The Chancellors’ Challenge is an innovative cross-listed North American Studies and Political Science course run in cooperation with the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada and the Laurier Library. Senior undergraduate students engaged in collaborative, student-centred learning and employed digital tools to develop online projects addressing some of the biggest issues confronting Canada today.

TAUGHT in the winter semester of 2023, The Chancellor’s Challenge brought together third and fourth-year students from distinct academic backgrounds to tackle some of the complex issues facing Canada today. The issues were chosen by Laurier’s current and former chancellors: the Hon. Bob Rae, Eileen Mercier, and John Cleghorn. President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy also posed challenges. Students explored pressing topics confronting Canada, including sustainable development goals, interprovincial trade barriers, defence spending, and the Green Transition.

The chancellor is the ceremonial head of the university. To serve as Laurier’s chancellor, someone must be a person of stature, respect and impeccable character; support the mission, vision and values of Laurier; and be a champion for higher education.

The challenges reflected each Chancellor’s area of expertise, with a particular theme selected by each Chancellor. Deborah MacLatchy, Laurier’s current President and Vice-Chancellor, drew on her background in biological science to challenge students to consider Canada’s transition to a green economy. Current chancellor Eileen Mercier employed her extensive background in business to challenge students to examine the political and economic implications of interprovincial trade barriers. Drawing on his experience in international affairs, the Hon. Bob Rae assigned students the task of assessing Canada’s progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), first outlined by the United Nations in 2015. Finally, John Cleghorn combined his background in business and interest in defence policy when challenging students to find solutions for meeting Canada’s defence spending obligations.

The course was taught by an interdisciplinary team of three instructors: Kevin Spooner, Associate Professor in History and North American studies as well as current director of the LCSC, Mona Elayyan, the Digital Projects and Curation Librarian, and Greg Sennema, Liaison Librarian.

Students benefitted from several library-run workshops on research methods, data management, government publications, and working with primary sources. These workshops were based on those developed for the LCSC’s Copp Scholars program. Students benefitted from the expertise of their instructors, but the inquiry-based and student-centred learning approach taken by the course meant that students had primary responsibility for directing their own learning.

The students relied on two programs by KnightLabs to bring their findings to life: StoryMap and Timeline. StoryMap allows users to design maps that position digital content alongside locations to tell an interactive story. Timeline places digital content on a timeline to present historical events chronologically, offering a visually engaging way to project milestones over time. Students used these tools to display important spatial or linear, qualities of their assigned challenges.

President & Vice-Chancellor MacLatchy’s Challenge:

The Green Transition

What does the transition to a green economy look like? How can Canada end its economic dependence on fossil fuels in a way that preserves our economy and doesn’t leave anyone behind?

Deborah MacLatchy

President & Vice-Chancellor, 2017 - present

This challenge, posed by President and Vice Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy, sought to answer crucial questions such as the role of provincial governments in either supporting or hindering federal climate efforts. It explored how Canada’s federal system influences national climate endeavors, and the role of municipalities in supporting provincial or federal climate goals. The project provides a comprehensive overview of Canada’s efforts to combat climate change and offers insights into upholding international institutions’ expectations. The overarching message of the project is the significance of unity and collaboration among different levels of government. It underscores the challenges and potential opportunities on the path to a sustainable and green future, serving as a guiding light for Canada’s journey towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable economic future.

“Chancellors’ Challenge was the most unique course I took during my undergraduate studies. Having the opportunity to focus on a single research project for an entire semester resulted in a high-quality outcome, and the unique software used allowed for a much more appropriate analyses of Canada’s green transition than a traditional research paper would have. I cannot recommend the course highly enough!”

— Evan Cameron

Chancellor Mercier’s Challenge:

Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Canada lacks a unified system for dealing with interprovincial trade. Can we break the logjam and foster better federal-provincial cooperation to remove trade barriers and improve labour mobility?

Eileen Mercier

Chancellor, 2016 - present

Chancellor Eileen Mercier encouraged students to delve into the intricate web of trade barriers that hinder the free flow of goods and services across Canadian provinces. They examined issues like the alcohol trade barrier and the challenges surrounding nursing licensure.

By exploring potential incentives for trade barrier removal, the students shed light on the future of interprovincial trade in Canada and its relevance in a globalized world. The students’ StoryMap includes interactive elements such as maps, videos and images that help illustrate the intricate relationship between federal and interprovincial responsibilities in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Chancellor Rae’s Challenge:

The Sustainable Development Goals

How do we integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into the budget and accountability mechanisms that in all four levels of government in Canada: federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous? What are the challenges and, and why do the SDGs matter—or not?

The Hon. Bob Rae

Chancellor, 2003 - 2008

Students working on the Hon. Bob Rae’s challenge examined how Canada is tackling the SDGs at different levels of government, emphasizing the interconnected nature of the seventeen goals. Their work underscores the challenges the country faces in achieving these targets, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project recommends developing local, provincial, and national SDG targets and indicators or employing tools like the Community Capital Framework (CCF) to enhance sustainable development efforts, ensure the SDGs’ success, and pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable society.

“The Chancellor’s Challenge allowed me to explore Canada’s progress with the Sustainable Development Goals in a way that enabled me to simultaneously improve my project management skills. By dedicating my entire semester to a single project, I was able to go deep into the aspects of the SDGs that excited me which became an endless source of motivation and curiosity. I highly recommend The Chancellors Challenge to anyone who wants to challenge themselves with a substantial research project related to issues facing Canadian society.”

— Avery Wilson

Chancellor Cleghorn’s Challenge:

Defence Spending

How can Canada—a founding member of NATO—meet its defence spending obligations and overcome chronic shortcomings in defence procurement?

John Cleghorn

Chancellor, 1996 - 2003

The final challenge was posed by former chancellor John Cleghorn. The student’s Timeline educates readers on Canada’s defense spending and policy over several decades. Canada has consistently fallen short of NATO’s recommended defense spending target of 2 per cent of GDP, currently allocating only 1.27 per cent of its GDP to defense, a figure which has been decreasing since 2020. The country faces challenges in its defense procurement process, making it difficult to keep up with technological trends. While there is concern from NATO commanders and foreign policy observers regarding Canada’s defense spending, ordinary Canadians do not support increased defense spending but favor peaceful conflict resolution strategies. The content provides historical context, discusses the impact of various geopolitical events on defense spending, and highlights the challenges in balancing defense spending with other domestic priorities. It emphasizes the need for increased defense spending to meet international obligations, strengthen the Canadian military, and protect the nation’s security.

“The Chancellor’s Challenge provided me with opportunities to apply my in-class learning to solve a real-world problem. This course also reaffirmed that I want to continue to pursue applied research. As I complete my graduate studies, I will continue to engage in knowledge mobilization that allows me to share the results of my research with community stakeholders and look for practical solutions to real-world problems.”

— Rafael Campos-Gottardo

More from the Chancellors’ Challenge:

Chancellors’ Challenge: The Green Transition

Chancellors’ Challenge: The Green Transition

The Chancellors’ Challenge is an innovative cross-listed North American Studies and Political Science course run in cooperation with the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada and the Laurier Library. Senior undergraduate students engaged in collaborative,...

Chancellors’ Challenge: Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Chancellors’ Challenge: Interprovincial Trade Barriers

The Chancellors’ Challenge is an innovative cross-listed North American Studies and Political Science course run in cooperation with the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada and the Laurier Library. Senior undergraduate students engaged in collaborative,...

Chancellors’ Challenge: The Sustainable Development Goals

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The Chancellors’ Challenge is an innovative cross-listed North American Studies and Political Science course run in cooperation with the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada and the Laurier Library. Senior undergraduate students engaged in collaborative,...

Chancellors’ Challenge: Defence Spending

Chancellors’ Challenge: Defence Spending

The Chancellors’ Challenge is an innovative cross-listed North American Studies and Political Science course run in cooperation with the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada and the Laurier Library. Senior undergraduate students engaged in collaborative,...