By Action Canada Fellow Jessie Gill ‘22
Earlier this month, each of the three Action Canada Task Forces submitted the first draft of their respective policy papers, which are a key part of the Fellowship year. As we eagerly await the feedback from this year’s Advisory Committee, I can’t help but reflect on my Task Force’s journey over the past six months. Though I could never share all that I’ve learned as an Action Canada Fellow in a single blog post, there are three key lessons around policymaking that I will carry with me.
Picking a policy issue to tackle is not for the faint of heart
This year’s theme is the housing crisis, a topic that is top of mind for many Canadians. As my Task Force and I contemplated housing, we realized that the issue is incredibly complicated and much broader than just affordability. The complexity we encountered was compounded by the fact that we wanted to focus on making an impact on an important issue within the context of the housing crisis. Going through the process of brainstorming and selecting a topic forced us to think about how we defined and understood importance and impact. Is a certain issue important because of the number of people affected? Does working on something urgent lead to greater impact? Though I don’t have the answers, these are just some of the questions I will continue to think about.
We ultimately narrowed our topic down to extreme heat in community housing in urban areas. This is based largely on the rate at which Canada is warming and its disproportionate impact on those who live in our country’s urban community housing. A key takeaway for me is that there will always be a multitude of problems and issues to tackle and choosing what to address is often the most difficult part. There are times when choosing to address one particular issue means not addressing another. This is a challenge that policymakers must grapple with constantly.
Prepare to change your mind
After the bulk of our research and interviews were finished, we began the process of collectively brainstorming solutions. Each one of us had views and opinions on how extreme heat should be tackled before we began our research. We also had those views and opinions challenged through our research, interviews, and discussions with each other. From abandoning the idea of mandatory air conditioning in the summer months to reconsidering building demolition to rebuild better, there were countless times when we reassessed and repositioned our thinking based on the information and evidence we encountered. Through my work with my Task Force, I learned to sit with the discomfort of being wrong and changing my mind. This allowed me to be receptive to new ways of thinking that challenged mine. The way I see it, the best policymaking happens when we are willing to be open, flexible, and adaptable.
What if you’re not an expert?
Something that many of us have struggled with throughout the Fellowship was this feeling of not having the expertise to make policy recommendations for our topics of choice. While knowing the limits of your knowledge is important, policymaking is not just for subject-matter experts. This isn’t to say expertise doesn’t matter. What I’ve come to learn is that designing effective policies requires translating expertise and evidence into steps that can be taken in the real world. This translation process is precisely what my
Task Force engaged in. We relied on the evidence and information we found in studies and provided to us by our interviewees. We then took what we learned and thought deeply about how to turn it into actionable ideas in the context of housing in Canada. Good policymaking is a combination of evidence and action driven by curiosity and a willingness to learn.
The Task Forces will take back the Advisory Committee’s suggestions, submit finalized drafts and then present their reports in March 2023 during the Final Conference in Ottawa. The public will be invited to attend so look for an invite to hear Jessie and this year’s Fellows share their findings.
Photo: Jessie Gill, left, sits with her Task Force teammates Leslie Muñoz, centre, and Scott Stirrett, right, on a boat in Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife. Credit: Rami Gallego.