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10 Apr

SPPG Student Leadership in Action: A Winter 2018 Retrospective

April 10, 2018 | By |

As the school year comes to a close, student groups report back on their achievements during the past few months. 

Beyond the Headlines

Beyond the Headlines (BTH), SPPG’s own radio show and podcast, continued its 2017-2018 season this past semester with new explorations of policy ideas (both home and abroad) and novel external partnerships.

Since the start of 2018, 10 more new episodes (with more to come out this April) have been published exemplifying SPPG students’ policy interests. This has included an economic examination of marijuana legalization, examining the local, provincial and federal of budgeting in Canada, communication in public policy, automation and energy governance. Episodes have also observed international topics; this has included Tayyaba Mohsin’s episode with high-level behavioural economists from Singapore, Julia Chan’s examination of the economic implications of Brexit, Dimitri Treheles’ comparison of social welfare policies in Latin American countries to the North American model and Jonah Kotzer’s discussion with former Ontario Premier and Special Envoy, Bob Rae on the Rohingya Crisis.

This semester also marked new partnerships with BTH with the SPPG community. This has included collaborating with 9th annual Ford+SPPG conference on an episode featuring guests and students from the Conference discussing the theme of disruptive technologies and automation and the conference itself. BTH also worked with Spectrum to bring an interview with former deputy premier of Ontario George Smitherman to discuss LGBTQ+ leadership to the airwaves. Lastly, BTH collaborated with the 2018 Municipal Policy Action Case Competition (MPACC) for an interview with Director of the Affordable Housing Office at the City of Toronto, Sean Gadon.

Throughout this semester, BTH has had the good fortune of bringing in high-calibre professionals to discuss policy issues of local, national and international importance. The beginning of 2018 has been no different; former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, former High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom Mel Cappe, Mowat Centre Policy Director Sunil Johal, Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance Enid Slack, Associate Dean at the Lee Kaun Yew School of Public Policy National University of Singapore Mr. Donald Low and U of T Adjunct Associate Professor of Economics Peter Dungan.

As the 2017-2018 year wraps up, we are happy to have had the opportunity to expand BTH partnerships locally and nationally and expand opportunities for students to engage with BTH. We are excited to see what new creative ways BTH will pursue to reach audiences across Canada and the world.


This year, the School of Public Policy and Governance had the great pleasure of hosting the 9th annual Ford+SPPG Conference: a policy case competition organized and led by students from SPPG and the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. The theme for this year’s conference was disruptive technologies, where students were challenged to develop viable policy solutions that addressed technological change in the labour market. Over the Winter semester, the Ford+SPPG Executive Committee organized various events and learning opportunities to both prepare our delegates for the upcoming conference and generate thoughtful discussion about the theme to the wider policy community.

In February, the committee successfully hosted their Pre-Conference, comprised of delegate workshops and an evening panel. Here, student delegates had the opportunity to learn about executing a successful case and presentation skills, with workshops hosted by SPPG’s very own Janet Mason and Rhonda McMichael. As well, the committee organized a thought-provoking panel: What the Tech? Unpacking the Challenges and Opportunities of Disruptive Technologies.

The Conference weekend was held in March, where we were pleased to host the student delegates, planning team, and judges from the Ford School. The weekend began with an evening kick-off panel: Disruptive Technologies: Aiding Transitions into a New World of Work. Here, SPPG and Ford students finally met their team members and heard from a lively panel including Sunil Johal (The Mowat Centre), Meghan Gervais (OPS MEDG), and Federico Berruti (McKinsey and Co.), moderated by SPPG Director Peter Loewen. The next day, student delegates worked tirelessly to design three policy options that addressed either labour or skills displacement in the current context of technological change in the labour market. Each team had the opportunity to present their options to our expert panel: Rhonda McMichael (SPPG), David Morse (Ford), Sean Speer (SPPG), and Linda White (SPPG). Congratulations to the winning team, Anna Pudimat (Ford), Maxwell Gigle (Ford), Jean-Paul St. Rose (SPPG), Kate Blessing-Kawamura (Ford), and Scott Surphlis (SPPG).

The Ford+SPPG Executive Committee would like to thank all the students and faculty for their support and participation in making this year’s event a great success. Special thanks also to Beyond the Headlines for covering our conference weekend! More information on the 10th annual Ford+SPPG Conference, hosted by the Ford School in Ann Arbour, Michigan, will be available in the fall.

The Gender, Diversity, and Public Policy Initiative (GDPP) promotes the adoption of an intersectional lens in policy analysis and encourages the discussion of gender and identity-based inequalities in the realm of public policy.

This semester, GDPP has programmed a number of successful events. On February 12, GDPP held a highly popular roundtable titled Decolonizing Education – exploring policy issues affecting inclusion in academia. It featured professor Rinaldo Walcott, Chair of U of T’s Black Faculty Recruitment and Retention Work Group and Language Event Coordinator, Jenny Blackbird, of the Centre for Indigenous Studies (U of T) to discuss policy issues regarding representation and participation of those in the Black and Indigenous communities. GDPP hosted its third round table on March 12 which consisted of a facilitated workshop followed by a discussion focusing on Indigenous issues. The workshop helped unpack the contemporary challenges Indigenous communities face, and how Indigenous culture and perspectives can be used as a tool for education and allyship building. This roundtable provided SPPG students an opportunity to engage in a critical discussion on learning and unlearning from indigenous perspectives about ongoing challenges, strengths and ways forward.

Another cornerstone of GDPP’s mission is thought leadership. This semester, thought-provoking articles were featured in the Unpacking Equity series, a collaboration between GDPP and the Public Policy and Governance Review (PPGR). This series aims to explain equity-related policy issues and break down complicated topics involving equity, diversity and inclusion. In addition, GDPP has finalized devising the terms of reference for the Equity Advisory position for the SPPG Students’ association. Nominations are currently underway for the new Equity Advisor for the SPPGSA.

On Friday April 6, GDPP hosted their annual conference, Talk is Cheap: Whose role is it to advance diversity and inclusion in Canada? This conference brought together 80+ policy practitioners, non-profit groups, politicians, employers, students and researchers and engaged them in a critical discussion about diversity and inclusion in the Canada. The conference featured the Honourable Ratna Omidvar as the keynote speaker, followed by two panel discussions. Panel 1: Grassroots to Government: Diversifying our institutions featured Farah Ahmed, Advocacy Coordinator, Racialized Young Professionals, Jo Flatt, Senior Manager, Policy & Partnerships, Evergreen, Farah Huq, Director, Future of Canada Centre, Deloitte and Fahmida Kamali, Senior Advisor, Ontario Digital Service and Founder, P.S I’m Muslim. Panel 2: Generations of Change: Diversity in Leadership featured Arezoo Najibzadeh, Executive Director, Young Women’s Leadership Network, Saeed Selvam, Director of Public Policy, Laidlaw Foundation and Kathleen Therriault, Director of the Office of the Worker Advisor (OWA), Ministry of Labour (OPS).

GDPP is in the process of collecting data for the Student Diversity Profile Report which is a GDPP initiative inspired by other educational institutions that collect and publish data on the diversity of their student body. With this voluntary student-run survey, GDPP hopes to highlight the diversity of the MPP students at SPPG and reflect on whether Canada’s future policymakers represent its diversity. Recently, U of T has agreed to begin collecting race-based statistics to report and reflect on the diversity of its student body, as well as to reduce disparities. GDPP’s initiative comes at a point where conversations around the collection of disaggregated race-based statistics in Canadian institutions are imperative.

Last, but not least, GDPP is collaborating with students from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to organize a panel for the 14th annual Black Policy Conference. Together with the University of Toronto’s Black Student Association, the organizing committee developed the panel The Myth of Multiculturalism: Policy Issues Affecting Black Canadians. The Black Policy Conference is the leading policy-driven forum to address the issues affecting Black communities, and the longest-running conference in the history of the Harvard Kennedy School. This event provides an opportunity for the convergence of the world’s greatest minds and practitioners with the hope and intent of finding sustainable solutions for issues facing Black communities. The Conference will take place on April 13-15th, 2018 in Cambridge, MA with 11 SPPG student delegates in attendance.

The Municipal Policy Action Case Competition (MPACC) is an annual student-led case competition geared towards tackling problems in municipal policy. The competition provides students with an opportunity to address local issues from the perspective of policy-makers at a municipal level. On January 19, graduate students from the School of Public Policy & Governance (SPPG) and the Department of Geography and Planning took part in the 2018 competition, tackling the issue of affordable rental housing in the City of Toronto. Specifically, the problem put forward was “given the City’s commitment to provide affordable rental housing, how can Toronto improve the quality, quantity and support of its affordable rental housing sector?”

The 2018 competition expanded from the previous year with 46 students making up 11 teams taking part in the competition. MPACC was fortunate to have policy professionals from the GTA present to judge the teams’ proposals on feasibility, risk, clarity and creativity. This year’s judges included Director of the Affordable Housing Office at the City of Toronto, Sean Gadon; Manager Design and Development of the Human Services Department at the Region of Peel, Susan Ritchie; Senior Manager of Policy and Partnerships at Evergreen, Michelle German; and Deputy Executive Director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, Margie Carlson.

In addition to the competition itself, MPACC collaborated with both the Public Policy & Governance Review and Beyond the Headlines in publishing an Seen+Heard article on the competition as well as a podcast interview with judge Sean Gadon. We are excited to see what new avenues and innovative municipal topics and solutions the 2019 MPACC will have in store!



The Public Good Initiative (PGI) is the pro-bono policy consulting organization that matches talented consultants from SPPG’s MPP program with local non-profit organizations to build policy capacity. This year, PGI celebrates its 10th anniversary.

For the 2017-2018 project cycle, 43 student consultants completed 11 projects across a wide range of policy areas, including: health and mental health, environment and human rights. Our student consultants completed jurisdictional scans, literature reviews, as well as quantitative and qualitative research to inform final reports for their clients. PGI’s internal evaluation team conducted focus groups and surveys of consultants and clients to gather feedback and improve PGI’s activities in the coming years.

PGI hosted its 10th anniversary celebration on Monday, April 9. We welcomed a panel of MPP alumni currently working in the non-profit sector: Jo Flatt of Evergreen, Jane Hilderman of Samara Canada, and Jennifer Lee of Women’s College Hospital.

As this year’s projects come to a close, we thank our student consultants for their hard work, our Faculty Advisor Pam Bryant and our Board of Advisors for their support, and our clients for their participation. We look forward to another 10 years of policy capacity-building through The Public Good Initiative!

This semester, Pii has focused on enhancing the student experience for students at both SPPG and within the University of Toronto’s broader graduate student network. We kicked off the semester with our first ever Innovation Trivia Pub Night held on January 11. Teams of SPPG students were challenged to answer a variety of innovation-related Jeopardy-style questions, while learning about different innovations in policy making historically and currently in government and the private sector. All participants were invited to participate in Pii’s second annual hackathon, which took place on March 25.

Dubbed Food for Thought, this year’s hackathon explored solutions to some of the most difficult and pressing food security issues in Canadian urban centers. Participants applied their design thinking skills to propose and refine policy solutions for following three key issues:

● Institutional Food Procurement: How might we encourage healthy and sustainable food procurement in public institutions?

● Food Literacy: How might we strengthen food literacy for at-risk populations in urban centers?

● Home-based Food Businesses: How might we support urban home-based food businesses?

Our Keynote Speaker Lori Stahlbrand (Toronto Food Policy Council) and Challenge Leaders, Adeline Cohen (OpenLab, Urban Farm Project, UHN), Reg Noble (Centre for Studies in Food Security, Ryerson University), and Cassandra Gentile (Food Innovation Hub) were on hand to provide guidance to our participants during the hackathon, facilitating conversation and providing their expertise.

By attracting a 1:1 ratio in attendance from graduate students and professionals, Food for Thought was a great opportunity for students and professionals to collaborate to create impact creatively, learn from one another, and connect in teams composed of diverse skills and experiences. Ideas presented at the end of the day included a e-learning module and advocacy kits for institutional food procurement, intergenerational cooking lessons to enhance food literacy, and an app to connect under-utilized kitchens to entrepreneurs to jumpstart home-based food businesses.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Pii team looks forward to bringing new social and professional development events to equip students with new skills and experience in practicing innovation!


Public Policy & Governance Review

This semester, the Public Policy and Governance Review has continued to publish explainers, commentary, and Seen+Heard articles covering a range of policy issues. Highlights included a commentary piece by MPP Y2 student Sarah Caicco on why people should reconsider dreams of owning detached homes in Toronto and an explainer by MPP Y1 student Samantha Hatoski about public policies to encourage love (or at least procreation) in Japan.

In January, the PPGR team attended a valuable social media training workshop with Director of Communications Sean Willett. In April, the PPGR will be publishing a series of commentary articles from students at public policy and public administration schools across the country, highlighting “Pan-Canadian Perspectives” from Halifax to Vancouver. 


Spectrum is a student initiative aimed at professional and career development for LGBTQ+ students. Its focus this semester was on hosting LGBTQ+ role models in the field of public policy for the school and broader community.

This past semester, Spectrum hosted Kristyn Wong-Tam and George Smitherman. Kristyn Wong-Tam is currently a Toronto City Councillor for Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale). George Smitherman is a former Ontario cabinet minister and deputy premier, and former Toronto mayoral candidate.

Spectrum also hosted Yara Kodershah and Maureen Adamson. Yara Kodershah is a coordinator with the Positive Spaces Initiative at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. Maureen Adamson is currently the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport. Both events featured exciting discussion and insightful conversation.

In the coming year, Spectrum will continue to showcase LGBTQ+ leadership at the new Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Spectrum looks to spearhead cooperation among students in two programs in the school, the Master of Global Affairs and the Master of Public Policy, to increase organizational capacity and reach more students and future leaders. The future looks bright and Spectrum is excited for new opportunities over the next year.

SPPG Student Association

The SPPG Student’s Association (SPPGSA) has had another successful year. We have put together everything from the compass mentorship program that matched first years and second years, to the final event held on April 7 to commemorate the hard work done by all. During exam season, the SPPGSA held de-stressors and there was also new merchandise made available. We also facilitated successful town halls and prof talks, as well as a number of social events.

Overall, the SPPGSA found it a very rewarding year and coordination with other student initiatives at SPPG was particularly strong. Looking forward to the Munk merger, the association hopes to leave a strong lasting impression of the SPPG student body and continue on the legacy of representing the individuals studying the MPP program. We also hope to work with our Munk counterparts to expand on and improve the student experience.