I am not too sure if the same will be offered this year, but yes reach out to SPPG to inquire. It is always good to get information and confirmation first-hand. I do know students were not expecting it.
Regarding your second inquiry, I took nearly the full few weeks given by SPPG to accept my offer when I was accepted in March last year. I had to seriously weigh the costs/benefits of U of T MPP and the other program I applied for and was accepted to. I knew very well that the costs of the U of T program were much higher than other programs, but the fact that the School offered assistance is very helpful. The first thing I did, prior to applying, was conduct very thorough research about the program, courses, faculty and their research interests, the goal of the program, network, extracurriculars, current students (at the time), and alumni. Upon receiving my offer, I searched for alumni on LinkedIn and asked very pointed and detailed questions to get an idea of what sets the MPP program apart from others in Canada and how well it prepared them for their careers. They were very honest that the quantitative courses were difficult, but very relevant to their current work. You may not work in an economics or statistics capacity, but understanding the concepts, theories, and practical applications is vital for making evidence-based decisions. The quantitative rigour of the program really sets it apart and opens the door of opportunity for students/alumni to work in various capacities, i.e. Economist, Consultant (KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, etc.), Policy Analyst, Research Associate, and more. A few very bright students started a unique initiative entitled the SPPG Consulting Student Initiative, offering networking opportunities with staff from top Consulting/Accounting Firms, such as the aforementioned organizations.
In the first semester, I think most students were faced with sentiments of experiencing an existential crisis lol (exaggeration intended here). Initially, I felt the program was too academic focused, but realized it was a good foundation for the more practical parts of the program, such as Policy Implementation. BUT, I really enjoy the program especially this semester (I have some EXCEPTIONAL professors who are really dedicated to our success and are willing to help at any time). The program also promotes much group work, such as through the Minister's Briefing, and I have worked with different students which has been a great learning experience and an opportunity to get to know more of my peers, while also building team work skills.
Also, the School offers the opportunity to gain experience in policy consultation through the Public Good Initiative (PGI), which is great for both students who have and do not have practical experience. PGI helps build research, project management, stakeholder consultation (and many more) skills. The internship is also one of the main features of the program that drew me to it, as it bridges the gap between education and experience, and we have exclusive access to quite a few positions (these employers recruit solely from the U of T MPP program)! We also choose a Faculty Advisor who guides us throughout the internship and complete a final deliverable (report regarding the internship learning outcomes, etc.). In addition, we have very interesting events and student initiatives, such as with Katie Telford (Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), and many, many, many more. I was not able to attend a majority of the events as I also work (I personally wouldn't advise working, unless you need to. But it also depends on what type of learner you are. I have been working since I was 15, working provides a good balance for me, and my job is a government position). If you do decide to work, try to limit your days to 2 a week - I work 4 days a week, which is a bit much lol. Also, the network is great! We have fellows which include Senator Tony Dean, Dalton McGuinty, and Bob Rae, to name a few, in addition to alumni who are doing very, very well in their careers. Our employment rates are high (some students continue with school, take a break/travel) and internship placement rates of 100% (by the way the Program Manager for Internships is amazing! You will see what I mean should you choose to accept your offer). In fact, A LOT of time and dedication goes into preparing students for internships and careers: job search, resume and cover letter writing, sample interview questions, interview assignment preparations, presentation preparations (OPS requires students to complete a briefing note and presentation on a topic which you choose from a list of options), briefing note workshop, consulting 101 workshop, mock interviews, student feedback, Employer Marketing Day, LinkedIn profile head shots, strong rapport built with organizations who seek to hire from our program, etc.
Improvements can be made to every program, as you will learn in Program Evaluation, unless of course it is perfect. However, I must say that I made the best decision to choose U of T SPPG. Even better, as I am sure you know, there will be an amalgamation with the School of Public Policy and Governance and the Munk School of Global Affairs, which makes the program at U of T that much stronger and further sets the program apart from others in Canada! I think this is such a wise and strategically-sound move by U of T given that the program is currently largely Ontario and Toronto-focused. Keep in mind, however, that there are a number of students who will be interning in the Federal Public Service.
One of the BEST parts of the program is my cohort! Literally. Everyone is so kind, we all work very well together, and are willing to help each other. The closeness of the cohort actually amazes me.
I would suggest preparing for economics and statistics over the next few months (online resources or purchase a textbook), if you haven't done much of either course. Here is a link you can use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdXoDkCfcM8
if you have any further questions, please feel free to send me a message.