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Catching up with policy commission chair

When Principal Daniel Woolf established a commission to review public policy at Queen’s, he turned to well-respected public servant Michael Horgan, MA’79, to lead the effort. Currently a senior adviser at Bennett Jones LLP, Mr. Horgan retired from the public service in 2014 after a 36-year career focused mainly on energy and environment issues for successive federal governments.

The commission gathered recently in Ottawa to consult with people involved in public affairs, including public servants, political staff, think tanks, and members of the private sector. Between meetings, Mr. Horgan spoke with the Gazette’s Mark Kerr to discuss the commission and what he hopes it will accomplish over the next several months.

Mark Kerr: Why did you agree to lead the Principal’s Commission on the Future of Public Policy at Queen’s University?

[Michael Horgan]
MIchael Horgan, MA'79, is chair of the Principal's Commission on the Future of Public Policy at Queen's University. (Submitted photo)

Michael Horgan: I am a graduate of Queen’s – many years ago, sad to say. I had a good experience and I am still close to many of the friends that I made while at Queen’s. When Principal Woolf presented this opportunity to me, it seemed like a good way to give back to the university, so I thought, ‘why not?’

MK: What are the main goals of the commission?

MH: For many years, Queen’s has been an important contributor to public policy, both as a counsellor to government and others, and as a training ground for future public servants. While university is still highly regarded in these respects, Principal Woolf has asked us to study and make recommendations for ways Queen’s can reinvigorate this historically strong area, both within the School of Policy Studies and across different academic units.  

MK: Principal Woolf has instructed the commission to consult widely on how the university can anticipate and respond to the evolving public policy landscape. Based on your 30-plus years of public service experience, how has the landscape evolved?

MH: Public policy making is a lot more complicated at all levels of government, whether it’s federal, provincial, or municipal governments. Furthermore, there are more players involved and influencing the development of public policy.

In terms of actual schools of public policy, the market is much more crowded now. Queen’s really stood out 40 years ago, but now there are schools across Canada.

[Stuents in policy lecture]
Queen's students attend a guest lecture by Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews last year. Queen's is highly regarded as an important contributor to public policy, both as a counsellor to government and others, and as a training ground for future public servants. (File photo by Garrett Elliott)

MK: How will the experiences of the other commissioners contribute to the recommendations for renewing the strategic purpose and vision of public policy at Queen’s? 

MH: We have a number of people on the commission with experience developing and implementing public policy. Vice-Chair Margaret Biggs was president of the Canadian International Development Agency for many years. She has a wealth of federal experience in the Privy Council Office, as well as connections to Queen’s as the Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy.

Jeannie Dempster is another person with extensive federal government experience, having held advisory positions in all three primary central agencies and in ministers’ offices over the past 20 years. On the provincial side, Kevin Costante worked for 35 years with the Ontario and Saskatchewan public services before joining Queen’s School of Policy Studies in 2014. Peter Wallace brings the municipal policy perspective to the commission as the city manager for the City of Toronto. He was also a cabinet secretary to the provincial government.

Bob Watts, an adjunct professor in the School of Policy, has influenced many of the major Indigenous policy issues in Canada over the past 20 years. He is the former CEO of the Assembly of First Nations. He also led the process to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada.

The commission also has representation from the next generation of public policy practitioners. Bridget O’Grady graduated from the Queen’s Master of Public Administration program in 2005. Since then, she has built a career in the public sector, currently working as a manager with the Office of the Comptroller General in Ottawa. Cam Yung, Queen’s Rector, is also on the commission to represent the views of current students.

I feel the commission has a breadth of experience and knowledge, all of the members really understand the issues.

MK: What has the commission worked on since it formed in fall 2016?

MH: Over October, November, and December, we had our initial meetings where we worked out our mandate and the strategy we intend to follow. Now in early 2017, we have started our consultations. 

Have your say
The commission invites feedback on several discussion questions it has posted on its website. The deadline to send submissions to future.publicpolicy@queensu.ca is Aug. 21.
Further information is available on the Principal’s Commission on the Future of Public Policy webpage.

MK: Consultation is a central part of the commission’s mandate. Who does the commission want to hear from over the next several months?

MH: We are interested in speaking with a wide range of people. Internally to Queen’s, we want to speak with faculty, students, deans, and people in the School of Policy Studies. Externally, we want to hear from current and former civil servants from federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government. We would also like to broaden our scope and speak with people from non-government sector who are involved in some way in public policy development.

MK: What is the commission’s timeline for producing its recommendations?

MH: The principal has given us a deadline of October 2017 to deliver the final report, and we are on track to achieve that goal. I suspect we will also deliver an interim report in March. That report won’t include recommendations; it will be more about what we have been hearing during our consultations.