Former Estevan resident David Cundall was part of a team that recently won a silver medal at a national competition.
Cundall and three other students from Saskatchewan's Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) placed second at the National Public Administration Case Study Competition held in Kingston, Ontario.
Entrants were handed a fictional case and were asked to provide policy recommendations to a panel of senior leaders from various governments and institutions. This year’s case study, “Canada made me do this — the tragic death of Nelly Traverse,” touched on real-life issues of Aboriginal suicide, social and economic challenges in Aboriginal communities, national security, the power of social media within a policy context, and the impact of events on business and foreign affairs.
A week before the competition, the JSGS team was handed the case study. The fictitious Traverse was a First Nations woman living on an impoverished reserve in northern Ontario. She posted a video on YouTube in which she lamented her living conditions, and claimed she was a marginalized person in Canada.
“She actually ends up committing suicide on the video,” said Cundall. “That one incident sets off a firestorm of other events, leading to things like a civil disobedience across Canada, and all sorts of political maneuvering. There's a UN resolution condemning Canada's treatment of Aboriginal people, and there are terrorist threats.”
JSGS team members completed a thorough policy analysis of the problem, Cundall said, by identifying the root issues, proposing a series of solutions, and developing tools to evaluate their options.
Aboriginal youth suicide rates on northern reserves and civil disobedience were surface issues, Cundall said.
“One of the main components of our recommendations, and this is what set us apart from some of the other groups, is that we said that those are just symptoms, and that the underlying issues were much deeper, and those were things like Aboriginal poverty, infrastructure deficits on First Nations reserves, poor educational outcomes,” said Cundall.
JSGS members suggested that the federal government partner with the Assembly of First Nations to provide targeted mental health services to northern reserves in need; and to partner with the RCMP to grant people the right to peaceful protest, but to step in when protests become unruly.
“Our long-term strategy was to partner with all Aboriginal governments, as well as the provincial government, to form what we termed as a government-to-government action plan, and that was looking at three levels of government to try to address the long-term issues of Aboriginal poverty, and really implement something that had mutually agreed reporting schedules, as well as mutually agreed key performance indicators,” said Cundall.
Most of the teams pushed for unilateral solutions, but the JSGS team urged a collaborative approach with provincial governments and Aboriginal governments.
Cundall said that it has been collaborative efforts that have had the most success previously.
Cundall qualified to travel to Kingston after competing at an internal JSGS event last fall. There were six or seven teams at the JSGS event, he said, and his team won the qualifier, but JSGS opted to take the four speakers who had the highest marks, and Cundall was one of them.
The other members of the JSGS team that travelled to Kingston were Nicole Callihoo, Dominic French and Julene Restall. Two students are from the University of Regina, and the other two are from the University of Saskatchewan.
Cundall is currently working full-time at the provincial government, and is a part-time graduate student through JSGS at the University of Regina.