Regulations are undervalued. They contribute in many invisible ways to society – managing risk, supporting and steering innovations, providing and protecting rights. Much more attention ought to be paid to the essential roles regulations and regulators play in advancing public good.

This is a central premise of a newly launched lecture series, named in honour of the late Alan Nymark and held at the Museum of Nature on June 26. “Regulations are integral to a well-functioning society. They build trust in the security of your pension, the safety of your food and your medications, the air you breathe,” explained Robert Slater, Director of the Regulatory Governance Initiative, in his opening remarks. “This public trust is an important national asset—hard to win, easy to lose.”

The Nymark Lecture aims to be a venue for the regulatory community to engage with thought-leaders on this critical domain of governance. A fitting focus given, as Michael Presley, Adjunct Professor at the School of Public Policy and Administration, reminded the audience, “the Government has pledged to modernize our regulatory system to make it more agile, so it can better enable innovation in terms of new technologies and business models.” This new lecture series nurtures the kind of thinking necessary to meet these modernization goals.

The series is a fitting tribute to Nymark, whose career in the federal public service spanned several regulatory agencies. He was one of the longest serving Deputy Ministers and had led key regulatory agencies and departments including Health, Environment, the Canada Revenue Agency, and Human Resources and Skills Development. He was renowned for his policy acumen which was valued by successive Ministers and Governments.

Cristie Ford, Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Business Law at the Peter A. Allard School of Law, the University of British Columbia, provided the inaugural lecture. Her remarks, drawn from her recent book Innovation and the State: Finance, Regulation, and Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2017), called for a rethinking of the relationship between regulation and innovation. Innovation, she explained, is often intended to undermine regulations. Like water through coastal embankments, many innovations find ways to seep through the regulator’s rules and checks, creating risks and harms for society. Not all innovations are bad. Many are good. But, Professor Ford argued, we need to think more carefully about the different kinds of innovations, and particularly the pace at which they occur, in order for regulators to respond appropriately.

The lecture series was made possible by a joint initiative of Carleton University’s Regulatory Governance Initiative (housed at the School of Public Policy and Administration) and the University of Ottawa’s Centre on Public Management and Policy. The lecture is designed to complement the Certificate in Regulatory Leadership that they jointly run, and the Career Development for Regulatory Professionals program run by the Regulatory Governance Initiative. The Community of Federal Regulators joined as an additional partner to convene and organize the event.

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