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 graduate level, 15-hour case study in public policy. It 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 (Professional)

Ontario’s Adoption of the HST

Being a progressive government in a time of economic plenty is a wonderful experience. Holding on to those progressive values during a time of economic destruction is a challenge. In the spring of 2009, on the heels of The Great Recession, Premier McGuinty of Ontario decided to implement a harmonized sales tax on goods and services. He was convinced that this was the single best thing he could do as a sub-national leader to help the province in the post-recession world. Was he right? Did it solve the problem(s) being faced by the province at the time? Did his subsequent electoral success in 2011 create a template for politicians making “tough decisions” going forward? This case study will look at five different aspect of the policy – from ideation to creation to negotiation to implementation – in an effort to learn about tax reform and public policy at the provincial level.

Instructor: Jamison Steeve, Former Executive Director, The Martin Prosperity Institute

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

Constitutionalizing Women’s Equality Rights: A Case Study from 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: From Contested Policies to Engagement and Fair Process

When a group of families whose children were born with rare genetic conditions learned that the government was no longer including one of these diseases on a population-based genetic screening panel, concerns were raised about rationing health care and abandoning families to fend for themselves.

This policy case study highlights how a transparent and participatory process can promote a shared understanding and encourage broad support for difficult policy choices. Throughout this 15-hour graduate-level course, students will have the opportunity to examine a single policy case study from multiple perspectives and vantage points to illustrate the complexity of policy-making for health. The aim of this course is to help students understand the many different inputs, stakeholders and considerations involved, as well as the jurisdictional, legal, ethical and systems factors at play.

Students will learn about evidence-informed decision-making and the multiple types of expertise and sources of evidence that can be used to clarify policy decisions and their implications to enable policy decisions that maximize benefits while minimizing harms for individuals, families and populations, and ensure a fair distribution of benefits and harm. Through this course students will learn about the Canadian health care system, determinants of health, health technology assessment, health care rationing, public health ethics, fair process, trauma-informed policy-making, approaches to reducing social inequalities and promoting healthier and more inclusive societies.

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

Racial and Social Profiling

Police violence has been prominent in the news and social discourse over the last year, but the phenomena of racial and social profiling have been major policy issues for decades. The events of 2020 have revitalized Black Lives Matter and heightened sensitivity to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. The events triggered by the death of Floyd George among others have also threatened to upend police practices and oversight, and, most recently, law enforcement budgets.

This case study will examine both racial and social profiling as practices whose impacts range from systemic discrimination to the staging ground for genocide. The course will be taught with community-based workers and activists with lived experience who have been involved in research-action, looking at case studies in North America and sub-Saharan Africa to underscore the importance of context and history and of the roles of social movements and civil society in catalyzing major public policy shifts.     

Instructor: Pearl Eliadis, Lawyer, Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Law, McGill University

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

Transitional Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda

Case study description to be updated soon.

Instructor: Pearl Eliadis

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