2018 Ford+SPPG Conference: What the Tech? Unpacking the Challenges and Opportunities of Disruptive Technologies

The Ford+SPPG Conference is a collaborative student-led case competition held between the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, and the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Both schools meet for a full-day case competition to pitch a policy proposal about a looming issue affecting both Canada and the United States. Previous conferences included “Immigration: Integration and Mobility in a Populist Era” and “Building Resilient Cities: Addressing Crisis and Ongoing Stress”.

This year’s conference was entitled “What the Tech? Unpacking the Challenges and Opportunities of Disruptive Technologies.” Students looked at how disruptive technologies were affecting either the transportation or education sectors, and what government should, or can, do to assist the transition.

Disruptive technologies is a buzzword in tech circles, and by this year it seems new start-ups and Silicon Valley companies hope to transform every industry imaginable. A disruptive technology is anything that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry, or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry. No matter the industry, disruptive technologies are a double-edged sword. Disruption usually means the new idea that provides services more efficiently and cheaper than ever before. But it usually comes at the cost of jobs as older skills and labour are pushed out of the job market for new technologies. The role of government remains uncertain in these shifts. Do governments have a responsibility to protect these industries, despite them being less efficient than the new tech? What is the best way for governments to protect jobs and well-being, without impacting economic growth?

Meghan Gervais is a Senior Advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, Ministry of Research, Innovation, and Science on the Disruptive Technologies Unit, with a focus on clean technology. Her unit actively seeks out new disruptive technologies across Ontario and around the world. Her interests are focused on “whats next?” for innovation and potential social, economic and environmental implications by looking at future technologies. Meghan is very active in building intergovernmental collaborations to inform policy makers on what to watch out for in the future. Pushing the envelope , Meghan is a bug advocate for being ahead of potentially disruptive technologies to ensure that those impacted are prepared. [Interview at 4.00]

“The thing with government is that we are all doing our own thing, so it’s getting people together to talk about these problems and finding collective solutions. That is a big part of what we do”- Meghan Gervais, Senior Advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, Ministry of Research, Innovation, and Science on the Disruptive Technologies Unit.

Sunil Johal is the Policy Director at the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre. He leads the Centre’s research activities and teaches a variety of executive education courses. He is frequently invited to advise governments and international organizations about technology, regulatory, and policy issues. Previously he spent a decade in senior executive and policy roles with the Canadian and Ontario civil service. He holds degrees from the London School of Economics, Osgood Hall Law School and the University of Western Ontario. He is a regular commentator on policy issues for media outlets such as CBC, CTV, Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, and Maclean’s. [Interview at 26.00]

Alexandra Pileggi is a second year student at University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance. Prior to the MPP program, she had completed a Master’s in Sociology at the University of Guelph. She is currently the acting Co-Chair for the 2018 Ford+SPPG Conference after participating on the Ford+SPPG Executive Committee in 2017. [Interview at 35.00]

Scott Surphlis is a Master of Public Policy student at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in History and English Literature from Queen’s University. Most recently, he completed his internship at the Ontario Ministry of Finance. A passionate and proud politics nerd, his policy interests include exploring the complexities of intergovernmental affairs, financial regulations, national defence, and the intersection of law and policy. [Interview at 35.00]


Kevin Hempstead, Jean-Paul St.Rose, Junior Producer, Host
Macrina Smart, Senior Producer, Host
Jasper Paredes, Tony Yin, BTH Reporter, Host
Ian. T.D. Thomson
Technical Producer
Leanna Mora, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Computer Love
by Kraftwerk

BTH Insight Series Ep. 4: The Rohingya Crisis and Immigration Policy in Western Liberal Democracies

This is the fourth episode of the BTH Insight Series, where we examine various policy topics within the hour. Topics discussed include the Rohingya crisis with Jonah Kotzer interviewing former Ontario premier Bob Rae, and Tony Yin on immigration policy with University of Toronto Associate Professor Phil Triadafilopoulos.

The Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

Bob Rae was the 21st Premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995. He later served as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada from 2011-2013 and is currently a Senior Fellow at the School of Public Policy & Governance. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed him as special envoy to Myanmar.  He has represented Canada throughout the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State with a mandate to promote accountability for the accused war crimes. He has spent significant time in South East Bangladesh, speaking with some of the displaced people, and learning about the situation first hand.

The history of the Rohingya population of Myanmar is one fraught with ethnic tension and spouts of violence. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, however it is made up of multiple regions, where minority groups make up a significant population. Many of these groups have received official recognition from the Burmese government. The Rohingya however, had their citizenship revoked in the 1980’s. Under British colonial rule, the Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh and is isolated from the rest of Burma by a mountain range, was porous and a popular migration route. Many Muslim migrants moved into the region at this time, though a Muslim population was present prior to that. From 1962-2008 the Burmese Military had absolute control over the government. In that period there were frequent violent clashes between the Burmese state and the minority populations, including the Rohingya. On Tuesday April 3, 2018 Bob Rae released his report on the situation in Myanmar. In the report he describes the current situation as follows:

“In August 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi established the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State with Kofi Annan as Chair to make recommendations on improving the conditions in Rakhine State. However, a series of attacks in October 2016 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (known as ARSA) triggered a heavy-handed military response, leading to violent fighting, the burning of many villages, allegations of rape and violence by the army against civilians, and the forced departure of tens of thousands of refugees. The Kofi Annan Report was published on August 24, 2017, the day before another ARSA attack on police posts and a military base that has been criticized in UN General Assembly resolution (A/C.3/72/L.48) as well as by the UN Security Council Presidential Statement. That attack was followed by a violent conflict and the destruction of more than 300 villages, according to reliable sources. It was at this point that the exodus of more than 671,000 Rohingya began. While this number has been disputed by some in the Myanmar military, it has been verified by UN agencies, which have a long history of monitoring the flow of refugees around the world. In addition, there were further restrictions on movement of those who stayed behind in north and central Rakhine.”(p. 10)

The rest of the report can be found here. In it he calls for investigations into the alleged crimes against humanity.  [interview at 1.00]

“I think you really have to look at the underlying military reality of the power structure [in Myanmar] and start to deal with that in a real way.” – Bob Rae, 21st Premier on Ontario, Special Envoy to Myanmar

Immigration Policy in Western Liberal Democracies

For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many western liberal democracies relied on discriminatory criteria to determine the suitability of immigrants. People of a certain race, ethnicity or culture were barred from immigrating into these countries or becoming citizens. However, this approach has significantly changed in the twenty first century. Restrictions based on racial and ethnic categories were no longer acceptable and exclusions aimed at preserving national homogeneity are subject to scrutiny and contestation. Countries, such as Canada and US, experienced a profound demographic reorientation due to the admitting groups of people they had previously. As a result, many western liberal democracies became more inclusive and adopted multiculturalism as part of their national identity.

Nonetheless, in recent years, these same western liberal democracies, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Austria, have retracted from their multicultural policies. This retraction was in large part motivated by the perceived economic costs of accepting immigrants as well as the fear that the traditional identities and values within these countries would be under threat. There is also the belief that immigrants have failed to successfully integrate into their host country; as a result, multiculturalism is merely a mirage. Overall, the anti-immigration sentiment has grown stronger since the 2000s where studies have shown a general decrease in support for multiculturalism. In some countries, such as Australia, the state has openly disavowed against multiculturalism while some other countries, such as the Netherlands, have adopted a more aggressive way of integrating immigrants through methods of civic integration.

“Successful immigration relies on a whole collection of successful public policies” – Professor Phil Triadafilopoulos, U of T Associate Professor of Political Science

Phil Triadafilopoulos is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is also Associate Director of the School of Public Policy and Governance. His research focuses on immigration and citizenship policy across Europe and North America. [interview at 25.30]


Kayla Ishkanian, Host
Jonah Kotzer, Senior Producer, Content Editor, Reporter
Julia Chan,
Senior Producer, Content Editor
Tony Yin, BTH Reporter
Amanda Lane, Technical Producer
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
by Tegan and Sara
Fallin’ for you 
by Eva Avila

A Story to Tell: Communications at the Center

The creation of public policy is more than fleshing out content within a policy but also about how it is distributed and understood by the public. Communication can emphasize or inform how the public perceives policy initiatives as well as informing the overall identity of an organization or government. Beyond informing the public about policies, programs, services and initiatives, communications strategies can also explain the rights, entitlements and obligations of individuals, developed across a variety of platforms to reach a variety of stakeholders.

In the 2017 publication of the Leaders’ Report, WPP highlighted that communication is one of the key levers of government alongside legislation, regulation, and taxation. While remaining an essential policy tool, the report shows that communication is rarely understood fully by politicians and policymakers and is frequently regarded as a tactical, shared service, rather than a strategic function of policy delivery.

The report underscores that the key issues reported by government communicators were: declining levels of trust in government, the fracturing of audiences hindering the broadcast of communication, moving beyond one-way conversations, operating effectively in a rapidly changing media landscape, and the underinvestment in communication as a function of government. The report found that only 40% of citizens of the nations surveyed trust their governments, compromising trust in public policies and willingness of stakeholders to respond. When combined with the fact that 60% of respondents do not measure the impact of communication against policy initiatives — it begs the question of what role communication plays in the policy cycle as a whole and what tools can be used to effectively communicate.

Our guests throughout this episode will help us to uncover the role of communications, both within the public service and how external stakeholders strategically communicate and interact with audiences. Throughout the next hour, we’ll be talking to a wide range of actors from across the policy landscape to discuss how policy is communicated to the public. We’re joined today by Robert Scherf creator of RuleScript, Gabriela Gonzalez from Crestview Strategy, and Mike Morden from Samara Canada.

Robert Scherf is the principal consultant at Middlebrow Software and CTO at Blockchange, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making decentralized technology more accessible to the public. Robert has had extensive public service experience in British Columbia and Ontario, having worked in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, for the City of Toronto and for Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing as a Senior Consultant. Robert holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Media Studies from the University of Calgary and a Master of Public Policy from the School of Public Policy and Governance here at the University of Toronto. [Interview at 3.58].

“The policy discipline in Canada could be a lot more ambitious and creative in trying to harness the power of narrative to tell real things,”- Mike Morden from Samara Canada.

Mike Morden joined Samara Canada from the Mowat Centre, a public policy think tank at the University of Toronto. Previously, he was a SSHRC postdoctoral research fellow in Canadian politics at Western and Wilfrid Laurier Universities, a senior policy advisor in the government of Ontario, and a research associate with the Mosaic Institute. Mike holds a PhD in political science from the University of Toronto. He leads Samara’s program of democracy-boosting research and to contribute to its mission of asking critical questions, producing new evidence and linking knowledge to action. [Interview at 21.25].

“There is so much information out there, the news cycle is 24 hours, and it is hard to meaningfully engage people,” – Gabriela Gonzalez from Crestview Strategy.

Gabriela Gonzalez is a consultant with Crestview Strategy in the Toronto office. Joining the Crestview team after extensive experience at Queen’s Park and as an organizer for the Ontario Liberal Party as well as the Liberal Party of Canada. Her most recent role prior to working at Crestview was as a Senior Communications and Operations Advisor to Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Growth. Gabriela has had extensive experience in strategic planning and communications, holding a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Psychology from York University and a bilingual Master’s from the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs. [Interview at 40.39].




Jean-Paul St.Rose, Host, Producer
Mitch Thibault, Host, Producer
Hiba Siddiqui,
Technical Producer
Sanya Ramnauth, Technical Producer
Leanna Mora, Executive Producer

Music Credits

Badbadnotgood by Fine Times
River Tiber by Daniel Caesar
Got it Good
by Kaytranada ft. Graig David

SPPG Student Events: LGBTQ+ Leadership and Affordable Rental Housing

Beyond the Headlines is produced through the School of Public Policy and Governance (SPPG)  which allows us to engage deeply with policy professionals through panels, case competitions, and special guest talks. This episode goes in depth to explore the SPPG events and the insights from our distinguished guests.

Today we will hear from George Smitherman, interviewed by Spectrum Director Marvin JS Ferrer, followed by Sean Gadon, Director of the Toronto Affordable Housing Office, interviewed by one of the 2018 Municipal Policy Action Case Competition (MPACC) Directors Lina Pulido.

Spectrum – LGBTQ+ Leadership Series

Spectrum is a student initiative aimed at professional and career development for LGBTQ+ students at SPPG.  

On January 15th, Spectrum hosted a discussion with two prominent LGBTQ+ leaders in the field of public policy: Toronto City Councillor Kristyn-Won Tam and Former Deputy Premier George Smitherman. Visit the SPPG website to learn more about the event and the initiative.

In conjunction with Beyond the Headlines, Spectrum Director Marvin JS Ferrer sat down with George Smitherman following the event for a quick interview.

George Smitherman represented the riding of Toronto-Centre as Ontario’s first elected openly gay MPP from 1999 to 2010, where he served in Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet as Minister of Health and Long Term Care, as well as Energy and Infrastructure. He was also Ontario’s Deputy Premier from 2006 to 2009. [interview at 1.03]

2018 Municipal Policy Action Case Competition

On January 19th, Master’s students from the School of Public Policy & Governance (SPPG) and the Department of Geography and Planning took part in the 2018 Municipal Policy Action Case Competition (MPACC). MPACC is a student-led case competition geared towards tackling municipal policy problems. Its design provides students with an opportunity to address local issues from the perspective of policy makers at a municipal level.

This year, 46 students making up 11 teams took part in the competition aiming to solve a pressing problem facing the City of Toronto: affordable rental housing. 

“I was absolutely thrilled to participate …and I thought it [the competition] was a really fresh way to explore ideas without the usual confines that we find in government itself,” – Sean Gadon, Director of the City of Toronto Affordable Housing Office

To elaborate on this issue from a municipal perspective, one of the 2018 MPACC Directors Lina Pulido sat down with Sean Gadon. Sean is the Director of the Affordable Housing Office at the City of Toronto, where he oversees the delivery of a wide range of affordable housing and renovation initiatives. He also leads the delivery of Mayor Tory’s Open Door Initiative to accelerate affordable housing construction across the City. Previously, Sean served as President of Raising the Roof and as Executive Assistant to two housing ministers for the provincial government. Sean was also a judge in this year’s MPACC, where he evaluated the competitor’s proposals regarding affordable rental housing in the City of Toronto. [interview at 24.47]


Amanda Lane, Host, Technical Producer
Dimitri Treheles, Host, Technical Producer
Marvin JS Ferrer,
Lina Pulido, Reporter
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer

Music Credits
by Fifth Harmony
The Wide Song 
by Jagguar

The Economic Impact of Brexit

In June of 2016, nearly 47 million UK citizens voted in a nationwide referendum to leave the European Union. With a 52% majority vote, the UK opted to be the first Member to leave the world’s largest and only political and economic union, and subsequently restore sovereignty. Prime Minister David Cameron, resigned shortly thereafter.

The decision rattled political leaders, economists, trade experts, and the public worldwide—including those in the UK who voted to stay.

The EU is comprised of 28 countries, including the UK, 19 of which have adopted the euro as their official currency. While there is marked heterogeneity across members in terms of their economic power and size, all countries stand to gain through access to this single market and customs unions. Membership in the Union is founded on four freedoms, which are the free movement of people, capital, goods, and services.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU—known as Brexit—was almost inevitable. Indeed, Brexit marks the end of a tumultuous 40-year marriage between the UK and the EU. With tensions spanning nearly 70 years, starting in 1951 when France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, known as the “inner 6” signed the treaty of Paris that subsequently established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

The treaty was intended to promote diplomacy and economic stability throughout western Europe following the second world war. The idea was that the establishment of shared economic interests would preclude warfare among members. Britain was notably left out of this agreement.

Later in 1957, the inner 6 signed the Treaties of Rome, which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). In 1967 these agreements became collectively known as the European Communities (EC).

Britain tried to join the EEC in 1963, but its attempt was vetoed by French President, Charles de Gaulle. It wasn’t until ten years later that Britain successfully joined the Union in 1973.

Given the UK’s long and tempestuous history with the EU, it’s no surprise that the Brexit negotiations have taken on a similar form. March 29, 2019 has been burned in the brains of all those involved as the day Britain permanently leaves the Union. But before that can happen, delegates on both sides have to reach agreement on a number of major issues across areas like immigration, trade, and security, with every concession is likely to produce clear winners and losers.

Mel Cappe is Professor and Undergraduate Program Coordinator at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and has held a number of senior roles in the Canadian federal government, including Clerk of the Privy Council, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service in Ottawa. Most recently Mel served as Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He studied economics at the University of Toronto and Western University, and received honourary doctorates from both. Mel is a sought-after speaker and makes regular appearances on various news outlets and talk shows discussing matters of trade, politics, and Brexit. [Interview at 4.50]

Chad Bown is a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. He previously served as senior economist in the White House on the Council of Economic Advisers and most recently, as a lead economist at the World Bank. He was a professor of economics at Brandeis University for 12 years, and he has also spent a year at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. Chad also co-hosts Trade Talks with Soumaya Keynes, a weekly podcast on the economics of international trade policy. You can subscribe on iTunes or most anywhere podcasts are found. [Interview at 13.43]

Peter Morrow is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Toronto, with a Courtesy Appointment at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Previously, he served as a Visiting Professor at UC Berkeley and Senior Research Associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Peter completed his PhD in Economics at the University of Michigan. [Interview at 35.52]

Peter is also an Editorial Advisor and Data Editor for the Canadian Journal of Economics, and a referee for many leading economics journals. He teaches courses in international trade theory and microeconomics at the undergraduate, graduate, and PhD level. His research interests include international trade, applied microeconomics, and development. Peter is an active member of the academic community and has presented his research across the world, including in cities like Paris, Barcelona, and Kyoto. [Interview at 35.58]



Julia Chan, Host, Senior Producer, Technical Producer
Nuri Kim, Host
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer, Technical Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Should I Stay or Should I Go 
by The Clash
Children Play Well Together by Caribou
Calculation Theme 
by Metric
Life on Mars? by David Bowie
Should I Stay or Should I Go 
by Air


Comparing Global Welfare Politics

On this episode of BTH we will be comparing social welfare policy between a few select Latin American countries to that of the North American model, specifically Canada. We will look at how their alternative welfare distribution methods relate to the broader discussion of reducing poverty, domestic politics, reducing regional disparity within indigenous communities, and how these payments affect the social realities of gendered identity within female heads of the household; single mother or otherwise. We will discuss the alternative methods themselves, outlining successful Conditional Cash Transfer programs like; Oppurtundaties, Prospera, and Bolsa and their effectiveness in mexico, brazil, Ecuador and Chile. After taking the programs themselves into consideration we will discuss the viability of such alternative welfare methodology in the Canadian context. With Conditional Cash Transfers occupying an ambiguous political terrain, fully embraced by neither the left nor the right of the spectrum, they can be seen as a compromise in political environments plagued by a major ideological split. With the contemporary political environment in North America and the traditionally divisive nature of conventional welfare methodology here in Canada we will explore the viability of such a politically ‘inclusive’ program here. To help us tackle these massive and interdisciplinary questions, we will be joined by leading figures in the field

Dr. Anahely Medrano is a very well known and frequently publishing academic from Mexico City that recently completed a piece entitled, “CCTs for Female Heads of Households and Market Citizenship at State-Level in Mexico”. Which looks at how Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have become key anti-poverty reduction strategies in Latin America. There are different types of CCTs implemented at the national and sub-national level in this region. This paper analyses the design of CCT programmes directed to assist female heads of households at the state level in Mexico. To do so, this study applies an analytical framework to make a comparative study of the key features of the design, looking specifically at the way the target population is constructed as welfare recipients and citizens. The results of this qualitative study suggest that, irrespective of the purposes of these social programmes, the design reflects certain values and normative beliefs related to the notion of market citizenship, which also seem to intersect with certain ideas about motherhood and the poor in Mexico. [Interview at 3.18]

“The short- term goal is to mitigate problems resulting from poverty, and the long- term goal is to invest in human capital.” – Dr. Pascal Lupien

Dr. Pascal Lupien is a frequently published political scientist and teaches social science and methods courses in the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program at the University of Guelph. Dr. Lupien’s primary research interests revolve around democratic governance, civil society, the impact of public participation on policy and the factors that enhance or diminish the capacity of social movement groups to engage in effective interest representation. His previous research examined the impact of indigenous social movements on integrating indigenous rights into the constitutional reform process in Bolivia and Ecuador.  His upcoming book, Citizens’ Power in Latin America: Theory and Practice, looks at how local communities in Venezuela, Ecuador and Chile use participatory democracy mechanisms to pursue collective social development goals. His current project considers the impact of information and communications technologies (ICTs) on the capacity of indigenous civil society groups to represent and pursue the interests of their constituents and how indigenous organizations can most effectively use ICTs to advance the social and economic development goals of their communities.[Interview at 21.30]

“The relationship of the Krenak people and the State is very specific right now. It is all based in the idea that there is a recovery going on.” – Sarain Carson-Fox

Sarain Carson-Fox is an Ashnabee activist, journalist, and host of Viceland’s RISE. She spends time advocating for and with indigenous populations around the world. [Interview at 40.27]



Dimitri Treheles, Host, Junior Producer
Jonah Kotzer, Technical Producer
Ian T. D.  Thomson, Technical Producer
Leanna Mora, Executive Producer

Music Credits
by Fifth Harmony
The World is Yours
by Badbadnotgood
by Trivvs
Strange Bouquet
by Sahara


Beyond the Budget: Examining Canadian Fiscal Policy

A central role of government revolves around the allocation of resources. This includes  raising or lowering taxes, deciding which programs to allocate funding to and determining how much of the fiscal pie to give to each program.

The nuances of fiscal policy often get lost in the fray.  How can governments ensure that programs Canadians view as essential – like healthcare, education, pensions, and housing – are viable in the long run?  This issue has faded in and out of the broader public consciousness but is always present.  Right now, many are concerned about the long-term sustainability of all three levels of government in Canada.

At the federal level, the 2017 budget showed a deficit of $28.5 billion and the government’s own long term projections see deficit spending continuing until the 2045/2046 fiscal year.  This is a significant change from projections put forward when the current government was still in opposition, when the budget was to be balanced by the 2019/2020 fiscal year.  Is this an early indication that Canada is at risk of entering a  period of fiscal crisis, much like we saw in the 1990’s?

At the provincial level, many commentators have expressed concern about Ontario becoming the largest indebted subnational jurisdiction in the world (passing California), but how well founded is this concern?  What impact might spiralling debt have on the province’s ability to finance vital services, and to what extent will the costs be born by Ontaria residents?   

At the municipal level, the Toronto government struggles year in and year out to simply maintain sub-par programs, let alone improve and expand.  Are there easy solutions the city can implement  to solve these problems or does the city need to rethink its revenue structure?

All levels of government  face fiscal challenges.  Today on Beyond the Headlines, we’ll go BEYOND the published budgets to find out what exactly this means for Canadians.  It’s time to go BEYOND the budget!

Sean Speer is a Munk Senior Fellow for fiscal policy at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a Fellow at the School of Public Policy & Governance. He previously served as a Senior Economic Advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Director of Policy for the Minister of Finance. [Interview at 2.31].

Benjamin Dachis is Associate Director, Research at the C.D. Howe Institute, and has been with the organization since 2006. He has an Honours Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Economics from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Regional Science from the London School of Economics (LSE). He has also worked at the Centre for Economic Performance, an interdisciplinary research centre at the LSE. In 2012 and 2013, he was a member of the Insight Grants Economics Committee for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He has written on municipal finance, infrastructure, tax, energy, environmental and labour policy. [Interview at 21.04].

“Any new revenue source is politically difficult … in order to do it we have to build public trust” — Enid Slack, Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance.

Enid Slack is the Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and an adjunct professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. She is a leading Canadian voice on municipal finance with over 35 years experience in the field, working with organizations like the World Bank, the IMF CID and UN Habitat. She has previously been awarded the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award medal for her work on cities. [Interview at 38.53].



Peter Huycke, Host, Junior Producer
Kevin Hempstead, Host, Junior Producer
Majenta Braumberger,
Junior Producer
Jonah Kotzer, Technical Producer
Ian T. D. Thomson, Technical Producer, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
by The Weather Station
If I Had a Million Dollars 
by Barenaked Ladies


The Economics of Marijuana Legalization

Since entering office in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has successfully followed through on many of his campaign promises. He made gender identity a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, he rolled out a universal child care benefit to better support the needs of Canadian families, he put a price on carbon, and now in the second half of his term, Trudeau is working eagerly with the provinces and territories to legalize, regulate, and restrict access to recreational marijuana across Canada.

The clock is ticking. By July 2018, Trudeau hopes to fully legalize recreational cannabis at the national level, landing Canada the second country in the world to do so after Uruguay.

This past November, Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act, received final approval in the House of Commons. The three pillars of the act—legalization, regulation, and restriction—are intended to address three distinct, albeit complementary, issues surrounding recreational marijuana.

The first, legalization, ultimately seeks to curtail criminal activity vis-a-vis the illicit cannabis market and to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. Every year, there are tens of thousands of marijuana-related arrests made across Canada. And of all police reported drug offences, cannabis possession accounts for over half.

The second pillar of the act, regulation, is arguably about generating tax revenue. The market for illicit marijuana is a lucrative one. By regulating the production, distribution, and retail sale of cannabis, all levels of government will be able to exploit the marijuana market throughout the supply chain.

The third pillar, restriction, is about protecting the health and safety of Canadian youth through restricting their access to marijuana. According to the Cannabis Act, the minimum legal age for consuming marijuana in any form is 18 years old.

Trudeau’s plan to bring the marijuana market above ground has emerged as a point of contention among political actors and stakeholders. Concerns around public health and safety have dominated the headlines, and according to polls, the split between those in support and those opposed to Trudeau’s plan is about 50/50.

While the health and social implications are important, indeed these form the backbone of Bill C-45, we’re going to take a different, more objective approach to analyzing the potential impact of the cannabis legislation.

In today’s episode, we explore the economic implications of legalizing recreational marijuana.

“The important thing is to manage expectations […] I don’t think that most people are ready for this […] Based on recent trends in public policy in Ontario, in particular over the last decade, there is good reason to be apprehensive that they could bungle this one.” – Dr. Pierre-Pascal Gendron, Professor of Economics, Program Coordinator, Humber College Business School

Pierre-Pascal Gendron is Professor of Economics and Program Coordinator, Bachelor of Commerce Healthcare Management and Bachelor of Commerce International Business, with the Business School at Humber College in Toronto. Prof. Gendron regularly advises international organizations on indirect tax matters, focusing on the value-added tax and excise taxes. He graduated with a PhD in Economics from the University of Toronto. [Interview at 4.12]

“Legalization of marijuana is a small step, but it’s an important step down a bigger road towards greater liberalization of all our decision making […] the net effect of that on our societies and economies could be much bigger than what we’re just seeing with marijuana” – Dr. Peter Dungan, Adjunct Associate Professor of Economics, University of Toronto

Peter Dungan is Adjunct Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Toronto, with cross appointments to the Department of Economics, Rotman School of Management, and the School of Public Policy and Governance. He is also the Director of Rotman’s Policy and Economic Analysis Program. Peter received both his Master of Arts and PhD in Economics from Princeton University.

His research focuses on computer simulation models of the Canadian and Ontario economies developed with regression techniques. The models are used to measure the economic impact of possible policy changes, and they also form the backbone of an ongoing program developing both short- and long-term economic forecasts for Ontario and Canada at large. Peter is a widely regarded business and macroeconomist, and was appointed a member of the “Ontario Economic Forecast Council” by the Ontario Finance Minister in 2006. [Interview at 33.38]


Julia Chan, Host, Senior Producer, Technical Producer
Tom Piekarski, Technical Producer
Peter Huycke,
 Technical Producer
Mitchell Thibault, Lead Social Media Director
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer

Music Credits
by Sigur Ros
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
by Wolf Parade
I Get Lifted 
by KC and the Sunshine Band

Listen/Subscribe on iTunes 



Behavioural Economics and Public Policy

The assumption within the standard or mainstream economics, that individuals act to maximize their long-term best interest, have stable preferences, and are consistent rational actors has served as a useful benchmark for predicting behavior. This model of human behavior has influenced the design of public policy. 

Yet, these traditional economic incentives sometimes prove ineffective. The field of behavioral economics differs from neoclassical economics in that it focuses on the ways in which rationality may be limited or bounded, and influenced by factors such as impulsiveness, limited willpower or lack of self control, social norms, and the context in which choices are made. The behavioral economics approach is heavily based on and informed by related literature in fields like psychology and neuroscience.

Behavioural economics increases the explanatory power of economics by providing it with more realistic psychological foundation. It is not seeking to replace the standard framework of analysis but add to this framework. Behavioural Economics approach extends rational choice and equilibrium models and does not advocate abandoning these models entirely.

The focus of the behavioral economics approach is to better predict and understand people’s actions, with the goal of designing more effective public policy. Three types of popular behavioural intervention recommended by the Nobel Prize Winner of Behavioural Economist Richard. H Thaler include changing the default option, requiring an active choice and simplification can facilitate decision making that better aligns outcomes with individuals preferences. For instance, in some countries, individuals must opt out if they do not wish to be organ donors compared to countries where individuals sign at their death for organ donation. Therefore countries in which individuals must opt out have a higher rate of organ donation. This is one example of incorporating behavioural economics that is default option in policy making.

“Behavioural economics is a cost effective way to nudge individual’s behaviour towards polices.” – Dr. Reuben NG, behavioural scientist at Oxford and Yale University.

Dr. Reuben NG trained as a behavioural scientist at Oxford and Yale. He spent 15 years in government of Singapore, consulting and research. Within government of Singapore, he was in the Prime Minister’s office driving evidence-based policy making through data analytics and Smart Nations Strategies. Dr. Reuben is an expert in preventive health care of older adults, population health analytics, psychometrics, resilience and culture. He is credited with creating innovative techniques to measure societal perceptions/stereotypes that are applied to social policy, and program evaluation. He is also the first Singaporean to receive the International Fulbright Science and Technology Award. [Interview at 3.35]

“You need a wider repertoire of tools that combines incentives, nudges, changes to the social context, and working with industry to set different defaults. Over time norms and behaviours will change in the desired direction.” – Mr. Donald Low, Associate Dean (Research and Executive Education) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Mr. Donald Low is an Associate Dean (Research and Executive Education) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Besides leading the School’s executive education efforts, he also heads its case study unit. His research interests include economics in public policy, behavioural economics,  inequality and social spending, public finance, organisational change, and governance and politics in Singapore. Prior to his current appointment at Lee Kuan Yew School, Donald served fifteen years in the Singapore government. He held various senior positions, including the director of fiscal policy at the Ministry of Finance and the director of the Strategic Policy Office at the Public Service Division. He also established the Centre for Public Economics at the Civil Service College of Singapore to advance economics literacy in the Singapore government. He is the editor of the book called Behavioural Economics and Policy Design: Examples from Singapore (2011), a pioneering book which details how the Singapore government has applied ideas from behavioural economics alongside standard economics in the design of public policies. [Interview at 33.55]



Tayyaba Mohsin, Host, Senior Producer
Amanda Lane, Technical Producer
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer
Leanna Mora, Executive Producer

Special thanks to the management of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music recording studio of National University of Singapore and Ritu Bhandari, Master of Public Policy Student at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
Lost Together 
by Blue Rodeo

BTH Insight Series Ep. 3: United Way Social Procurement, the Ontario Election and Energy Governance

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 6.39.10 PM


This is the third episode of the BTH Insight Series, where we examine various policy topics within the hour. Topics discussed include energy governance, elections and not-for-profits and their role in their social procurement.

United Way Social Procurement

As the largest non-governmental supporter of social services in the region, United Way Toronto & York Region has recently been active in advocating for Community Benefits and connecting partners in the private, labour, and not for profit sector to make projects – like the Eglinton Crosstown Line – a reality. Community Benefit Agreements are initiatives that change social infrastructure by embedding community and social benefits criteria into public contracts, ultimately triggering systems and institutions to do things differently.

Today, we are talking with Nauman Khan, Senior Manager of Public Affairs from the Toronto & York Region chapter of United Way, on social procurement and the Community Benefit Agreements that United Way has been a part of. [Interview at 0.40]

The 42nd Ontario General Election

The 42nd Ontario general election is scheduled to be held on or before June 7, 2018. It is predicted to be a three-horse race between the Liberal Party, the Progressive Conservative Party, and the New Democratic Party led by Kathleen Wynne, Patrick Brown, and Andrea Horvath respectively. Time will tell if Wynne will lead the Liberals to their fifth straight election victory in Ontario. The election in 2018 could play out a lot differently than in 2014, since there have been several changes made in Ontario’s political environment since then. Today we are going to talk about those changes and our predictions of how the election will play out.

“Parties have to make their choices about how far they can stretch themselves without losing the support they already have.” —Dennis M. Pilon, Associate Professor, York University

Dennis M. Pilon is an Associate Professor and the Undergraduate Program Director in the department of Political Science at York University. His research has focused primarily on issues of democratization and democratic reform in western countries in both contemporary and historical contexts. Over the past decade, Professor Pilon has done considerable public speaking and media work commenting on many aspects of politics with reporters from print, radio and television, particularly on topics relating to elections and political parties. He is presently a member of the National Advisory Board of Fair Vote Canada, a citizens’ group focused on gaining more proportional methods of voting for Canadian elections, and is a member of the editorial board of Canadian Dimension magazine. He has also acted as a consultant on election issues for various legal firms, political parties, trade unions, community groups, and the Auditor General of Canada. [Interview at 15.32].

Energy Governance

The energy sector can be a complex landscape. Policy decisions reflect a hodge-podge of environmental, economic development, engineering and political considerations, yet Consumers often just see the end result on their electricity bills.

In Ontario, several decision-making bodies like the Ontario Energy Board, the Independent Electricity System Operator, and the Ministry of Energy, are some of the institutions that make important energy policy decisions.These institutions each have a unique function in Ontario’s energy system. The question remains do these institutions’ decision-making processes reflect the fundamental principles of good governance. That is, do decisions by energy institutions reflect transparency, accountability and integration?

George Vegh is the head of McCarthy Tétrault’s Toronto energy regulation practice, where he provides advocacy and advisory services to private and public sector clients. He has served as General Counsel of the Ontario Energy Board, Chair of the Ontario Energy Association and the IESO Market Forum and currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of the Association of Power Producers of Ontario. He has led a number of industry initiatives, including Task Forces on Distribution Rate Regulation, Infrastructure Renewal, Distributed Generation and Transmission Connection for Renewable Generation. George Vegh is also an Adjunct Professor of Energy Law at the University of Toronto Law School, the School of Public Policy & Governance, the University of Calgary Law School and at Osgoode Hall Law School, where he is also the Program Director for the Masters Program in Energy and Infrastructure Law.

BTH had a chance to discuss the “Report on Energy Governance in Ontario”, a report written by George Vegh for the Ontario Energy Association and the Association of Power Producers of Ontario in November of last year. Examining the current governances issues facing the sector in Ontario, I sat down with George Vegh to discuss the report and the solutions it recommends like the Energy Information Officer  to mitigate the challenges the province currently faces. [Interview at 37.13].



Jonah Kotzer, Host, Senior Producer, Content Editor, Technical Producer
Kayla Ishkanian, Senior Producer, Content Editor
Julia Chan,
Senior Producer, Content Editor
Sanya Ramnauth, Lead Social Media Director
Mitchell Thibault, Reporter
Jasper Parades, BTH Reporter
Ian T. D. Thomson, Reporter, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
I Hate My Generation 
by Sloan
by Rush