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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Why live the pracademic life?

By Tracey O’Reilly

Three things you need to know about pracademia...

  1. Pracademics do not operate in both worlds because they do not excel at either academia or practice; in fact, it is the opposite.  Some of the most innovative thinkers out there fall into the “pracademic” category.  Understanding theory and systems is inevitably complimented by a range of skills that only active public servants can develop.  Understanding how to problem-solve within complex systems is critical for success.

  2. As the culture of pracademia and interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration increases, innovation will follow.  The world’s problems will not be solved by ivory tower thinking, but by complex collaborations across various fields of discipline and across borders.

  3. Pracademics make great teachers because they know how theory and practice collide in the real world and can understand the consequences and trade-offs of public policy making beyond the textbook.

Three myths about pracademia...

Myth #1: My public service duties have no bearing on my academic life.

The Reality: As a political science instructor I am often able to connect my real work experience to the textbook material.  I try to bring the theories to life by explaining that processes are not always smooth, and by giving examples where policies have been successful and the ones who have failed.  Pracademics see the world through a complex set of filters.  We see problems from a variety of perspectives, and not necessarily confined to the perspective of our field of study.  Public servants view problems through the lens of political science, economics, philosophy, and business and this multi-dimensional view transcends to the classroom.

Myth #2: My academic life has no bearing on my public service duties.

The Reality: Teaching has helped me prosper as a public servant in several ways. Teaching has also given me greater abilities to juggle multiple priorities, communicate effectively and deal with people.  More importantly, teaching and research helps me see the world, and its problems, anew.  It may be clich√© to say it, but I do learn from my students and from time to time those conversations in the classroom give me a new perspective on an old problem or re-invigorate me to try something new.

Myth # 3: Pracademics don’t fit in anywhere.

The Reality: There will always be folks in the academic world who don’t see practioners as intellectual heavy weights, and on the other side, public servants who think that academia is nothing but an Ivory Tower.  However, most see us as valuable.  Straddling the worlds of public service and academia is important if we are to build good citizens, and address issues from a multidimensional perspective, but above all, being a “pracademic” is a privilege.

Want to continue the discussion?  Join Jared Wesley as he asks "What is pracademia?" and Maria-David Evans as she asks "Who are pracademics?"

Are you a pracademic?  IPAC Edmonton is building a stronger pracademic network and culture in Canada through initiatives like this blog.  Share your story by commenting below, and join in the discussion!

Tracey O’Reilly joined the Alberta Public Service in 2002, and has worked in in the ministries of Advanced Education, Executive Council, Aboriginal Relations, and International and Intergovernmental Relations, where she is a currently Managing Director of the Alberta Abroad Externship Program.  She has been nominated twice by the Government of Alberta for a national award sponsored by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) for leadership in public policy.  Since 2007, Tracey has also been a part-time instructor political science part-time at Grant MacEwan University.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Is there a place for lawyers in government?

by Esther de Vos

Three things you need to know about being a lawyer in government…

1.  Lawyers can serve in a wide variety of roles within governmentSome positions exist specifically for lawyers, working on behalf government client departments or drafting legislation.  However, the skills you learn as a lawyer are applicable to many roles in government, including policy development.

2.  There are many opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in government.  If you work as a legal counsel, working for government means you get to work for one of the largest law firms in the country.  More importantly, you are exposed to the various and diverse aspects of issues beyond just the legal perspective.  If you are not working as legal counsel, the knowledge gained through law school and the practice of law about legislation and process are invaluable in a government context.

3.  Your legal training is highly valued.  Whether working as a lawyer or in another capacity, the legal training you have as a lawyer is prized by government.  The manner in which lawyers are taught to identify and evaluate issues, characterize possible solutions, and mitigate risks supports the work of government in the policy development process or in delivering programs.

Three myths about being a lawyer in government…

Myth #1: You are constrained in the type of work you can do.

Reality: Even for those lawyers who work as a legal officer there is diversity in work.  Many lawyers are not limited to only providing legal advice or representing their client departments in court.  They are involved in giving strategic and policy advice as well.  For those lawyers who do not work in a legal officer role, there is a breadth of roles in both policy development and program or service delivery.  Aside from the variety of roles, there are also opportunities to get involved in cross ministry work and larger government strategic pieces.

Myth #2: Advancement within the government is limited.

Reality: Working for government allows you to move within subject matters or areas of expertise while building your skills and knowledge.  Advancement within the legal officer stream is available where you become senior counsel and supervise teams of lawyers.  As a non-legal officer, there are vast opportunities available to move your career forward in many different ways.  Many lawyers move into the policy stream and lead teams working on key policy initiatives and deliverables.

Myth #3: There is no ability to affect real change in government.

Reality: The opportunities for lawyers in government often relate to making change in government.  While lawyers outside of government are involved in the court system and making case law, lawyers in government, either in the more traditional role or non-traditional role can get involved in shaping the direction of laws and providing recommendations to decision makers about government policy.

Esther de Vos is the Executive Director, Policy and Planning Services for the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General.  She joined the Government of Alberta as a policy analyst after working for a couple of years as a lawyer.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Alberta and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Victoria.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Is there a place for nurses in government?

by Jamie Shaw

Three things you need to know about nursing in government…
  1. Nurses can serve in a wide variety of roles within government.  Some positions exist specifically for health care practitioners, for example Nurse Consultants in the Communicable Diseases Unit or Immunization. However, there are also some great non-traditional roles for nurses, like mine. To see what kind of work you can do in government, search “Health” on the Governments of Canada and Alberta websites.
  2. There are many opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in government.  If you have a more traditional nursing role in government, there are opportunities to learn how those policies that you use daily are developed and implemented.  If you have a less traditional role you can learn about aspects of the healthcare system that you never even considered before.

  3. Work-life balance does exist.  These may be things that many government workers take for granted, but perks that nurses will appreciate include more than two weekends off per month, spending every Christmas Day with your family, and no night shifts.  

    Three myths about nursing in government…

    Myth #1: Working in government means that you are no longer a real nurse.

    Reality: Your clinical knowledge and practical experience in the health care system is valued in government and can be applied on a daily basis.  Also, you do not have to give up your nursing license when you work in government, even if your job does not absolutely require registration.  You can work with your supervisor to ensure that your continuing competence program activities mesh with your government performance plan.  Also, the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta encourages nurses to engage in policy work.

    Myth #2: Government bureaucrats don’t know anything about how the health care system really works.

    Reality: The majority of the people I work with are not health practitioners.  I am a part of a team that has a physician, a social worker, many people with Master’s degrees and PhDs in various health fields, and people without any letters behind their names, but a wealth of knowledge and experience in Alberta’s health care system. While nurses have valuable information about how things work on the ground, nurses also see only pieces of the whole health care system and can benefit from listening to other perspectives.  

    Myth #3: There is no ability to affect real change in government.

    Reality: After working in fast-paced clinical environments, this feels true, because government change tends to happen much slower than in a hospital or clinic.  You also do not get the satisfaction of seeing the effects of your changes in patient interactions.   However, changes made in government have the potential to impact all Albertans as opposed to just the few patients that you can see in clinical practice,  and it is an opportunity to fix those systemic problems that health care providers often complain about.  So, if you, like many of my nursing friends, have ever caught yourself saying “Why doesn't the government just…” – then government work might be for you!

    Jamie Shaw serves as a Policy Analyst in the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Health, working on health care provider compensation.  Prior to joining government, she worked as a registered nurse in a variety of acute care units in Calgary and Winnipeg, including surgical oncology, cardiac surgery and intensive care.  She earned her BA (History) from the University of Alberta and Bachelor of Nursing (BN) after degree from the University of Calgary

    Thursday, 5 December 2013

    What can behavioural research teach us about transforming government?

    By Andrew Galley

    The Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto's recent paper, Public Service Transformed: Harnessing the Power of Behavioural Insights, outlines some simple steps to increasing the effectiveness of the public service in four key areas: collaboration, transparency, innovation and a focus on results.

    Three things to know about behavioural insights and public sector reform:
    1. All the structures and processes we face, whether in life or at work, make certain choices easy and others hard. By understanding both the way people think and how the choices presented to them make a difference in how they act, it is possible to present choices in such a way as to guide human behaviour.
    2. Governments around the world are using these insights to drive change in citizen behaviour. For example, because people have a natural tendency to take the path of least resistance, changing the default option on retirement contributions to 'opt-out' drives up enrollment rates.
    3. By turning this lens inward on the public sector workforce, governments can simply and effectively create a more dynamic and creative work environment for public servants.

    Three myths about behavioural insights and public sector reform:

    Myth #1: Public sector reform must be expensive, since deep structural changes are required.

    The Reality: Sometimes, positive change can come simply from thinking carefully about how choices are presented to public servants in their work environment. Efficiencies can flow from simple and inexpensive changes in that process.

    Myth #2: Increasing efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector requires down-sizing.

    The Reality: Public service reform should recognize that public servants are key assets and use behavioural insights to maximize their contributions and effectiveness.

    Myth #3: Behavioural insights are manipulative and rob people of their freedom of action.

    The Reality: Existing work cultures already shape how public servants behave. Behavioural insights are simply intended to encourage people to behave differently, in ways that reinforce a positive work environment. 

    Andrew Galley is a co-author of the Public Service Transformed: Harnessing the Power of Behavioural Insights report and a Policy Associate at the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto.

    Thursday, 28 November 2013

    Do we need more courage in the public sector?

    by Kim Armstrong

    Three things you need to know about courage in leadership:

    1. Courage is "The ability to do something that frightens one."  Acting courageously is not acting in the absence of fear - it is acting in the face of fear, acting with mastery of fear.  It is doing the "right" thing, regardless of unpleasant consequences.

    2. The most vitally important, and most notably absent, leadership quality in the public service is courage.  Courage is most notably lacking in matters involving people - not policy.  In the public service, we are fairly good at making the tough policy choices.  Not so much at dealing with toxic employees, leaders, and supervisors fundamentally lacking the ability to perform or interact well.

     3. Our actions often lack courage because we do not possess the skills to engage in uncomfortable conversations where somebody might be unhappy with us.  So instead, we choose avoidance and inaction, forgetting that the choice to do nothing is a choice too - being inactive is itself an action.

    Three myths about courage in leadership:

    Myth #1: If I leave the person where they are, maybe they will become competent, or "grow into the position".

    The Reality: Sometimes, this may occur with focused and dedicated training targeted at the individual's developmental needs.  More often, though, no amount of training or development will change a person who fundamentally lacks key skills or key values.  Not everyone is capable of doing every job.

    Myth #2: Since I put the person in this position, I need to give them a chance to succeed.

    The Reality: Though this sounds fair, it can be used as an excuse for being unwilling to address a situation where someone lacks the abilities, skills or values to do a particular job.  By insisting on keeping someone in an ill-suited position, maybe you are making that person happy, but what about everyone else?  What about the people who work with or for that person and who deserve a fully competent, skilled, and principled colleague or supervisor but are, instead, getting the person you are leaving there? 

    Myth #3: I do not know how to have the conversation so better if I avoid it altogether.

    The Reality: Busting this myth is the whole point of this blog.  You CAN have these conversations.  Here are some suggestions about how to find the courage to act courageously.
    1. Identify the situations where courage is required, whether it is an incompetent employee, inappropriate behavior, deficient supervision, or otherwise.
    2. Map out the scope and intent of the conversation in advance - role play it with someone.  Be clear about your intent, highly self-aware and vigilant against defensiveness.  
    3. Identify possible options for a way forward and be open to alternative options that you had not anticipated.  Be open-minded.  
    4. Invite the conversation.  
    5. Take whatever actions are required.  Lead with courage and others will follow.

    Ms. Armstrong has received her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Political Studies and her Bachelor of Laws.  She has also completed the Police Management Certificate.

    In 1997, she joined the Edmonton Police Service as a Legal Advisor. She was later promoted to the position of Manager in charge of the Professional Standards Branch, Legal Services and Risk Management Branch.

    In October, 2006, Ms. Armstrong began working for the Alberta Solicitor General as the Executive Director of the Law Enforcement and Oversight Branch.  She co-led the Alberta Long Term Crime Prevention Framework and the Alberta Gang Reduction Strategy.  In April, 2011 she was appointed as the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Justice Services Division for the Government of Alberta.   On June 1 of 2012 she was appointed to the position of Deputy Clerk of Executive Council and Deputy Secretary to Cabinet.  In this role, Ms. Armstrong provided advice and organizational support to Cabinet and its key committees.   

    Most recently, on October 10, 2013, she was appointed as the  Deputy Attorney General for the Province of Alberta.

    Thursday, 21 November 2013

    How do you build a diverse and inclusive public service?

    by Candy Khan

    Three things everyone should know about diversity and inclusion at the City of Edmonton…

    1. Diversity and inclusion is an integral part of our culture, values and the way we do business.

    2. The City of Edmonton has a Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Framework that reflects Corporate Leadership Team’s vision to create an innovative organization.

    3. The City of Edmonton has four (4) Diversity and Inclusion goals:
    • Having a workforce that is broadly reflective of the community.
    • Identifying and addressing barriers within organizational systems.  
    • Attracting and retaining a talented workforce skilled at working in an inclusive and respectful manner with one another and the community. 
    • Creating processes, policies, plans, practices, programs and services that meet the diverse needs of those we serve.

        Three myths about diversity and inclusion at the City of Edmonton...

        Myth #1: Diversity means ethnic diversity.

        The Reality: The City of Edmonton has a broad meaning of diversity.  The City of Edmonton defines diversity as the range of human difference.  It includes a person’s age, socioeconomic background, gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ancestry, disability, religion, or physical characteristics.  Each person has layers of diversity which makes their perspective unique.  Individuals may share a common factor, such as age, but they may differ regarding their gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.

        Myth #2: The City of Edmonton hires employees based on the Employment Equity (quota system) set out by the Federal Government.

        The Reality: The City aims to employ a workforce that broadly reflects the population of Edmonton. This will be achieved by removing barriers (e.g., policies or practices that unintentionally exclude people) and promote an inclusive and respectful workplace culture. The City has a transparent and consistent hiring policy to ensure individuals best suited for a position are hired irrespective of their age, socioeconomic background, gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ancestry, dis/ability, religion, or physical characteristics.

        Myth #3: The Respectful Workplace Directive openly invites complaints and enables disputes in the workplace.

        The Reality: Respectful workplace training is available for all City staff. This training clarifies the City of Edmonton’s policy, directive, and framework regarding diversity and inclusion. Employees understand their human rights. Human rights contribute to us all working and operating in a respectful and inclusive manner. The respectful workplace training serves to educate and prevent disputes to ensure a safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace for all.

        Candy Khan works as a Senior Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at City of Edmonton in the Human Resource Branch. She actively promotes and supports corporate diversity and inclusion policies, strategies and initiatives.  In the last five years, Candy has been able to make extensive gains in promoting a respectful workplace culture vis-√†-vis curriculum delivery, training/education to all City of Edmonton employees, and working collaboratively with senior leaders to ensure policies, practices, and structures are equitable for all. 

        Friday, 15 November 2013

        Can Millennials build a better political future?

        by David Coletto

        Three things everyone should know about Millennials…
        1. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the second largest generation in Canada with about 8 million individuals representing 24% of the population.  By 2020, 40% of the working age population will be Millennials

        2. Millennials, having been raised in a highly structure environment, crave feedback and believe they can achieve anything they want to.  They have high expectations and need to understand how they can achieve their goals.  Keep them focused and give them feedback on their work and they will stay motivated.

        3. Millennials are highly creative multi-taskers and adopt new technologies quickly.  Give them a problem and let them come up with a solution using their extensive networks.  Ask them to report their progress and provide constructive feedback on their work regularly.

        Three myths about Millennials...

        Myth #1:  Millennials are entitled, lazy, and don't work hard. 

        The reality:  We are all entitled to some extent, regardless of the generation.  Millennials have been raised to believe anything is possible.  Embrace this optimism and confidence and focus it on solving problems.  Bring them onto your teams, task them with specific jobs, and provide them with the structure and feedback they crave. Set clear objectives with time lines and deliverables and expect results quickly.

        Myth #2:  Millennials are apathetic about politics and public affairs. 

        The reality:  Yes, young Canadians are far less likely to vote than older generations but it is not because they don't care.  Most Millennials are highly engaged and care deeply about their communities.  Recent social movements in Canada (Occupy, Idle No More, and the student protests in Quebec) were organized and driven by Millennials. Many Millennials believe they are not informed enough about politics and don't yet have the confidence to responsibly participate as citizens.  But their generation's size means they can fundamentally alter the political life of a country or province.

        Myth #3:  Millennials are no worse off than previous generations.

        The reality:  It is empirically more difficult today for Millennials than in previous generations.  Not only is youth unemployment higher than in recent years, but many of the entry level jobs that young people could rely on in the past are taken up by older generations.  Add in high personal debt (higher tuition fees), unaffordable housing in most large urban centres, and a rising cost of living, and you have a generation that is delaying many of the big life decisions.  

        David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and adjunct professor at the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs at Carleton University.  He is regularly called upon by private and public sector organizations to speak about how they can better understand and engage the emerging Millennial generation in Canada.  Follow him on Twitter (@ColettoD) and read insights and analysis at

        Wednesday, 6 November 2013

        Who are pracademics?

        by Maria-David Evans

        Three things everyone should know about pracademics…

              1.   Pracademics are folks who are committed to formally applying a duality to their profession complimentarily combining the best of both worlds: from academia and as a practicing public servant.

              2.   Pracademics are lifelong learners, continually enriching and improving their work, as public servants, through formal academic study and/or instruction. The corollary is also true: pracademics are academics continually improving their academic proficiency through engaging in actual public sector practice.

              3.    Pracademics excel as both public sector leaders, integrating theory into their practice and as academics enriching their academic knowledge through the application of practical experience.

        Three myths about pracademics...

        Myth #1:  Pracademics is the label given to former public sector leaders, who when they can’t do it any more…. teach it! 

        The reality:  There is immeasurable value in formally undertaking knowledge transfer throughout the public service through this path. Decades of public sector leadership experiences being passed on to public service practitioners trying to improve their capacities and striving for excellence, should be celebrated.

        Myth #2:  You can’t do both: work full time at a responsible public sector job and simultaneously  undertake lifelong learning through formal studies and/or instructing in an post-secondary setting. 

        The reality:  Over 90% of my MBA students work full-time as did I throughout my career: 32 years of continuous university studies (with occasional lecturing and teaching). And with today’s institutional flexibility there are a huge range of options for incorporating lifelong learning.

        Myth #3:  The term Pracademics is associated exclusively with Universities. 

        The reality:  Many Pracademics either attend and/or teach at technical institutions or colleges, where instructors are specifically hired for their ability to provide practical experience combined with the theory, study and research about a specific public sector practice (eg. law, communications, human resources, etc.).   

        Want to read more about pracademia?  Continue the conversation through Dr. Jared Wesley's post, "What is pracademia?" and Tracey O'Reilly's discussion of living the pracademic life.

        Are you a pracademic?  IPAC Edmonton is building a stronger pracademic network and culture in Canada through initiatives like this blog.  Share your story by commenting below, and join in the discussion!

        After 45 years of public service, Maria David-Evans retired from the Government of Alberta in November of 2011, where she had served as Deputy Minister since 1997 having held the DM posts in the departments of: Family and Social Services; Alberta Learning; Alberta Infrastructure; Children's Services; and Aboriginal Relations. Before joining the GoA, Ms. David-Evans built her public service career with the City of Edmonton having held senior positions in the departments of: Community and Family Services, the Planning Department and concluding her 31 year career as General Manager of Edmonton Parks and Recreation. As a lifelong learner and an obvious Pracademic, Maria attended university for 32 years and now teaches Public Sector Leadership at the University of Alberta's School of Business to MBA students. She is also an avid lifelong community volunteer and presently sits on 6 boards.

        Wednesday, 30 October 2013

        What is academic freedom?

        by Brenda O'Neill

        Three things you need to know about academic freedom…

        1. Academic freedom is the guarantee accorded to academics to conduct their research, teach in the classroom, and publicly comment and criticize free from any pressure to conform to prescribed doctrines. The concept is one that is frequently used, and yet often misunderstood, even by academics.

        2. Academic freedom is not without limits, however, and must be grounded in academic integrity. Academics have a duty to ensure that their research, teaching and commentary are based on an intellectually honest search for truth.

        3. Academic freedom is also limited by professional and academic standards, as well as institutional requirements. Research must conform, for example, to the codes and norms of research conduct established by professional and academic bodies such as the Tri-Council Policy on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.  Similarly, the need to offer a program of instruction limits an academic’s ability to refuse to teach courses based on a defense of academic freedom.

        Three myths about academic freedom…

        Myth #1: Academic freedom isn’t really necessary in modern universities.

        The reality: The pursuit of knowledge and truth is fundamental to the mission of the modern university. But truth is not self-evident, static nor discovered in democratic processes. An intellectually honest search for truth can include taking risks and challenging established orthodoxies. Academic freedom, as well as the related concept of tenure, is central to providing the job security necessary for those who push boundaries and challenge our thinking.

        Myth #2: Universities must prioritize public opinion given the current funding climate.

        The reality: It goes without saying that a reality for modern universities is a reliance on private funding. But it cannot and must not move the institution away from its fundamental principles and primary objective. Universities are not public relations exercises; their primary goal must be the pursuit of knowledge. A failure to defend academic freedom in the face of a public outcry, precisely when it is most necessary is a failure to defend the central role of the university in society.

        Myth #3: The importance of academic freedom is self-evident.

        The reality: It is incumbent upon academics to understand, explain and defend the importance of academic freedom to the public and our students given its fundamental importance. This is especially important given the high level of misinformation surrounding the concept among the public.

        To continue the conversation about the place of universities in Canadian society,
        visit Dr. Andrew Gow’s discussion – “Can we afford ivory towers?”.

        Brenda O'Neill is Associate Professor and Head of the Political Science Department at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on the political behaviour of Canadian men and women, including the role of feminism and religion in shaping political behaviour and attitudes. You can contact her via email at bloneill[at] and follow her on Twitter (@therunningprof). 

        Can we afford ivory towers?

        by Andrew Gow

        Three things everyone should know about the value of universities to society:

        1. Universities provide extraordinary value for money, regularly putting top researchers in undergraduate classrooms and charging less than half of what comparable American research universities collect in tuition fees.

        2. Universities provide tangible economic benefits by creating jobs and contributing directly to the economic development of their surrounding communities, provinces, and neighbours.

        3. Universities are necessary to educate tomorrow’s leaders.

        Three misconceptions about the value of universities to society:

        Myth #1:  "Tuition fees and professor salaries are out of control." 

        The reality: Canadian fees are much lower than at comparable US and UK institutions, and both fees and salaries are pretty much the same in Alberta as in the rest of Canada.  Students get great value for their money and so do taxpayers.  

        Myth #2: "University graduates are flipping burgers." 

        The reality:  University of Alberta graduates, for instance, have created 1.5 million jobs world-wide, almost 400,000 of them in Alberta. One in five Albertans is employed by a company founded by a UofA graduate. The over 70,000 organizations founded by UofA alumni generate annual revenues of $348.5 billion.

        Myth #3:  "Post-secondary students should be taught by 'full-time teachers' in ‘teaching colleges’, not by university researchers." 

        The reality:  That might be true at the first-year or even second-year level, and there are certainly efficiencies that we could find, perhaps using MOOCs, but senior undergraduates and graduate students learn to do independent and original work only when they are taught by active researchers.  My 20 years of experience teaching students how to work independently gives me an insight based not on statistics, but on direct observation: my former students don't go out and get jobs; they go out and start careers, either by joining private, governmental or non-profit agencies (my former undergrads who majored in history work at Fortis, in various ministries, the UofA and the Department of Foreign Affairs, to name a few), or they go to graduate or professional schools to become lawyers, physicians (yes!), accountants, speech therapists, writers, entrepreneurs – and then they go on to lead in those fields, because they have the skills to think, research, write and work independently. Active, independent, university-based researchers are the best role models to lead students to work actively and independently, and to educate them so that they can do so.

        To continue the conversation about the state of academia in Canada today,
        visit Dr. Brenda O'Neill’s discussion – “What is academic freedom?”.

         Dr. Andrew Gow is Professor of History and Director of Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. Raised a civil service brat in Montreal and Ottawa, he decided to pursue public service in a different venue, and studied at Carleton, Freiburg (Germany), the University of Toronto and the University of Arizona before joining the UofA in 1993. He has published extensively on Christian-Jewish relations, witches and witch-hunting, medieval world maps, and German Bibles before Luther, and taught many thousands of students.

        Monday, 28 October 2013

        What did the Quebec Court say about Senate Reform?

        by Jennifer Smith

        The Context

        Bill C-7 contains the Conservative government’s scheme to reform the Senate by establishing nine-year, non-renewable terms for senators and by encouraging the provinces to hold Senate elections, the winners of which would be nominated to sit in the Senate by the prime minister.  The Quebec Court of Appeal has determined that Bill C-7 is completely unconstitutional.

        Three things to know about the Quebec Court’s opinion:

         1.   According to the court, since each aspect (term and consultative elections) of the Conservative government’s scheme to change the Senate affects the powers of the institution and the method of selection of senators, Parliament cannot legislate the scheme on its own. It must involve the provinces.

        2.  The constitution helpfully stipulates that amendments to the powers of the Senate and the method of selection of senators require the agreement of Parliament and the provincial legislatures of two-thirds of the provinces that, taken together, include 50 per cent of the population of all the provinces.

        3.  The abolition of the Senate must meet a more onerous test, namely, the agreement of Parliament and the provincial legislatures of all of the provinces.

        Three misconceptions revealed by the opinion:

        The court also buries some misconceptions that many people hold about the Senate and Senate reform.

        Myth #1:  The Senate is an unimportant institution of federalism.

        The reality:  On the contrary, as the court points out, the Senate was a condition of Confederation, a fundamental component of the federal compromise of 1867. It was put together with great care.

        Myth #2:  The Senate is unimportant as a house of Parliament.

        The reality:  Not so, says the court, pointing to its mandated role in the country’s legislative process as well as the function of regional representation.

        Myth #3:  Abolition is a convenient solution to the problem of Senate reform – just get rid of it!

        The reality:  Abolition is the unlikeliest of options precisely because, according to the court, it would require unanimity, the highest threshold of agreement imaginable.

        From a layman’s perspective, the message here is that the Senate of Canada belongs to all of us. It cannot be treated simply as a pawn in the game of partisan politics. The reform of the Senate must be a national project.

        Tuesday, 22 October 2013

        Can balanced budget legislation really work in Canada?

        by Stephen Tapp

        Three things to know about fiscal rules:

        1.   The federal government now wants to introduce a balanced budget rule. The idea is to adopt a law that requires balanced budgets in normal economic times. Under this law, the federal government could run occasional deficits, but only when growth is very slow and a timeline to return to balance is given.

        2.   Since the early 1990s, Canadian governments have increasingly relied on formal rules to guide fiscal policy. Other countries do this too. Enforcement of these rules is increasingly being delegated to independent budget offices. 

        3.      My research finds a robust positive correlation between stronger fiscal rules and better fiscal outcomes on average. This result applies only to selected rules over a selected time period, namely, balanced budget and debt rules in Canadian data from 1981-2007 — i.e., before the global recession. Conversely, I find that spending or revenue rules were generally ineffective in this same period.

        Three common misconceptions about fiscal rules:

        Myth #1:  Fiscal rules are basically homogeneous and are readily copied from other jurisdictions.

        The reality:  The details of fiscal rules matter; they differ and are jurisdiction and context specific. Canadian governments have used rules of various types and strengths. In the early-1990s there was early experimentation with debt, spending and budget balance rules, typically used on their own.  By the mid-1990s as fiscal pressures intensified, several provinces adopted more wide-reaching rules that combined various targets, with balanced budget and debt rules becoming the most common. 

        The stringency of rules also varies. Some provinces have had no formal rules (Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island), whereas Alberta and Manitoba have historically had the strongest fiscal rules in Canada.

        Myth #2:  When fiscal rules are legislated they are set in stone, and thus act as a permanent constraint on future governments.

        The reality: As used in practice, fiscal rules are better thought of as moving targets that policymakers generally aim for, but adjust at irregular intervals in response to economic and political developments (such as recessions or changes in governments).

        Myth #3:  Examples where a government missed a fiscal target show that fiscal rules don’t work.

        The reality:  The natural instinct is to simply compare the target (balance the budget!) and the outcome (balance the budget?). In fact, the correct comparison (the so-called counterfactual) isn’t the target, but what would have happened without it. (Of course, this can’t be observed because it didn’t happen, so it must be inferred with statistical techniques). So just because a government failed to balance its budget, doesn’t mean that it didn’t have a smaller deficit than without the rule in place.  In the same vein, seeing one driver run a red light doesn’t disprove the notion that traffic lights generally make roads safer.

        Continue the IPAC Impact discussion on balanced budget legislation by reading Dr. Wayne Simpson's post, "Is federal balanced budget legislation a meaningful step?"

        Stephen Tapp is a Research Director at the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP). Before joining the Institute, he was a senior economist and adviser on economic, fiscal and tax issues for Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer. You can e-mail him here; follow him on Twitter (@stephen_tapp); and connect with him on Linkedin.