The School of Public Policy & Administration (SPPA) hosted its annual breakfast event on Oct. 3. The event took place downtown to enable students and alumni, many of whom work in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), to come together and discuss one of the pressing issues of the day facing policy-makers and the public service. Some 80 participating students, alumni and faculty affiliated with SPPA were at the event. The Minister of Children & Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, Michael Coteau, was the keynote presenter. He spoke about combatting systemic racism – the foundation of Ontario’s three-year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan.
Launched in March 2017 after a series of community consultations, the Anti-Racism Strategic Plan is spearheaded by the Anti-Racism Directorate, which works across government to identify policies and processes in the public sector that systematically disadvantage racialized groups. Coteau highlighted that the plan is a crucial step forward because it explicitly acknowledges that a policy of multiculturalism has not eliminated racism in Ontario, and that racism takes on a variety of forms, from conscious to unconscious. Compelling excerpts from the community consultations were shared by Coteau at the event showing the lived experiences of individuals and families from racialized communities.
In his remarks, Coteau emphasized the importance of data collection in identifying existing racial inequities and measuring progress with changing policies and practices. He said the goal of eliminating discrimination is not only important and valuable to individuals and their communities, but to Ontario. He said that if people are unable to reach their full potential due to discrimination, both the economy and society will ultimately lose out.
After the minister’s address, a lively Q&A ensued. Some of the questions asked included: How do we ensure that the progress made under the plan is not undone by successive governments and that it is enforced effectively? How can we expand the plan beyond the public sector to include the private sector? How do individual units within the public service determine if they are in fact in compliance with the plan?
In his closing comments, Coteau noted the diversity the SPPA student body in its Bachelor of Public Administration (BPA) and Master of Public Policy and Administration (MPPAL) programs, and discussed with individual students and alumni the work they do in the broader Ontario public service.
Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Philipps also highlighted the commitment to diversity and advancement of human rights by SPPA and York University. She thanked the minister for his participation at the event, which brings together leaders in public policy and administration with current SPPA students.
Also attending the breakfast were: Akwatu Khenti, assistant deputy minister with the Anti-Racism Directorate; George Bancroft, policy adviser with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services; Greg Sorbara, York University chancellor; and Barbara Hall, former mayor of Toronto and chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Hall is also a member of the SPPA Advisory Committee.