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


Policy Case Studies are drawn from the following list:

Alcohol Distribution in Canada

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 Columbia 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

Ontario’s Green Energy & Green Economy Act

This is a case studt 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, Director of Policy and Research at the Canadian Nuclear Association

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, Former Chief of Staff to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and to Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow

Preventing Violence Against Women and Children in Kenya

This case study is drawn from a ground-breaking initiative combating sexual violence against girls. It started from an unusual place: public interest litigation in Kenya as the catalyst for change. High levels of rape (“defilement”) of vulnerable young girls in central Kenya are products of an indifferent government, inadequate policing and community inertia. In the face of these crimes, a group of girls ranging in ages from 3 to 17 years of age worked through an NGO that sheltered them after their attacks and sued the Kenyan government. 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. Students will review concepts previously introduced, including instrument choice and the policy cycle, and will analyze the applicable legal frameworks, and connect concepts of gender equality to the Sustainable Development Goals, access to justice, substantive equality and human-rights based approaches to policy design.

Instructor: Pearl Eliadis, Associate Professor

The Interplay Between Domestic and International Politics: Canada’s Big Bet on the UN Security Council

During this case study, students will examine the interplay of domestic and international factors that underpin a decision to pursue a major external policy goal. They will understand better the instruments of influence and action channels that middle powers can use to level the playing field under conditions of power asymmetry and the trade-offs involved in using such instruments. A Canadian case will be augmented by examples from other countries such as Japan, Australia and Singapore, to help to form a more complete picture of when and how middle powers influence global outcomes.

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

Women’s Equality Rights in India

Across the globe, pluralist democracies grapple with the issue of balancing gender equality with religious freedom and group rights. This seminar will examine how the Indian Supreme Court mediates the tension between these competing interests and the extent to which it affirms women’s rights through the lens of its ruling in Shayara Bano v. Union of India.  Shayara Bano is a good example of the steps involved in the formulation of public policy, starting from civil society action, leading to constitutional litigation and finally culminating in law reform. This course is designed to provide students with a framework for analyzing the debates that shape public policy, focusing on constitutional rights in the areas of legal pluralism, minority rights, religious freedom and women’s rights within the family. Through the course, students will evaluate the emancipatory potential of constitutional law to develop understandings of justice that can improve the lives of women and move them further towards equality.   

Instructor: Vrinda Narain, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law

Building a Military Coalition in Afghanistan

The keystone of the NATO alliance is article 5 of its charter, which holds that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all. But the article has only been invoked once since the alliance was founded in 1949, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Consequently, many NATO countries provided troops, material and logistical support, and other aid to the United States when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, NATO assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in its first-ever mission outside Europe. 

The ISAF mission turned out to be a severe test of the NATO leadership, its internal solidarity, and its military capacities. Member countries disagreed over the alliance’s goals in Afghanistan, and the requisite strategy. They differed significantly in what they were willing to do and how and where they were willing to do it. Some refused to participate in dangerous or offensive missions, while others put strict caveats on what their soldiers could do when operating in concert with those from other countries. 

As a result, it is commonly said that NATO didn’t fight one war in Afghanistan, it fought a dozen separate wars in each individual province. This case study will explore how government structures and party politics in NATO countries shaped the ISAF mission, and what it tells us about the future of the transatlantic alliance. 

Instructor: Andrew Potter, Associate Professor, Max Bell School of Public Policy

Supporting Underserved and Marginalized Populations

When the City of Montreal with a population of 1.8 million people funded “I count MTL 2015” to identify the number of persons at a single point in time who are experiencing unsheltered or emergency sheltered homelessness, the total number of persons identified in the neighbourhood of Cote-des-Neiges was 6 people. This low number came as a shock to community support workers and not-for-profit organisations who witnessed daily the marginalization and social exclusion experienced by a large proportion of the approximately 100,000 residents of this area. They mobilized to set up an intersectoral committee to examine the high prevalence of hidden homelessness and housing precarity, to better delineate the pathways into homelessness and approaches for improved prevention, care and advocacy, including an outreach clinic integrated into an academic family medicine practice that Dr. Andermann helped to establish in partnership with local community organizations. This 15-hour graduate-level course, provides students with the opportunity to learn about the social determinants of health, measurement of health disparities and disaggregation of data, organizational interventions in health and social care that promote health equity, public health ethics, fair process, trauma-informed policy, creating supportive social environments, and promoting healthier and more inclusive societies. Each day of the course there will also be invited guest speakers to provide a broad array of policy perspectives and opportunities for discussion, answering questions as well as helping with brainstorming ideas for student assignments and the final student project.

Instructor: Anne Andermann, Associate Professor in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine

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

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

Nunavut Land Claims Agreement & Nunavut

This case study examine the origin and establishment of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the creation of Canada’s newest territory of Nunavut as a way for Nunavut Inuit to gain some greater control over their lives.

Instructor: Madeleine Redfern

Healthcare Reform in Africa: The National Health Insurance Laws of Ghana (and The Gambia)

This Policy Case Study focuses on opportunities, challenges and lessons in healthcare reform in Africa, using the processes leading up to the passage of the National Health Insurance Act for Ghana as an example. The case study covers the entire storyline, highlighting the complex and multi-dimensional character of policy issues involved, whilst noting the range of stakeholders, debates, compromises and tradeoffs that were implicated at each policy decision point. The application of learning from this case study to a similar process in Gambia a decade later offers further useful insights.

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 or on 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 in that situation, and for the viability and legitimacy of multilateral approaches to managing violence and alleviating suffering in the future.

This course will examine the competing principles at play in these situations, and the processes by which international public policymakers manage principled decision making in delicate and dynamic political and humanitarian environments. Looking across a series of ongoing violent conflicts around the world, the course will examine how universal principles come into contact with real-world realities and imperatives, including particular institutional interests that can affect the pursuit of particular goals. In particular, the course will analyse how public policy makers balance trade-offs between, for example, the responsibility to protect versus principles of sovereignty and consent, the universality of human rights versus political objectives, and humanity vs. 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. It will examine skills and processes required for managing these trade-offs, including stakeholder management and consultation, transparency and public engagement, moral and ethical reasoning, and internal debate and decision-making.

This course aims to equip students 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 & Simon Bagshaw

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

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