“Getting on the dance floor.” According to SPPG Instructor Karim Bardeesy, that’s what second-year MPP students will be doing in his and Professor Ian Clark’s course Leading Change and Getting Things Done. The hands-on class is designed around the central conceit of challenging students to undertake a project that affects real change in policy.
Bardeesy and Clark shared their inspiration and goals for the course with students at a talk on June 18 organized by the School of Public Policy and Governance Students’ Union. The talk provided an opportunity for second-year graduate students to interact with the two veteran policy makers. A former Globe and Mail journalist, Bardeesy currently serves as Executive Director of Policy for Premier Kathleen Wynne, a post he carried over from the Dalton McGuinty administration. Before Clark joined SPPG in 2007, he served as the President of the Council of Ontario Universities and as an Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund.
SPPG students crowded into the basement of the Duke of York pub, eager to meet the instructors and find out what they could expect from the unconventional course. Demand for the course is high and several students are on the waiting list.
Bardeesy led the hour-long talk, while Clark offered additional information and students asked questions. Beginning with an overview of his academic and professional career, Bardeesy recounted spending 10 years completing his B.A. at McGill University before transitioning to a graduate degree at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (which Clark also attended) and a stint as a full-time journalist with the Globe and Mail. The course is a synthesis of his academic and professional experiences. Students will be applying concepts of behavioural science, group theory, and moral psychology to a project that they design themselves.
Highlighting that the course forces students to abandon the safe realm of academia, Bardeesy wants to create an environment where students will be pushed to make gains on a project they believe in. Failure is an expected, even desired part of the experience. Bardeesy warned students that while it is unlikely that they will be able to complete their entire project in a four-month term, that’s part of the challenge.
The overall purpose of the class points to a pervasive problem with Canadian governance as a whole. According to Bardeesy, the leadership bar is set rather low in Canada. “Where is the Barack Obama of Canadian politics?” he asked rhetorically, musing about the issues that might inspire or create Obama-type leaders. When asked what inspires him about working in Canadian political life, Bardeesy recalled a story he heard recently about the creation of the first subway line from Union to Eglinton Station in Toronto. On opening day, people wore their best clothes to the station, eager to board the train for the first time. It was a moment of unity and decorum among a whole city, as citizens turned out to honour a public construction project that would change their everyday lives. With public transit currently serving as a political battleground, Bardeesy said he felt motivated by the notion that Torontonians once felt tremendous civic pride simply by the feeling of being whisked northbound from Front Street.
The first subways in Toronto were examples of innovation that were driven by a passion for state-of-the-art technology. These days, it may be easier to picture people getting frustrated by public transit than inspired. But this is where inspiration is hidden, argued Bardeesy: behind the issues that enthuse us. How does one tap into this inspiration? By making a change in something you care about, which is just what Bardeesy and Clark hope to help SPPG students do.
Navdeep Johal is a MPP 2014 Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She has a BA (Hons) from the University of Toronto and is currently completing her policy internship at the Deputy City Manager’s Office at the City of Toronto.