Canada's pressing public policy challenges and how to tackle them: Graduating A&S student Pierre Sarlieve

June 14, 2023 by David Goldberg - A&S News

As a public policy analyst and trainee at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), graduating student Pierre Sarlieve focuses on restoring trust and fostering democratic values between people and the institutions that govern them.

“Each of us has the capacity to effect change and influence the future,” says Sarlieve, who is graduating with his master’s of public policy from the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.

“We desperately need collective action to make a difference, and every step in this direction is a stride toward a more equitable world,” continues Sarlieve, who was just nominated for the Munk School’s Janice Stein Student Leadership Award.

He cites voter apathy, the rise of misinformation and increasing public skepticism as evidence we need to rapidly refresh the relationship between citizens and government.

“Challenges like climate change, the artificial intelligence revolution and rising inequality require recognizing their connections,” he says. “Solving these issues isn't an isolated task and it requires a comprehensive approach.”

Ahead of convocation, Sarlieve spoke about why U of T is the right place for an aspiring public policy analyst to learn the craft. He also reflected upon Canada’s biggest challenge this century and explained how he’ll be part of the solution.

Why did you choose U of T’s Munk School to earn your masters?

Munk goes beyond traditional classroom learning to provide tangible skills in brief writing, as well as legal and political analysis. Working with renowned faculty who have extensive experience with domestic politics and international affairs helps you grow as a policy professional. Professors are also quite enthusiastic about one-on-one engagement as you debate career choices.

How do you explain your work to people who aren’t familiar with the topic?

Policymaking is like solving a complex puzzle with limited time and resources. It requires a nuanced understanding of legal dynamics and economics to foster cooperation between government, experts and the public. At the heart of my role is the effort to bridge the gap between politicians’ objectives and the actual policy outcomes, as well as knowing which economic and legal levers to pull to improve the well-being of our economy and society.

How is your work going to make the world a better place?

I’m driven to modernize our political institutions so we can develop responsible and reliable policies and services. My work is grounded in a desire to place citizens at the centre of new policies, enabling them to have greater control and involvement. I want to cultivate a virtuous cycle of trust and engagement amid 21st-century challenges.

How did U of T prepare you to succeed in your current role at OECD?

U of T equipped me with the academic knowledge, practical skills and global perspective to excel in my role at the OECD’s Network of Economic Regulators. I work with many sectors including energy, telecommunications and governments. This requires analytical thinking skills and a knack for fostering dialogue between actors with diverse backgrounds and intentions.

The Munk School enabled me to analyze complex situations under tight deadlines and propose innovative solutions to policy challenges. I also gained a great understanding of the real-world implications of policy decisions. I’m inspired to succeed because I know my work helps the public access essential services.

Finally, I was honoured to be a recipient of the Paul Cadario Fellowship in Public Policy, awarded to the top Master of Public Policy students in their second year. The fellowship served as both a reward and a launching pad, encouraging me to exhibit my skills and knowledge in more public-facing roles. This motivation, spurred by the fellowship, has been instrumental in propelling me towards my career aspirations in the realm of public policy.

What is Canada’s biggest public policy challenge right now?

Canada's greatest challenge is striking a balance between the immediate needs to alleviate the cost of living while also addressing the impacts of climate change. The gravity of this challenge stems not only from a need to improve well-being of Canadians and their faith in the system’s ability to meet their needs, but also the long-term consequences of Canada's capacity to adapt to climate change. We need to drive economic growth through a green transition in our economy, and that's no simple task.

What advice do you have for people considering their masters, in your field and beyond?

Embrace diverse perspectives and experiences to widen your professional outlook and seed new avenues of thinking. It’s not a surprise, for example, that many excellent policymakers once studied engineering. Extensive reading is another powerful tool that can help you understand common policy challenges including democratic deficits, economic vulnerabilities, and systemic change. Reading extensively about our history and past policy decisions can offer invaluable insight and solutions for present-day problems.