From OLIP to Universities Canada: Meeting Paul Davidson

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As recent university graduates, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about Universities Canada–and from none other than an OLIP alumnus.

 

Today, Paul Davidson is the President of Universities Canada, a federal organization representing the interests of 96  participating institutions from across the country. However, in 1988-89, Davidson was an OLIP intern. He had placements with Peter Adams, the Liberal MPP from Peterborough, and Richard Johnson, the NDP MPP from Scarborough West.

 

His post-OLIP career has been wide-ranging, and includes working for the Ministry of Finance, leading a stakeholder relations firm, and serving as the executive director of both the Association of Canadian Publishers and the World University Service of Canada.

 

In his current role, Davidson is responsible for advocating on behalf of three major policy areas. First, Universities Canada is a perennial advocate on behalf of investment in research and innovation.

 

Second, there is a need – given the economic realities of globalization – for Canada to seize its international moment. For degree-granting institutions, this includes welcoming international students, recruiting faculty with international experience, and encouraging Canadian students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Recent global events are changing the demographics of international students attending Canadian universities: Brexit in the United Kingdom and hardline immigration rhetoric in the United States have, respectively, contributed to increased application numbers from India and Mexico.

 

Lastly, Universities Canada is dedicated to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. Davidson observed that excellence is not possible without diversity, and that sexism is real and persistent in Canada, post-secondary education sector included. For example, relatively few – only 25% – of university presidents in Canada are women. Yet, even that number is a testament to progress, as it is also the highest-ever proportion of female presidents.

 

These issues coexist in a context of ongoing change for universities in Canada. Funding levels remain an ongoing issue of concern; according to Davidson, per capita funding in Ontario  today is less than it was 20 years ago. Also, recent emphasis on STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) corresponds to reduced in enrollment in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Davidson observed that the liberal arts teach valuable critical thinking and communication skills, and that programs teaching those disciplines will need to work hard to share their virtues with prospective students.

 

We want to thank Davidson for giving us a window into the issues facing universities in Canada, and for encouraging us to challenge ourselves and pursue adventurous careers.   

 

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Talking about Civic Engagement with Samara

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Last Friday, we have the privilege of visiting Samara.

Samara Canada is dedicated to reconnecting citizens to politics, and has quickly become Canada’s champion of increased civic engagement.

While most interns were familiar with Samara, we were interested in learning more about Samara’s research and educational programming, which largely promotes increased political participation. Their mantra is that increased political participation will inevitably create better politics.

 Samara was established in 2009, as a non-partisan charity. To date, they have produced various research reports (which include, and not limit): electoral reform, the impact of young voters in the previous federal election, and lowering the voting age. However, Samara is largely known for their “Everyday Political Citizen Awards” which highlights regular people, who are making their communities better. During a time when many Canadians are disengaging from politics, this project highlights those everyday citizens. In addition, Samara published Tragedy in the Commons (which, coincidentally, we have in our OLIP Library). The book is based on eighty exit interviews with former Members of Parliament, who detail their experience in Parliament.

 Very frequently, we discuss the challenges facing our political system, but we struggle to find feasible and substantive solutions. Nevertheless, Samara is committed to studying these challenges, and finding innovating ways to encourage everyone, “to take responsibility for our political system and change it for the better.”

 By publishing these reports, and remaining engaged in media, Samara creates a conversation about politics and democracy.

 Thank you for hosting us!

A Discussion with Kevin McGurgan, the United Kingdom’s Consul-General to Toronto

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We recently met with Kevin McGurgan, the United Kingdom’s Consul-General to Toronto.  Our wide-ranging conversation began with discussions of managing relationships and liaising with governments.  
 
Given the historical connection between our two countries, it was great to have Mr. McGurgan’s perspective on the evolving relationship.  It was valuable to understand what this looks like in terms of trading relationships and investment.  We also covered current collaborations among governments and the private sector across these borders.
 
With the backdrop of Brexit, we examined differing approaches to trade agreements and how to attract investment.  We also broke down agreements such as NAFTA and CETA.  
 
One of the most illuminating parts of our meeting was the discussion of disruptive and transformative technologies, as well as the future of work.  No jurisdiction is immune to these trends, so it was rewarding to understand what role governments should play in tackling these challenges.  It was also interesting to learn of the cross-border initiatives existing between the UK and Ontario over autonomous vehicles, financial technology, and artificial intelligence.
 
We concluded by discussing the skillsets and attitudes required for work in public policy and diplomacy.
 
Thank you to Mr. McGurgan and your staff for your continued support of the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme.

OLIP in Yellowknife: Meeting with Mark Heyck, the 14th Mayor of Yellowknife

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All our meetings Yellowknife enlightened us to issues or themes present in the territorial level. We were excited to explore municipal governance and to that end, we met with Mayor Heyck, the 14th mayor of Yellowknife.

Mayor Heyck walked us through his journey which led him to run for public office. Completing his studies in McGill University, he developed an interest in politics and sustainability. When he returned to Yellowknife, he ran for city council in order to create positive change for Yellowknife and the sustainability issues the city was facing. His love for municipal politics stems from the ability to create change in a relatively short period of time. We were very surprised to learn that Yellowknife operates using an “at-large” system which means that the people of Yellowknife vote for all the councillors, as opposed to a “ward” system where voters in the ward vote for their respective councillor. Mayor Heyck argued that positive aspect of the large system allows councillors to plan and make decisions for the city as a whole.

Mayor Heyck walked us through some of his accomplishments as Mayor. This includes (but is not limited to): overseeing the adoption of Yellowknife’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, economic development and tourism strategies and advocacy bringing issues forward to the Territorial and federal levels. Mayor Heyck was very proud of how Yellowknife was recently awarded the 2018 Sustainable Communities Award in the energy category from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities — recognizing the wood pellet heating heating system Yellowknife implemented.

After our meeting, we were surprised to learn Mayor Heyck announcing he will not seek re-election. Thank you for meeting with us Mayor Heyck and we wish you the best of luck with what comes next!

Fun Fact: Did you know one of Yellowknife’s sister cities is The Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, a Russian port city in Eastern Sibera?

OLIP in Yellowknife: Discussing Reconciliation with Scott McQueen and Shaleen Woodward

 

The Northwest Territories are unique among Canada’s three territories in that it has an almost equal split in its population between Indigenous and settler peoples. The relationship between and within these two groups is complicated by the population distribution: the 32 remote communities are most overwhelmingly indigenous, whereas most Yellowknifers are descended from settlers or moved to the NWT from southern Canada. Furthermore, the NWT is a dynamic and evolving environment for government. As Dene, Inuit, and Métis Nations negotiate and implement comprehensive land claims with the government of Canada, some observers suggest that the governance structure of the NWT increasingly resembles a “federation within a federation.”

As part of our OLIP cohort’s commitment to better understand and contribute to the hard work of Indigenous Reconciliation in Canada, and to hear from diverse First Nations, Métis, and Inuit voices about their own experiences, we were eager to take full advantage of our trip to Yellowknife. Although visiting Yellowknife to learn about the NWT is akin to visiting Toronto to learn all about Ontario, we were fortunate to speak with many people about the challenges (and unique opportunities) for governance in the north.

One of the first meetings we had in Yellowknife was with Shaleen Woodward, Acting Deputy Minister of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations. Ms. Woodward began by noting how it was appropriate that these two portfolios were united in one department. The Government of the NWT recognizes that working with Dene, Métis, and Inuit communities must involve a respectful intergovernmental approach. For example, Ms. Woodward explained the importance of joint resource management boards, including government and indigenous representatives, which understand and are sensitive to indigenous relationships with the land. Consultation must be a proactive and collaborative approach to succeed.

A major problem in the north is the difficulty of capacity in government and policy resources. The NWT has many structural and systemic barriers to building capacity, but also contains a plethora of overlapping regional, local, municipal, and band governments for a very small population. Many positions on boards and councils are all held by the same people in a community. However, self-government is central to the process of reconciliation; many Dene and Inuit people do not see their relationship to be with the GNWT, or even the Canadian Government, but with the Crown. Yet both sides seek to build strong working relationships; in some cases, regional tribal governments prefer to upload some services to the GNWT, making for a complex and ever-evolving legislative system.

At the end of our trip, we were also delighted to be welcomed by Scott McQueen and his family to his cabin in Yellowknife to share a delicious homemade meal and learn about the traditional land economy of the Dene and Métis peoples of the NWT. Mr. McQueen talked at length about his family’s experience with the cultural tourism industry, bringing visitors to the NWT to understand traditional crafts and industries. Most important for the animal-lovers among us, however, we mostly talked about sled-dogs – for hours! Using stories from his father’s storied career in sled-dog racing, and from relatives over the years, Mr. McQueen and his family led us in conversations about how the traditional cultures and economies of the had changed over the past fifty years. One one hand, while sled-dog racing had become a high-profile and established sport, and a major tourism draw, the traditional uses of sled-dog teams for trapping, and the dog-team trap-line itself, has quickly passed away.

Trappers now use snowmobiles and modern outdoor gear; and traditional crafts have been reborn in the tourism and art markets. Frequently, however, the economic benefit from these industries is limited, and uneven from community to community. The renewal and teaching of these traditional industries and crafts, however, have pivotal importance to the cultural, spiritual, and communal identity of Dene, Métis, and Inuit peoples. They have an irreplaceable role in the future of the NWT.

We deeply appreciate the warm welcome we received on the traditional lands of the Yellowknife Dene, and to all of the nations whose languages are written on the walls of the Legislative Assembly to bless and greet visitors from near and far. We hope to bring the passion and dedication for Reconciliation we found in the NWT back to Ontario and into our own lives.

OLIP in Yellowknife: Meeting Premier Bob McLeod

 

“The Northwest Territories has all the ingredients for strong economic growth, including abundant natural resources, and significant participation and support for economic development from Indigenous-owned businesses and governments, but we can’t capitalize on these advantages without a plan.” – Premier Bob McLeod 

We were very eager to meet Premier Bob McLeod.

The Premier joined us for breakfast in the Members Lounge, where we discussed the future of the Northwest Territories.

Fundamentally, the Premier argued that the future of the Northwest Territories is bright, if they can attract and retain young talent. This correlated with current movement to establish a post-secondary institution in Yellowknife. One of the main problems the Northwest Territories faces is that young people have to leave to pursue post-secondary education. When these young people leave, the Premier argued they generally, “do not come back.” With younger people in the North, there will be greater economic development.

The Premier also discussed the prospect of becoming a province, and determined that it is relatively impossible (while for various reasons, generally the lack thereof a tax base). In this sense, it is not practical, or feasible, for the Northwest Territories to become a province.

Premier McLeod also discussed the Red Alert. The Alert was issued in lieu of the federal government imposing a moratorium on arctic offshore oil and gas development. Premier McLeod argued, “Northerners through their democratically elected government, need to have the power to determine their own fates and the practice of decisions being made by bureaucrats and governments in Ottawa must come to an end.”

Thank you for an informative meeting, Premier McLeod!

Getting Educated with the Deputy Minister of Education, Bruce Rodrigues

Late on Friday, Feb. 23, we finished off the week with a deep and exciting discussion with Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Education, Bruce Rodrigues. Our conversation ranged between Deputy Rodrigues’ own career trajectory, which included three years as CEO of Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) prior to becoming Deputy Minister, to his vision for change within the Ministry of Education. One of the most visible changes within the Ministry since Deputy Rodrigues entered his position has been on the walls of its offices, including the boardroom in which we met: drawings, paintings, pictures, projects, and words from students across Ontario. He reminded us that the Ministry had their greatest duty to students, and re-decorating was an important step for all staff to remember that every day.

We talked about the difficulty of educational assessments, and especially new models and or ways of thinking about standardized testing. It is clear that province-wide assessment is very valuable to help identify areas for improvement in the education system. On the other hand, standardized testing does not have to be the only model for these assessments! Indeed, later in the conversation, when discussing how to better educate Ontario’s students about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit heritage, in particular the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Deputy Rodrigues introduced us to the idea of building and assessing the empathy of students. When educating the citizens of tomorrow, it is important to also teach them to feel and see the world from many other points of view.

The most moving moments in the conversation, however, came when we discussed how to build a more inclusive educational system, and where the system let down its students, especially racialized, impoverished, or disabled children. The Deputy, himself a former Math teacher and superintendent, and many interns, shared personal stories about their experiences within the education system. We left the meeting inspired and encouraged by the strength of Ontario’s schools, but aware that there is a lot of work left to do to ensure that every child in Ontario can get a great education and achieve their full potential. Thank you again to Deputy Rodrigues!