Our most impactful year yet at The Think Tank about Tomorrow
Dear friends of the Public Policy Forum,
A personal note from me as we pause to reflect on last year’s accomplishments, as well as our ambitions for 2024.
I have been President and CEO at PPF for seven years now, and I’m thrilled to say that 2023 was by far our most impactful year yet. I anticipate that 2024 will surpass even this year’s high bar. As we refresh our strategy for 2024-2029 we are turning to our partners and friends for their perspectives on how PPF can continue and increase its impactful work.
Several years back, PPF identified four major and intersecting changes afoot in the world, which posed serious challenges to policymakers and their collaborations with others. These were — and are — geopolitical, technological, energy and democratic change. They have animated our work plans at PPF in becoming, as our strategy says, The Think Tank about Tomorrow. Our talented team, in partnership with members from different orders of government, business, unions, the post-secondary sector, Indigenous groups and civil society, is producing ever-more relevant programming and putting forward increasingly impactful policy advice.
PPF’s secret sauce is serving our cause of ‘Good Policy, Better Canada’ well: Being relentlessly pragmatic. Thinking beyond the headlines. Eschewing partisanship. Keeping our eyes fixed on the public and national interest. Insisting on civil discussion. Communicating clearly and via a variety of platforms. Involving younger Canadians. And mostly, working with those on the front lines of issues. Here are some of the ways that manifested itself in 2023:
Our spring Canada Growth Summit and Testimonial Dinner in Toronto buzzed with energy and promise. We heard of Canada’s immense leadership potential across a number disciplines, including life sciences, artificial intelligence and clean energy policy. We also heard the alarm bell: Janice Stein, founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, told us that “sharply defined industrial strategies and security strategies” must build on new technologies — but “even more important, we have to execute on those strategies. And that’s a stretch. We have to do better than we’ve been doing.”
At the Testimonial Dinner, one of the honourees, John Risley, beseeched the other 1,200 people in the room to participate fully in making the country better. “We all need to be involved, we need to be educated, we need to understand these problems and we need to talk about them. That’s how they’re going to get solved.” Another honouree, Lisa Raitt, spoke of leadership. “When you can make things better, you must.”
At the 2024 Canada Growth Summit on April 11, 2024, we will be doubling down on Canada’s lagging productivity, economic growth and living standards. The evening will be dedicated to the greatest policy shmooze in the land and the recognition of five new entrants to our PPF Honour Roll, plus the 2024 winners of the Hyman Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism and the TD Emerging Leader Award.
Policy research and engagement
Democracy: This summer, we published a report called Far and Widening: The Rise of Polarization in Canada, which focused on young adults and made the case that Canada is not immune to the corrosive forces sweeping democracies worldwide. The report drew from in-depth polling of more than 1,500 young adults; eight papers on polarization from academics, commissioned for PPF by the McGill Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy; and interviews with politicians, political staffers and strategists, journalists, experts, activists, Indigenous leaders and regular citizens. It tapped into a sense of alienation shared among young people regardless of their political views. While there has not been the same populist surge at the ballot box in Canada as elsewhere, the report found that polarization has arrived here in the form of partisan sorting, feedback loops, identity-driven public discourse, performance politics and an erosion of diversity in viewpoints. Building on our democracy practice, we hope to follow up in 2024 with a deeper dive into the relationship between information sources and polarization.
Atlantic Momentum: Coming out of the pandemic, we believed Atlantic Canada was on a roll and wanted to test the thesis. Our resulting Atlantic Momentum Index was endorsed by 17 former premiers and deputy premiers and has changed the tenor of public conversation within and about the region. The next phase of this multi-year initiative looks at areas of greatest potential for progress, such as lowering inter-regional barriers to the movement of goods, capital and people, building on the advantage of Atlantic Canada’s strong sense of ‘belonging’ and benefitting from clean energy development. PPF has already published a major report on the region’s offshore wind potential as well as further examination of belonging as a competitive advantage to foster talent, productivity, and well-being in the region.
Energy Future Forum: Now entering its fifth year, EFF produced an ambitious piece of economic modelling aimed at better understanding the relative costs and benefits of two competing approaches to net-zero: an accelerated phaseout of fossil fuels versus the aggressive decarbonization of fossil fuels alongside clean energy development. The relative economic consequences were captured in the title: The $100 Billion Difference. A few months later, PPF’s Project of the Century report detailed the challenges of doubling or even tripling Canada’s electricity supply — and the huge imperative to pick up the pace of building new things. Leading up to COP28, PPF also published a deep explainer on the continuing opportunity for Canadian leadership around Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and how carbon trading mechanisms can help unlock funds for the energy transition.
Life Sciences: In an effort to ensure Canada remains focused on bolstering health security and preparedness before the next inevitable pandemic, PPF created an ongoing meeting place for pharmaceutical and medical technology companies, federal and provincial governments, regulators, academics, non-profits and civil society leaders. Their goal is to help position Canada to identify comparative advantages and develop a stronger ecosystem that will provide us with ‘strategic tradables’ that will allow for a more robust and resilient system for the future. The group’s first report, titled The Next One: Preparing Canada for Another Health Emergency, laid the groundwork for the next phase of the project, which will concentrate on the life sciences assets Canada should build on.
Health Care: PPF brought together health leaders from across Canada to publish a series of reports called Taking Back Health Care: How to Accelerate People-Centred Reform Now. Informed by some of the country’s leading health-care reformers, a series of publications argued for a standard of access to primary care no more than 30 minutes from where someone lives or works. The report also made the case that access to a primary care team should be no more complicated than the expectation that every child in Canada will enjoy access to a nearby public school. In early 2024, we plan to publish on the critical role of data and digital tools in any modern health-care system.
We were pleased in 2023 to launch an interchange program with the Government of Canada that has temporarily brought Marian Campbell Jarvis, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic & Program Policy at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to our policy team as the first PPF-Public Service Senior Fellow.
PPF Academy and Action Canada
A record 240 candidates applied to participate in our Action Canada public policy fellowship for emerging leaders this year. Of note, a new partnership with Indspire resulted in five Indigenous Fellows among the 17 participating in the program. The Fellows are focusing on the theme of sustainable transportation and have been exposed to regional dynamics during study tours in Halifax, Whitehorse and Windsor. They will share their research during a national hybrid presentation in Montreal early next year.
PPF Academy, in partnership with Mila, the Quebec AI Institute, also delivered the first two modules of a new learning program called AI Policy Compass: Navigating the Opportunities and Risks of Artificial Intelligence. This program is tailored to policy professionals from across sectors charged with developing policies and regulations and introducing AI into public services. A long waiting list for the sold-out December cohort has prompted the addition of more course dates and locations for late winter/early spring 2024.
As well, the Academy just wrapped up the latest edition of its Public Policy Leadership Program, offered in partnership with the Telfer School of Management. An impressive group of mid-career public servants had the opportunity to further develop their policymaking and interpersonal skills amid ever greater complexity and stakeholder involvement. We are thrilled to welcome recently retired Assistant Deputy Minister Rachel Wernick as the program’s new director, and look forward to the extensive policy expertise she will bring to the next edition of the program in spring 2024.
We rebranded our critically acclaimed policy podcast recently, renaming it WONK (which reputedly stands for WithOut Normal Knowledge). WONK will focus on important areas of policy debate and the people driving them. Early guests have included Bob Rae on the United Nations at a time of multiple global crises; Canadian Olympian Jayna Hefford on her work in launching the new Professional Women’s Hockey League; digital media entrepreneur Jeff Elgie on Village Media’s 10th anniversary and his take on the Online News Act; and Peter Nicholson on the opportunity of offshore wind power — and his early mentorship of Elon Musk.
As well, we launched a new weekly Atlantic Momentum newsletter for more than 4,000 highly engaged subscribers, with plans for more subject-specific newsletters in 2024; we also debuted our PPF Explains series, publishing explanatory journalism on everything from the Online News Act to the importance of the Atlantic Loop. We ended the year as the leading Canada-focused think tank on LinkedIn, having earned more than 2,000 media mentions for our work this year, including in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Financial Post, and CBC radio and TV affiliates across the country.
As a precious and respected non-partisan voice, PPF continues to bring together public policy leaders from across sectors, regions, generations and viewpoints to create good policy for a better Canada. We look forward to more, and better, in 2024 as we work with our members to find solutions to some of the most important issues of our time.
We thank you for your continued support, welcome any thoughts and advice you may have for a better PPF and offer our best wishes for the new year.
President and CEO, Public Policy Forum