Pascale Massot, Assistant Professor at the School of Political Studies and researcher specializing in the political economy of the Asia-Pacific region, joins the cabinet of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne as Senior Advisor. Professor Massot was invited to reprise her role as Advisor, which she previously held from December 2015 until June 2017. We asked her a few questions about this remarkable appointment; here are some excerpts.
Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS): You have returned to the role of Senior Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs as of February 24, 2020; please tell us a little bit about your role.
Pascale Massot (P.M.): As Senior Advisor responsible for the Asia-Pacific, my role will be to provide advice to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the direction of Canadian foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region. In practice, this means supporting and accompanying the Minister in all his meetings, decisions or activities related to this region. It also means acting as an intermediary between the minister's office and a host of key stakeholders, including the diplomats of Global Affairs Canada, the Prime Minister's Office, other elected officials, and interest groups across the country, including nongovernmental organisations. Other responsibilities include writing ministerial speeches on Asia, as well as planning and accompanying the Minister on official trips to the region. These responsibilities must be carried out in a spirit of collaboration and dialogue with the minister's other close associates, whether they be other members of the policy, communications, or parliamentary affairs team. An ongoing challenge for the team is maintaining a strategic horizon, given the rapid pace, incessant demands, unforeseen circumstances, and many competing priorities.
FSS: You are a professor and a researcher; what motivated you to accept this mandate and shift from theory to practice?
P.M.: I chose to pursue an academic career for several reasons, one of which being the deep interest I have for the subjects I study, but also because I want to have an impact beyond the academic world. This impact can be achieved in many ways, but this position is quite a unique opportunity to translate into practice my years of academic work and reflection on Canada-China and Canada-Asia relations. I accepted the role because these relations are a crucial area of Canada's foreign relations in the 21st century, and because they are going through a very difficult time right now. So I'm getting involved out of an interest in, and concern about the subject and also out of a sense of civic duty. It is a great privilege.
FSS: What are the benefits, for both parties, of this transfer of knowledge between decision-makers and the academic world?
P.M.: I believe that a fluid connection between the worlds of academia and public policy is important, and that we must continue to work on facilitating these exchanges. Academic researchers have incredible expertise to share on a wide range of topics that are of public interest. We face profound and complex challenges, and academic expertise is a necessary tool for the development of coherent, rigorous public policies that are grounded in solid empirical analysis.
On the other hand, practical experience in policy development or implementation enhances our understanding of the subject and makes us better specialists. Reflecting on bilateral relationships at the theoretical level, and building them in practice, dealing with constraints, is very different. These experiences can inspire new research questions, deepen our empirical knowledge, broaden our networks of expertise, and enhance our skills as mentors and teachers. My experience as an advisor in 2015-2017 made me a better professor and a better researcher and has equipped me to derive practical implications from my research, to popularize it for different audiences and to make recommendations on public policy. A whole host of advantages are also present when we welcome a decision-maker or bureaucrat within our university.
FSS: Do you think you will serve as an example for other researchers?
P.M.: There is still work to be done to encourage exchanges between the government and the academic world, but I must say that my colleagues at the School of Political Studies and within the Faculty are very enthusiastic and supportive of me in this journey. If I do manage to get my tenure in a few years time, having built the foundation for a solid academic career in research but also connected with the world of foreign policy making and beyond, I hope that this may inspire other young researchers to get involved outside of academia from the very beginning of their careers. My career path is not typical; my leave has impacts on research and academic productivity that are difficult to evaluate, but so many other positive impacts as well: I really do think it is worth it. I have to deal with the uniqueness of my situation, find my own solutions, and forge my own academic identity.