New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network

Mario Levesque

Mario Levesque - 21) What is your official current position and title?

Assistant Professor
Department of Politics and International Relations
Mount Allison University

2) What is your educational background?

I love learning about things and always have lots of questions which has led me to be a lifelong learner.  After attending the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, I obtained a diploma in Agricultural Business Management from Centralia College of Agricultural Technology (1992).  This experience sparked my interest in public policy and over the next ten years while working full-time in private industry, I completed my undergraduate degree in Canadian politics at the University of Western Ontario (BA – Hons, 2003).  Still curious about how government works (or not!), I pursued Masters studies full-time obtaining my MA in Canadian politics in 2004 (University of Western Ontario).  I then obtained my doctorate in political science from McMaster University (2008) where I trained as a Canadian comparative public policy and public administration analyst with a focus on environmental and social policy.

3)  Talk a little about your career path:  Where did your passion for the research/work that you do originate and how did it develop?

Like most New Brunswick roads, my career path has been a winding one filled with opportunities and challenges.  My curiosity surrounds decision-making processes and, in particular, how seemingly similar decision-making processes can lead to vastly different outcomes.  This has led me to focus on relationships between industry, government, interest groups and citizens and has been an outgrowth from my previous private sector work in the environmental field in Ontario.  As part of an industry association, I served on a government-industry committee to address workplace health and safety issues.  The committee worked to develop training programs for small and medium environmental businesses across the province.  The programs were highly successful when fully implemented with businesses experiencing greatly reduced compensation premiums thereafter.  While this committee’s work was ongoing, I was asked to serve on a committee charged with recommending a regulatory framework for pesticide use in the province.  Industry concerns were minimized in this process and the government proceeded to implement an onerous and unworkable regulatory system that resulted in little uptake by businesses.  After a few years of implementation failure, government reconvened the committee to figure out “how to make it work”.  Many changes ensued and after several years, a pesticide regulatory system was developed to ensure the protection of public, environmental and economic health, the triple bottom line.  The interesting and frustrating part about the pesticides issue was that it was industry that had initially approached the government to develop a regulatory framework given regulatory deficiencies it had identified!  These experiences left me puzzled as to why you can work with government some times and get excellent results while at other times they leave you utterly frustrated.  It is this puzzlement about decision-making processes and stakeholder interactions that led me to pursue doctoral studies in public policy and public administration.

4) Tell us about one or two of your current projects?

One project I am currently working on examines by whom and how scientific evidence is used in the evaluation of energy from waste plants (e.g., use of scrap tires by pulp and paper mills and cement manufacturing plants) to provide clues for how to better incorporate evidence in decision-making.  Results to date suggest that proponents of proposals (e.g., businesses) significantly under-provide rigorous scientific assessments in support of their proposals and overly rely on politics for approvals.  This contrasts those who oppose such projects who (1) tend to access evidence in the popular media, which may reflect Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBYISM) syndrome and short consultation timelines, which is dismissed in decision-making or, (2) provide significant and detailed evidence (i.e. peer-reviewed) in support of their opposition which decision-makers find challenging to handle and often leads to delays and further study.  Whether one is pro or anti proposal, a significant opportunity exists for academics to engage in the policy process (and which appears to be minimal).

Two other projects I am working on focus on disability policy and fisheries policy.

5) How do you see your research/work in terms of possibly contributing to evidence-based public policy?

My research provides suggestions or clues for how to improve current public policy and, more specifically, for how to change public policy (illuminates the intricacies of the decision-making process).  However, to be truthful, I find the term “evidence-based public policy” (emphasis added) perplexing.  It suggests that we previously did not use evidence in public policy making.  While there may be a sliver of truth to that in some cases with a bureaucrat or politician pushing their pet project, it has been my experience that in the overwhelming majority of cases evidence is used extensively to inform decision-makers.  We look to researchers to elaborate and test out theories and work with partners to implement pilot projects, look to other jurisdictions to see what has been done, both good and bad, as well as compare that to our own experiences in what we have done over the years to devise plans of action to address pressing public policy problems.  Where evidence may get dismissed, minimized or tortured is in decision-making.  People forget that the final decision is a political one which encompasses a different body of considerations which often leads to seemingly incomprehensible outcomes and a renewed quest for the use of evidence in decision-making.  What I am saying is that there are two entities at “play”:  (1) facts or evidence surrounding a proposed change in policy; and, (2) politics which is often murky.  The end result is the interplay between the two with most people forgetting or dismissing the latter and focusing on the former, usually to their peril.

6) Discuss any past achievements that were significant to your professional path?  Have any contributed to the promotion of evidence-based public policy?

It is hard to select “the one significant achievement” that propelled me in my career.  Looking broadly at the situation, I would have to say that working with others such as community groups in helping them achieve their public policy goals is what keeps me going and feeds my curiosity.  What is satisfying is when you know your input has meaningfully contributed to a change in policy such as the reconsideration of evidence or when the process for addressing an issue changes due to your input.  The examples above related to workplace health and safety, pesticides (belatedly), and more recently in relation to energy from waste plants when modifications to a proposal were made in light of considerations put forth by a group I worked with are all examples of evidence-based public policy.

7) Describe in a couple of sentences your involvement with RRPS-NB and how your relationship with the Network has contributed to your research/work and/or to social/economic policy?

I was introduced to the Network late last summer when I arrived at Mount Allison University.  To date, my involvement has largely surrounded networking with fellow researchers to exchange ideas, a relationship which I hope to formalize in the near future through research projects.

8) Any last thoughts?

I am a native New Brunswicker, originally from Grand Falls, and am happy to be back in my home province after many years in Ontario.  My spouse, Marilyn, and I along with our dog, Oliver (German shepherd/Border collie mix), enjoy the many hiking trails and natural beauty the province has to offer.

Copyright 2013
A Ginger Design