Trinity One Public Policy Stream

Welcome to the Public Policy stream of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program at Trinity College in the University of Toronto.

The Public Policy stream has two main goals. The first is to provide a broad introduction to the study and practice of public policy in Canada and beyond. The second is to provide an introduction that is intimate, immersive, and interdisciplinary.


A Broad Introduction

The Public Policy stream examines some of the most challenging issues that confront governments at all levels while exploring both how decisions and choices have been made, and what ought to be done. We tackle issues in the development and nature of both the public sphere and the concept of the public good, issues in the history of Canadian public policy, and issues in international, national, provincial, and municipal policy, such as municipal governance, legal aid, immigration, judicial activism, prostitution, harm reduction, sustainable health care, international mining regulation, the responsibility to protect, global warming, and energy production.

The Public Policy stream’s partner, The School of Public Policy and Governance (SPPG) at the University of Toronto, offers access to professional seminars, speaker series, conferences, symposia, and roundtables. SPPG is also a possible destination for students of the Public Policy stream, offering both an undergraduate Major, and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree. (Note: The SPPG Major is relatively strict about requirements and core courses, and so requires planning.)

The University of Toronto’s undergraduate major in Ethics, Society, and Law (“ES&L,” pronounced “E, S, and L”), hosted by Trinity College, is another destination for students of the Public Policy stream. Students who do well in Trinity One Public Policy are given special consideration when they request the ES&L major (at the end of first year). One of the many post-graduate destinations of ES&L majors is SPPG’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree. 


Stream Requirements

Students in the Public Policy stream enrol in two Trinity One seminar credits in their first year.

TRN160Y - Public Policy and the Public Good 

What is public policy? Is there such a thing as the public good? This seminar course examines the notion of a “public” and a central ideological issue of our time: what is the purpose of government in a liberal democratic society? Drawing on readings in philosophy and political theory, the course considers a variety of approaches to interpreting the nature of the public good and asks how policy makers should respond when competing goods (e.g., freedom and security) clash with each other. Following discussion of these topics, the course turns to ethical questions underlying a selection of major policy issues in the world today.

TRN161Y - Making Public Policy Work 

The basic functions of government in Canada include keeping citizens safe, ensuring public health, fostering economic growth, and preserving the federation. What are the best ways to tackle these challenges? When is government action justified? How do we know what kinds of public policy will work and what will not? How do we assess the effectiveness of a given policy? This seminar course studies the history of responses by Canadian governments to a range of public policy problems and, in a series of case studies, examines a selection of the most important areas of federal and provincial activity today.

An Intimate, Immersive, and Interdisciplinary Experience

The small-group, discussion-oriented, seminar courses are the heart of the program. They provide a rigorous introduction to the central issues in Public Policy through a pedagogical process that allows students and instructors to get to know each other, to work collaboratively, and to develop individual perspectives—benefits only deepened by the requirement that students take two classes of this type at the same time with the same classmates. Each student is immersed in a rigorous academic endeavour, but also an interpersonal and engaging experience.

Furthermore, the nature of the immersion transcends discipline-based education in that it addresses directly issues of Public Policy as such, not merely the economic, historical, political, philosophical, etc., approaches to those issues. For example, each of international law, political theory, sociology, and ethics treats the legitimacy of war differently, for there are different disciplinary approaches to the issue. However, a war is a war, a single multifarious, and dreadful concrete thing, and it is important to consider all the relevant disciplinary approaches to get as complete a picture as possible of that thing. Of course, this generalizes to other issues as well, and the program makes the interdisciplinary approach a core value, drawing on the considerable disciplinary resources available at the University of Toronto.


What Students Are Saying

I knew very little about public policy before taking this program, which was actually one of the reasons I chose to do it. It was challenging, but I developed skills you can’t get from huge first year lectures, and I hardly go a day without thinking about something we talked about in the program. I truly believe the things I learned in Trinity One Public Policy would be useful for just about any course of study at UofT, especially in the social sciences.

--Celia Wandio (Public Policy stream 2012-13)

The stream’s two seminar courses divide roughly into assessments of what ought to be done, on the one hand, and how things get done, on the other hand. Together the courses provide a foundation for understanding the norms and forces at work in formulating and implementing public policy. The small class sizes allow for uniquely stimulating and involved discussions on a wide range of topics, and the class environment is one that fosters healthy debate and constructive criticism amongst peers. Trinity One Public Policy was definitely the highlight of my first year at UofT.

--Peter Gatti (Public Policy stream 2012-13)

The Public Policy stream is a great fit for anyone interested in politics, history, and philosophy. It offers both breadth and depth through the study of recent contentious issues in municipal, provincial, federal, and foreign policy, historical case studies, and a survey of important moments in the history of political philosophy and culture. Within a university with such a large student body the intimacy of the program opened doors to lasting personal contact with professors and connections with like-minded students. I would often leave class enlightened by our thought-provoking discussions. The program ignited my love for learning and certainly made my first year at the UofT more intellectually stimulating.

--Madeleine Chin-Yee (Public Policy stream 2012-13)


Co-curricular Events

Trinity One co-curricular lunches with guest speakers occur about every third Tuesday between noon and 2:00 p.m. at Trinity. Students are encouraged to keep this time slot open.  

The co-curricular events draw upon the rich resources of the University of Toronto's School of Public Policy and Governance, Centre for EthicsMunk School of Global Affairs, and the Faculty of Medicine and the University of Toronto Affiliated Hospitals. These events enable students in all Trinity One streams to meet guest speakers and to engage in informal but high-level conversation with one another, their professors, and guest experts.

Recent Events

Some of the guests who visited the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program during the 2013-14 academic year to discuss their work included the following, each of whom addressed the Trinity One community over lunch and kindly agreed to be interviewed by a faculty member or student.

Michael Ignatieff

Audrey Macklin

Graeme Smith

Natalie Zemon Davis 

Robyn Doolittle

What Instructors Are Saying

The Trinity One pedagogical environment engages students, brings out the best in them, and encourages them to apply themselves. The program is blessed with some of the best incoming undergraduates in the country, something the teaching staff is keenly aware of.

Having an academic home at Trinity, and access to immense research facilities at the University of Toronto, Trinity One Public Policy instructors work in intimate discussion-based classes with some of the most accomplished young men and women in Canada—all of them immersed in challenging both themselves and each other to better understand the greatest challenges of our time. There is no better academic experience.

--John Duncan teaches TRN160Y1 Public Good and Public Policy, and is the director of the Ethics, Society, and Law program at Trinity. He is Vice President of the Canadian Peace Research Association, founding academic director of the Humanities for Humanity program, and founder of the society for the study of Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture. He has co-edited a volume on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as well as issues of the journal PhaenEx, and written chapters, articles, reviews and opinion pieces, on politics, the history of philosophy, and continental philosophy.

The program brings together the best of Trinity College and the University of Toronto. It affords talented students and faculty in public policy the opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other. It is an exceptional first year learning experience and I am grateful for the chance to be part of it.

--Julie Gilmour teaches TRN161Y1, and is a scholar of Canadian History, Immigration, Race, Citizenship and International Relations. During the 1990s she was a part of the movement to document Russian historical sources newly available in the former Soviet archives. Her doctoral work looked at the movement of European Refugees to Canada after World War Two and her postdoctoral research is forthcoming in 2014 as a book entitled, Trouble on Main Street: W.L. Mackenzie King, Reason, Race and the Vancouver Riots.


Useful Readings in Public Policy

The following lists were compiled from suggestions made by past and current Trinity One instructors. The readings would be useful for students to look over if they wanted to review material before classes began.

No reading is required before classes begin.

Because each instructor may revise his or her syllabus during the summer months, it cannot be guaranteed that any of these texts will end up on any particular syllabus.

Sometimes a particular edition or translation of a text will be required in a course (which is not indicated here).


TRN160Y1 Public Policy and the Public Good

Various texts from the history of political philosophy discuss the public good. Classics include Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, John of Salisbury’s The Statesman’s Book, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hobbes’ Leviathan, Locke’s Two Treatises of Civil Government, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Rousseau’s Social Contract, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Mill’s On Liberty, Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, Weber’s Economy and Society, and Rawls’ Theory of Justice. This is not an exhaustive list, and no version of TRN160Y1 could endeavour to cover most of the texts, but for political philosophers concerned with the public good these texts are significant.

Contemporary Canadian public policy issues are discussed in many forums. Here are a few that may be of interest, roughly from the left to the right of the political spectrum:

TRN161Y1 Making Public Policy Work

  • Arthur Silver, The French-Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900
  • Patricia Roy, A White Man’s Province: British Columbia Politicians  and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914
  • Norman Hillmer and J.L. Granatstein, From Empire to Umpire, 2nd Edition
  • Peter Neary, On to Civvy Street: Canada’s Rehabilitation Program for  Veterans of the Second World War
  • Judith Mackenzie, Environmental Politics in Canada: Managing the Commons into the Twenty-First Century
  • Graeme Smith, The Dogs are Eating them Now
  • Michael D. Stevenson, Canada’s Greatest Wartime Muddle