for the viability and legitimacy of multilateral approaches to managing violence and alleviating suffering. This seminar examines the competing principles at play in international complex emergencies, and the processes by which international public policymakers manage decision making in delicate and dynamic political and humanitarian environments. Looking across a series of historical and ongoing violent conflicts around the world, the course will examine how universal principles come into contact with real-world situations and imperatives. For example, the course will analyse how public policy makers balance trade-offs between the universality of human rights versus sovereignty, and humanity versus neutrality. The course will delve into the management of institutional interests and reputation as a consideration in public policy making and address innate tensions between the universal principle of state sovereignty and the mandate of many international organizations, including the United Nations, to pursue specific normative objectives. Using a participatory approach, participants in the seminar will actively engage with the processes for managing these trade-offs, including stakeholder management and consultation, transparency and public engagement, moral and ethical reasoning, and internal debate and decision-making. In so going, the seminar aims to equip participants with an understanding of nuance and complexity in international public policy making; the skills to manage complex operational, ethical, and political questions in highly charged and morally laden situations; and practical expertise applying these skills to a broad variety of real-world scenarios of international public policy, including international aid and development, trade and economic assistance, and international diplomacy and negotiation.

Instructor: Dirk Druet

Domestic vs. International Politics: Canada-United States-Mexico Trade Agreement – Is Any Deal Better Than No Deal?

The negotiations to replace the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were fraught with tensions and political gamesmanship. The resulting agreement, the Canada-United States Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) was, in many respects, weaker than the original. These events offer important considerations for policy analysis, including the interplay of domestic and international factors that underpin a decision to pursue a major external policy goal, negotiation strategies under conditions of asymmetry, and the trade-offs between political and economic objectives in the pursuit of policy goals. This policy case study utilizes negotiation simulations, guest speakers from the trade teams of the three countries, and academic analysts. The CUSMA case will be augmented by discussions of trade dynamics in Europe and Asia to create a more complete understanding of contemporary economic integration and fragmentation.

Instructor: Laura Dawson

Human Trafficking

The purpose of this case study is to explore the international and national legal frameworks governing human trafficking; identify the indicators of human trafficking; foster an understanding of the complexities of human trafficking in a discussion/seminar format; unpack different conceptions of human trafficking and their influence on public policy and law; reflect on the structural factors that facilitate exploitative and coercive conditions and practices, including legal and policy conditions.

Instructor: Olivia Smith

Preventing Homelessness in Quebec 

This case study is about a novel policy initiative designed to address homelessness “upstream” through prevention strategies that protect access to adequate and affordable housing. Inadequate housing is a pervasive and persistent policy problem with no single cause or entry point for solving it. Canada occupies the lowest position among G7 countries in terms of housing units per 1,000 residents, while municipal authorities bluntly warn of a “humanitarian crisis. Quebec alone has almost 6,000 visibly unhoused people, most of whom are in Montreal, and thousands more are living in hidden homelessness or other unstable housing situations. The Quebec Homelessness Prevention Policy Collaborative is a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral policy collaborative launched in 2021 by Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission and McGill University. It examines policy options for Québec and catalyzes law reform through rights-based, people-centered approaches. The case study will give students real-time insights into building and sustaining a multi-sectoral policy initiative: topics include the initial conceptualization and design of the collaborative, the creation of partnerships and research streams, knowledge co-creation, communications, and outreach strategies. During the week, students will hear from key members of the Collaborative, including practitioners, academics, and civil society leaders.

Instructor: Pearl Eliadis

Responding to the Freedom Convoy

A series of highly disruptive protests and blockades began in Ottawa in January 2022 that attracted attention around the world. The initial movement focused on opposing vaccine mandates for crossing the US border but evolved over time into protests against COVID-19 mandates and government writ large. Downtown Ottawa was effectively brought to a standstill, and several offshoot protests stopped traffic across the Canada-US border. After several weeks of growing tensions, the federal Government invoked the Emergencies Act on 14 February 2022 for the first time since its creation in 1988. A week later, the convoy protests were over. A Public Order Emergency Commission (the Rouleau Commission) looking into the invocation of the Emergencies Act produced its final report in February 2023. This policy lab will explore the origins of the so-called Freedom Convoy protests across Canada during the winter of 2022, as well as the response of government at various levels. What prompted such near-fanatical protests? Was it just COVID-19 or part of a broader statement against the role of government in society and the lives of individual Canadians? How effective were the protests in achieving their aims? How effective was the government response? Was there adequate coordination between federal, provincial and municipal levels? Did the various police forces involved perform adequately? The intelligence community? Did it evolve into a national security crisis as the government claimed, and if so, when? Was the invocation of the Emergencies Act warranted? Were the conclusions and recommendations of the Rouleau Commission helpful? What lessons were learned for future such events?

Instructor: Vincent Rigby

Bill C-11

Bill C-11, better known as the Online Streaming Act, received royal assent on April 27, 2023, some 14 months after its introduction and two and a half years after Bill C-10, its predecessor was tabled. These Bills were designed to amend the Broadcasting Act that had been in place since 1991. In the intervening 30 years, the broadcasting sector had experienced revolutionary change. Before the Internet, media companies needed to invest in content and physical distribution. They came as a package: music was pressed onto discs for physical distribution; TV and radio broadcasters invested in transmitters to entertain and inform local audiences; and cable and satellite providers invested in terrestrial and satellite transmission networks to provide a multi-channel universe of viewing choices emphasizing Canadian content. The Internet profoundly impacted this model and legislative change was required.

This case study will explore the legislative response to these changes and the challenges associated with balancing stakeholder and the public interest. It will attempt to answer a number of policy-related questions, including:

  • What changes to Canada’s Broadcast Policy were needed?
  • What is Canadian content and do we still need rules to protect it?
  • Was new legislation required to address the pre-eminence of internet-delivered content?
  • How much trust and responsibility should be placed in the hands of a regulator?
  • Will regulation be damaging to new and innovative digital content producers;
  • Does C-11 pose a challenge to freedom of expression?
  • What learnings can be derived from the legislative process surrounding the passage of C-11?

Instructor: Ian Scott

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