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André Côté

Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Deputy Premier and President of the Treasury Board, Government of Ontario


Year of Graduation: 2009

Prior Education: BA in Political Studies/History, Queen’s University

Prior Experience: Policy Advisor to the Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Finance

MPP Summer Internship: Strategic Policy, City Manager’s Office, City of Toronto

What influenced your decision to attend SPPG?
I had a neat job in Ottawa at the time, but I knew I wanted to go back to school and pursue a master’s degree. I applied and was accepted to a few different programs, but the SPPG MPP – which was just accepting its first class of applicants – was just too enticing! The program sounded excellent, the internship component was appealing, and it was a chance to be there as something neat was being built. Also, my lady-friend at the time really wanted to move to Toronto…

What is your favourite memory of SPPG?
Definitely the people. I made many really good friends at SPPG in my class and in others. I developed a close bond with many of the professors and with SPPG staff. Five years on, those remain important relationships for me – both personally and professionally.

What is a typical day like at your current job?
It has only been a month on the new job, but I’m starting to get into my routine. On a typical day, I’ll get up early to read the news and get into the office at around 8am to read and prepare for the files and meetings that are in my agenda. At 9am, we have a short staff meeting to make sure everybody’s aware of the issues of the day and of the Minister’s schedule. And then we’re off… usually with a whole range of meetings during the day: with other folks in my office, our Deputy Minister’s office and other Ministers’ offices, external stakeholders, and with the Minister as we brief her on files we are working on or bring her up to speed on items going to Cabinet. As things quiet down towards the end of the day, there’s time to regroup a bit before heading out at around 6:30pm.

What advice would you now want to give to yourself on your first day as a MPP student?
First, to take your time and be selective about what you take on. There are a lot of things coming at you as you start the program (and moreso now than when I was there), and I think it’s important to get your bearings and determine what you want to do while at SPPG. Ask yourself, what will most benefit from a learning and personal development perspective? But also, what will be fun and enjoyable? Sadly, you can’t do everything…
Second, don’t worry so much about the grades. The classroom stuff is at the heart of the program, and it’s important to be prepared for classes, engage when you’re in them, and do good work. But don’t let the books and papers keep you from the other remarkable opportunities at SPPG and elsewhere on campus. There is an endless supply of amazing talks and events. There are awesome voluntary opportunities. And there are plenty of other ways to get in some R&R during graduate student life. As much as I enjoyed the program itself, I might’ve gotten more out of all the other things I did while at SPPG.

What have you done or are doing now that you believe has the most impact?
As an SPPG Alum, one of the things I’m proud of is the creation of the Public Good Initiative (PGI) – the student-led, pro bono consulting program run out of SPPG. During our first year at SPPG, one challenge that I and other members of the class came up against was the difficulty in finding interesting, meaningful volunteer work in the non-profit sector. I and three friends – Sam Young, Dave Lee and Jacqueline Greenblatt – decided we’d try to fill this gap by creating a program that would ‘play the middle man’, engaging NGOs with neat projects that needed good help with students that were looking for it. More validating than starting it is seeing how subsequent leaders built and professionalized the PGI, and integrated it into the SPPG program.

What are your favorite Toronto activities, places or restaurants?
The beauty of Toronto is that there are so many amazing places and neighbourhoods to explore. I still live in the Annex, close to campus. But I’ve taken to exploring different parts of the City. Of course, Queen West and Little Italy are fun and have tons of nice restaurants, bars and stores. So is the Danforth, or Lesleyville on the east side of town. But more interesting for a relative newcomer to Toronto is venturing further afield. Another SPPG Alum, Jay Paleja, gives an amazing tour of the hotspots in Scarborough – and there are many. I’ve worked on election campaign in Etobicoke – always a great way to get to know an area. More recently, I’ve been venturing up to North York and Markham, which are amazing in their own right and diverse in a very ‘Toronto’ way.

What book are you reading now?
I’m reading Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, among other wonkier things. It’s a fun read, and an interesting story that is underpinned by some pretty sharp social commentary about class, race and justice in late-‘80s New York City. Some interesting parallels with the Wall Street resentment and inequality issues we’re hearing about today.