All About Alumni / Winter 2013
60 Seconds with Vass Bednar

Vass Bednar talks about making public policy fun – including policy-making activities while grocery shopping


If Vass Bednar (MPP 2010) has her way, the decision-making that affects us all – about, say, health or education policy or public safety – will be a lot more accessible and a lot more fun. Bednar, currently manager of engagement at U of T’s School of Public Policy and Governance, is also a fellow in the Action Canada leadership program. She’s launching a career in public policy (a field that encompasses all the rules and regulations that govern our public lives), and you get the feeling when she’s in charge, things are going to change. Here, Vass Bednar encourages interviewer Lisa Bryn Rundle to speak up.

How can a person adore public policy?
For me public policy is medicine for the state; it’s how we make things better together. And that’s very compelling to me.

Did you have a defining public-policy moment growing up?
There was a time I was bike-riding as a six- or seven-year-old kid, and I was concerned because there was a ravine with just one small safety rail. And I was like, “Mom, we have to do something. Kids could fall in this river.” My mom helped me write to the mayor. And he put up two extra rails.

Such early success! If you could change one thing about how policies are devised, what would it be?
I’d like to see more pie-in-the-sky thinking. Because when we’re fantasizing we get to our ideal scenarios and we can use policy to help realize some of those.

So, what’s one of your public-policy fantasies?
It would be that you’re in a grocery store. And all of a sudden there are lights flashing and it’s like – “This is a policy emergency!” And for the next three hours, you and everyone else in that grocery store are workshopping a solution to a public problem.

I love that – but I’ve got things to do.
OK, you do just an hour of power. With snacks.

You’re working on a board game called WONX. How do you play?
One person’s the federation and other people are provinces. It’s competitive but also co-operative. As a province you have private goals that may be incompatible with the public goals, and it’s up to you whether you’re going to disclose them.

How do you win?
I don’t know yet. There’s no “end game” in federalism.

You blog. Should more policy-makers engage the public in informal ways?
There’s this idea that everything around public policy has to be serious and devoid of emotion, and I’m not into that. I want to scrap with you. I want to tear up. I don’t want to throw something at you, but I could be tempted. Why are we always trying to take out the emotion in public policy? It can be very emotional.

Watch for WONX on Kickstarter.com next year.


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