Canadians can’t take prosperity for granted, says Bob Rae

Federal Parliament may be prorogued, but Bob Rae – federal Liberal foreign affairs critic and former Ontario premier – is keeping busy. 

Rae found time on Thursday, Feb. 4 to come to York at the invitation of the Master of Public Policy, Administration & Law Student Association (MPPALSA) to speak about the study of public policy. “I think it is probably the fastest growing area of research in Canada,” said Rae. “I wish, when I was premier, that I had the benefit of more scholarship in this area.”

Left: Bob Rae

The MPPALSA comprises 80-plus student members. “Bob [Rae] was a top choice for the MPPALSA executive,” said Frank Belluardo, MPPALSA president. “We seek people who, through their work in public policy, have made a social, political, or economic impact on the community – local, provincial or nationwide.”

Rae discussed the challenges facing current makers of public policy, stating that the debate in Canada in the last 150 years had gone from one of capitalism versus socialism to one of what kind of capitalism Canada should have. Referring to the current economic environment, he said, “We, as Canadians, can’t take our prosperity for granted and much of our public policy – particularly our social justice policy – assumes that prosperity.” Rae said that government must be more interventionist, more flexible and continue to encourage long-term innovation in its policy initiatives, recognizing the right balance of market and regulatory principles.

“Most of the student association’s events are designed to be professional development and networking opportunities for MPPAL students with high-profile speakers such as Bob Rae who has a depth of public policy experience in both a national and international context,” said Graduate Program Director Lorne Foster. However, anyone is eligible to attend an MPPALSA event, including faculty members, alumni and prospective students.

“The goal of the events is to foster a sense of community within the MPPAL graduate department and the broader community of the School of Public Policy and Administration,” Belluardo said. “Our events help to build life-long professional, social and academic relationships.”

“Events like these also provide an opportunity for students to test theory versus practice,”  Piragal Thiru, vice-president of MPPALSA, added. “They provide the opportunity to correlate the materials learned in class with the real-life experience of a veteran policy-maker.”

After his talk, Rae fielded questions from the audience on a variety of topics including: federal funding for the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the broader issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations; the responsibility of politicians to make policy decisions based upon sound, empirical evidence; politicians manipulating public opinion to suit their own agendas; Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan; the use of trade as a means of improving human rights conditions; the supreme court decision in the case of Omar Kahdr; and the impact of international agreements such as NAFTA and the Kyoto Accord on Canada’s economic growth and prosperity.

Rae concluded his talk by encouraging students not to feel daunted by the tough challenges they will face, nor believe that they will be able to change the world overnight. He also noted that he was happy to be called upon as a resource for the students and continued, “The academic study of public policy reflects the need to put social science – our best knowledge and our best understanding – to work in a systematic way for better public policy.”

Haideh Moghissi, associate dean, external relations, stated,”The LA&PS Dean’s Office is particularly proud to sponsor events like these which engage the broader community, appeal to graduate and undergraduate students alike, and broaden perspectives beyond classroom studies with speakers from across the political spectrum.”

A recording of Bob Rae’s talk is available for listening on the LA&PS Web site.

The next scheduled speaker in the MPPALSA series is veteran Canadian civil servant Mel Cappe, president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, who will speak this evening. On March 18, Janet Ecker, president of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance and a former Ontario MPP, will address the student association.

For more information about these speaking engagements and to RSVP, contact Frank Belluardo at