“Pleased to be a new Fellow at the University of Toronto School of Public Policy & Governance,” read Guy Giorno’s Twitter account on January 11, 2010. Previous tweets read, “Fact that the Conservative brand is stronger than it was and the Lib/Lib leader brand is weaker,” and “Still trying to justify your false, market-moving story on potash? Pathetic, Don. Just apologise and move on,” directed at CTV show-host Don Martin.
The fact that Giorno has a Twitter account alone distinguishes him from many of his colleagues at U of T; not to mention its content, which often includes back-and-forths with Canada’s most prominent political pundits.
So, who is this most recent addition to U of T’s MPP program’s Fellows?
Until December 2010, Giorno was chief of staff to Prime Minister Harper, a position he held for two and a half years. Prior to that, Giorno served as chief of staff to then-Premier of Ontario Mike Harris, another Conservative leader. Giorno’s formal education was all at the University of Toronto: he studied science as an undergraduate at St. Mike’s, opting to go straight into U of T Law before finishing his B.Sc. He graduated with a law degree in 1989, and began practicing in 1991.
Throughout his time in university, though, Giorno was also learning about the formation of policy “on the ground.”
“I have been interested in public policy for a long time, and in politics,” he said. “I was an undergraduate student at St. Mike’s college, and then I went to the law school and as you will know from your geography of the university, the law school is just directly across the park from the legislature. During my second and third years of law school-I don’t think the faculty approved of this-I had a part-time job while I was a law student, working at the MPP’s legislature. So I would finish class and run across the park and do work in the legislature, and then run back across the park, so I was very much involved in politics and in government and the legislative process even when I was a U of T student, and maintained my involvement after I graduated, when I practiced law.”
Giorno says that the MPP program, which didn’t exist in his day, “is a great opportunity that people like me never had…what a fantastic degree to go into so many fields with a real, practical sense of how policy is developed, how Canadians are governed.”
The program marks a recent shift in master’s programs from research-based work ostensibly leading to further academia, to more course-based and experiential programs designed to prepare students for jobs. The MPP program, now in its fourth year, offers core courses in public policy as well as electives within the school and university specializing in either domestic or global policy. In addition to their courses, students are required to work in a sector of public policy, whether in government or a non-profit organization, as a component of their degree. A two-year program, the school’s material describes “invited visiting public sector leaders and external researchers bridg[ing] theory and practice, providing contact with senior professionals in government and the broader public, private and community sectors.”
Giorno looks forward to filling that role. “I’m very much looking forward to this — and I’m excited at the very concept that there is such a school, which is unique,” he said. Specifically, Giorno anticipates, “working with students, speaking to them, coaching them — anyone who has an interest in practical public policy — facilitating debates, and being able, in a real and practical sense, to actually talk about how public policy is made.”
He believes his experience provides “a fantastic window on that process [of public policy]…having been there, having been in the room, having heard cabinet ministers.”
Giorno, in his time as a political staffer, has been criticized as hyper-partisan, charged with contributing to the increasingly divisive nature of Canadian politics. Jane Taber of the Globe and Mail described him as “a shadowy figure. He is rarely seen but his influence is felt everywhere.”
Giorno insisted unequivocally that his partisanship will not affect his work in the school. “Oh no, not at all, not at all, not at all. The purpose of the school is to have healthy debates, discussions, and to teach about how things work and how public policy is developed and formulated and how Canadians and Ontarians are governed.”
He qualified, though, that “it is true that our system of government is a political system, and it is a partisan system, and it is made up of partisan actors in the governing system and people who work with them,” crediting the school for offering a mix of partisan and non-partisan (public service) perspectives, as well as both Conservative and Liberal-aligned fellows.
At the end of January, Giorno was appointed national campaign chair of the Conservative party. It is unclear when he will act in this capacity, though, as Prime Minister Harper has maintained he does not want an election in the near future.