Ditchburn: What should be on Canada’s policy radar?

Good overview on the IRPP discussions on policy challenges. Striking that neither labour challenges nor immigration were raised by the policy and public administration schools consulted, perhaps because the issues are not considered emerging:

Leadership is a series of strategic choices: picking where to focus your attention and finite resources. Now, consider the meteor shower of complex challenges that is raining down on Canada—from an increasingly precarious geopolitical environment, to worsening climate change, to nagging labour shortages. How do governments decide what to prioritize?

To lend a hand to our beleaguered leaders, the Institute for Research on Public Policy marked its 50th anniversary by asking schools of public policy and public administration: “What emerging issue do you think should be on the radar of decision-makers?”  

We visited nine schools in six provinces. Here’s some of what we heard.

Eroding public trust and deepening cleavages

The word “polarization” is tossed around a lot, but that doesn’t quite capture what’s happening. It’s not that Canadians are split into two distinct political or social camps, like our neighbours south of the border. Rather, there are tensions around issues, and a growing antipathy toward or distrust of governments and institutions—think of Hockey Canada, the RCMP, or the passport office.

These cleavages aren’t just between Freedom Convoy supporters and detractors, but are also felt by those who believe themselves estranged from the sites of power and opportunities. This can include racialized and Indigenous people, who see little progress in dismantling the systemic racism that keeps them from access to jobs, health care, and upward income mobility.

Still, regional resentments are a thing. Data collected and analyzed by the IRPP’s co-led Confederation of Tomorrow project suggests that Quebecers feel the rest of the country looks down on them. The project’s “resentment index” noted that people in Saskatchewan and Alberta feel they contribute more than their share to the federation and are most likely to disagree that Quebec does.

Resilient and coherent climate policy

We heard stark messages about how Canadians will need to adapt and become more resilient to storms, droughts, fires, heat events and other calamities. Dealing with these climate disasters requires governments to plan and invest much further into the future. 

A core theme that came up repeatedly was the feeling that there is a lack of a coherent pan-Canadian plan for getting to net zero, one that acknowledges that different regions have different realities and incorporates a wide spectrum of views. Meanwhile, the United States is pouring billions into new technologies and clean manufacturing through its Inflation Reduction Act. 

“Canada has emissions reductions targets, and they’re good, but what we don’t have is the techno-economic policies that are going to help us make those targets happen,” said Maggie Hanna, president of Alberta-based Common Ground Energy. 


Perhaps some of the most astonishing stories we heard were from a panel convened at Dalhousie University on housing challenges in Nova Scotia.

Lisa Ryan, executive director of the South Shore Open Doors Association, said her organization had recorded 167 people experiencing homelessness in Lunenberg County in September 2022—63 of them children under the age of 16. Families were living in cars and tents, after their long-term rentals suddenly turned into short-term rentals. People move to Halifax in search of housing, only to face long waits and rampant discrimination from landlords.

Housing is a pivotal policy challenge. It can impact economic growth if companies cannot house workers, and it can start a multi-generational spiral of poor health and poor economic outcomes.

Governance and challenges to the federation

The COVID pandemic did much to bring federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments together. They were able to act fast and decisively and forge strong new personal relationships. There was also incredible creativity—such as the rapid deployment of remote health care services.

But then there’s the ugly truth of the federation’s weaknesses: poor data sharing, overlapping programs and regulations, unequal access to technology and inconsistent channels of communication. As Canada moves forward with trying to create an east-west electricity grid, address labour and supply chain problems, and reform its relationship with Indigenous nations, attention must be paid to the health and mechanics of intergovernmental relationships.

Governments will need to ward against regulatory shortcuts, where the speed of getting things done trumps other core principles such as transparency, coherence, and the respect of Indigenous rights. Collaborating and communicating with Indigenous communities will require a deeper understanding of governance systems.

“A lot of that is happening through women, youth and elders, our knowledge-keepers, where we’re starting to recognize their roles. Those roles were taken away from us, without our consent,” said Danette Starblanket, an executive-in-residence at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy in Regina.

Travelling the country, what stands out is just how much core policy challenges overlap with one another. Climate resilience is intimately tied up with housing, as poorer Canadians will be most at risk of displacement. Distrust of institutions grows as existing governance structures fail to include different perspectives and communicate transparently. If the country does not invest in both people and technologies along the path to net zero, the negative economic impacts will also affect our ability to fund aspects of our social safety net. 

What was also abundantly clear in our conversations is how much willingness there is in the country to work across sectors and across geographic boundaries to come up with good policy and ensure that there is a feeling of common cause and inclusion. 

But who will bring Canadians together around these tough questions? This overarching challenge calls for both good governance and strong leadership. The mechanisms that different levels of governments have for connecting with one and other, with experts (including at think tanks and universities) and with the public must be updated and improved if we’re going to address myriad other policy problems. We need leaders who can see the bigger picture of how different systems fit together and do the unglamourous behind-the-scenes work to get us ready for the next challenges that will pop up on the radar.

Jennifer Ditchburn is the president and CEO of the Institute for Research on Public Policy. She’s on Twitter @jenditchburn.   

Source: What should be on Canada’s policy radar? 

What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing? Policy Options at 40

Good and useful contrast by Jennifer Ditchburn between what has changed and what has remained the same:

Flipping through back copies of Policy Options from 1980, the year the magazine was founded, there’s a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

There are headlines such as,

“How Best to Live with the United States;”

“The Liberal Vacuum in the West;”

“Canada Needs to be Self-sufficient in Oil.”

The State of the Legislative Process in Canada”

“Since the election there has been more bemoaning than ever of the structural malformation of the Canadian body politics, with one main party rootless in Quebec and the other almost alien to Western Canada,” wrote founding editor-in-chief Tom Kent, the legendary public policy thinker and journalist, of the two main parties.

“What is worrisome is the strengthened fear that the fundamental reason why it seems unchangeable is that people in both those regions increasingly doubt whether federal politics matter much anyway.”

In 1980, as in 2020, the country was in a period of intergovernmental malaise and coming out of an election. The first referendum on Quebec sovereignty was held in May 1980. The notorious National Energy Program was inaugurated that year, and Pierre Trudeau, prime minister at the time, opened the 32nd Parliament with not a single Liberal MP from BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and only two in Manitoba.

By the fall of 1980, Trudeau had announced his intention to approach the United Kingdom unilaterally to seek the patriation of the Constitution – sparking more than a year of constitutional negotiations with premiers, and mobilizing Indigenous leaders to make sure their treaty and inherent rights were respected.

There is always something bizarrely comforting about spotting familiar patterns in Canada’s past: How many times do we hear the phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est pareil” in reference to our political history? Meanwhile, people who weren’t yet born during the years of the National Energy Program or The Night of Long Knives can reference those grievances and find the echoes in our contemporary frictions. Yes, old policy and political mistakes can cast long shadows.

But here’s the thing: Canada in 2020 is nothing like the Canada of 1980, and we should be careful not to use old maps to orient ourselves as we move into the next decade. Our country is more urban and suburban, more ethnoculturally diverse, and also getting proportionately older.

Susan Gibson, then with Ontario’s Status of Women Council, wrote in 1980 about the hiring and promotion of women in the public service that, “it is clear that substantive improvement in the status of women Crown employees still lies in the future.” At the time, Gibson said there were no women deputy ministers in Ontario, and only 1.38 percent in senior positions. By 2017, women accounted for 30.4 percent of Ontario deputy ministers and about half of other executive levels, according to an employee survey from that year.

Reading through those issues of Policy Options from 1980, a few things were notably absent.

John F. Graham, the late Dalhousie University professor and economist, was the only person that year to discuss environmental concerns.

“We now…face the prospect in the not very distance future of very low, zero, or negative economic growth resulting from a combination of exhaustion of natural resources and suicidal environmental damage,” he wrote.

The impact of technology is referenced, but in the “boob tube” style of the 1980s – which was to bemoan the impact of television on Canadian public discourse. Who could have envisioned the way our lives and our economy would change with the advent of the smartphone, social media platforms and advancing artificial intelligence?

Indigenous rights and the Crown’s treaty obligations do not figure in the numerous articles about federalism and intergovernmental affairs. Although a vast amount of work remains to be done to fulfil the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to restore a true nation-to-nation relationship, decolonization was simply not a topic of policy conversation in non-Indigenous circles 40 years ago.

Plus ça change, well, ça change.

Yes, we are in another phase of discontent within the Canadian federation, but it is impossible to consider this time in Canadian history without also looking outside of our borders. Where the issues eloquently explored in this magazine in 1980 dealt principally with federal-provincial, industrial and Canada-US policy, almost all the challenges before us today have a global dimension.

While the federal government and the premiers tussle over carbon pricing and support for the energy sector, the overarching question is whether the world’s nations collectively will act quickly enough to curb the catastrophic rise in global temperatures. (The results of the COP 25 conference in Madrid last month bode poorly.)

The suitability of the equalization program and stabilization fund are on the First Ministers’ agenda, but the bigger picture about the Canadian economy hinges on the disruptive forces of automation, artificial intelligence and the impact of climate change down the road. As the federal government’s foresight agency Policy Horizons pointed out in a recent report, it’s unclear what skills workers will need in the future, and also how taxes will be collected as jobs becoming increasingly virtual.

Yes, Canada’s relationship with the United States remains a perpetual policy preoccupation, but now it is overlaid with concerns over how to fill the vacuum Washington has left in international multilateral institutions and counterbalance the growing influence of China.

Even when we talk about the health of our democracy, the future leadership of the Conservative Party, and other Canadian political issues, we have to consider the wider context of disinformation and borderless social media platforms, populist trends worldwide, and the microtargeting of voters through the use of their own data.

Over the next year, we will be re-publishing some of the articles that appeared in 1980, along with responses to the material from 2020. As the current editor-in-chief, I can’t help but wonder which issues just barely appearing on our radar now will be fundamentally shaping Canada in the years to come.

Source: What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing?Policy Options at 40

Public Record: Canada’s Immigration Policy in an Era of Political Polarization | CPAC

The link to the CPAC video of this immigration conversation:

Canada’s Immigration Policy in an Era of Political Polarization
A group of leading experts speak at a panel discussion in Ottawa on the future of immigration in Canada in an era of political polarization.

Jennifer Ditchburn, editor-in-chief of Policy Options magazine, moderates the panel, which features Rachel Curran, senior associate at Harper & Associates, Nicholas Keung, immigration reporter at the Toronto Star, Jamil Jivani, visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, and Andrew Griffith, fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute.

This event is sponsored by the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management at Carleton University. (January 23, 2018)

via Public Record: Canada’s Immigration Policy in an Era of Political Polarization | CPAC

Webinar: How to write an op-ed

This is a well done and the tips and advice apply both to op-eds and writing more generally:

You’ve poured energy and passion into your research – now you want to make sure your findings and your expertise make an impact outside of your immediate network. But how do you get policy-makers, potential collaborators and the wider public to take notice? One recent estimate is that 82 percent of the peer-reviewed articles published annually are never cited.
Jennifer Ditchburn, editor-in-chief of Policy Options, and Shannon Sampert, editor and director of the Evidence Network, spend their days devoted to mobilizing knowledge from Canadian researchers. They share their strategies on how to write sharp op-eds for broader consumption, one of the most important ways to ensure your analysis and research is shared in the public sphere.

via Webinar: How to write an op-ed