Sixteen of Canada’s most dynamic emerging leaders gathered in Ottawa in June, eager to be told what policy issue they would be diving into for the next 10 months. When they were served cricket flour rhubarb muffins, it was clear what would be on their policy menu: Food.
The 2018-19 Action Canada Fellows will develop their leadership skills and policy expertise as they explore the future of food policy with visits to farms and labs, and by hearing from prominent experts in the field. And next March, they will present their carefully researched recommendations to policy-makers.
By following this blog, you’ll get a seat at the table as the Fellows complete the five study tours that make up the Action Canada program. Here’s what happened in the first course:
Food policy isn’t just about what’s on our plates. It’s also about all the steps that get what we eat safely from seed to stomach. It’s about building our economy, too: As PPF and others have written, Canada has the potential to be an agri-food powerhouse. And it’s about recognizing that food brings people together: its use as a social convenor is as powerful as its ability to nourish us.
What the Fellows heard
- Don Buckingham of the Canadian Agriculture Policy Institute enthusiastically shared his passion for agriculture with a quick history lesson. Throughout history, he told the Fellows, food safety has been people’s primary concern and that remains true today. The cricket flour rhubarb muffins he had baked and served to the group were not only safe but tasty and high in protein. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends that much of the new protein the world’s growing population needs could come from insects.
- Chris Forbes, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provided an optimistic assessment of science and innovation’s ability to mitigate potential food shortages and impacts of climate change, and experts from the federal public service drilled down further on a range of issues including food safety and security and Canada’s food policy and explained how they consult with Canadians. Among their revelations: A vast majority of respondents in consultations are women. And the Canada Food Guide is the second most downloaded document from federal government websites, so it’s important to get it right. (In case you were wondering, the most downloaded one is a tax form.)
- A food tour of the ByWard Market capped off the thematic study tour, weaving Ottawa’s history with interactions with farmers and producers—and a taste of local haskaps, too.
- The University of Toronto’s Sunil Johal, followed by Action Canada alumni Jim Mitchell (a former advisor) and Catherine Jobin (a former Fellow), gave the Fellows an insider’s view of the policy-making process in Canada.
When the media calls
No matter what policy theme each Action Canada cohort studies, the participants get robust leadership training to support their career and their efforts to change Canada’s policy landscape. Communicating their message and steering the media narrative is a critical skill that the Fellows learned from MediaStyle. Their media training included tools to respond to a crisis, and each did an on-camera interview so they could put theory into practice.
Almost 200 policy leaders from across the country are Action Canada alumni—a network of support and advice that will serve the Fellows throughout their careers. This year’s cohort broke bread with some of their predecessors and heard from alumna Ayesha Harji on her experience in 2015. She outlined the program’s deliverables: an op-ed and a major report to be presented at the end of the program in March. Through practical advice and a bit of levity, she put the cohort at ease; while this is a substantive exercise, it isn’t meant to fix all the world’s problems. Alumna and HR expert Rann Sharma spoke on team-building as the newly formed Task Forces got together for the first time and attempted to build structures out of spaghetti and marshmallows.
At the end of the first study tour the Fellows fanned back out across the country to their homes. Over the course of the summer, the Task Forces will focus their research topics and the Fellows will hear speakers on food and leadership during webinars. They’ll reconvene in Saskatoon in September to see agri-food policy in action.