CAPPA had its origins in the early 1970s, when it was known as the Committee of Schools and Programs in Public Administration (CSPPA). At this time most of Canada’s university level programs in public administration were in the early stages of development.

Committee of Schools and Programs in Public Administration (CSPPA)

CAPPA had its origins in the early 1970s, when it was known as the Committee of Schools and Programs in Public Administration (CSPPA). At this time most of Canada’s university level programs in public administration were in the early stages of development. With the exception of the Ecole nationale d’administration publique, they had relatively small enrolments and few faculty members. Nevertheless, these schools and programs saw themselves as part of a surge of development in Canada’s public sector and they were anxious to play a significant part in it.

There were two main reasons for establishing the CSPPA. First, several of those running university level programs in public administration felt that they should exchange ideas and information about their programs, curriculum development, and graduate placement. Second, they also believed that the programs, particularly those offering the Masters degree, should coordinate their relations with the federal government. Although most programs had established effective ties with the governments of their respective provinces, most were experiencing frustration in dealing with Ottawa. The federal Public Service Commission and Treasury Board, for their part, were confused by the variety of perspectives concerning public administration that emanated from the rival schools and the often conflicting proposals they made concerning recruitment, training etc. At the suggestion of Donald Gow (Queen’s) and Paul Pross (Dalhousie) representatives of the programs met in Toronto and agreed to establish, under IPAC’s aegis, the Committee of Schools and Programs in Public Administration.

Through a series of meetings, the Committee was able to effect improved relations with the Chair of the Public Service Commission, the Secretary of the Treasury Board and the Clerk of the Privy Council. These sessions led to better understanding among academics of the staffing needs of the federal public service and provided the academics with opportunities to lobby for recognition of the MPA as a qualification with special relevance for public service employment.

The Committee was also useful as a vehicle for addressing the issues created by the lack of a standard curriculum in the MPA, or the MA (Public Administration) as it was designated at some universities. Governments wanted MPA graduates to be skilled managers, rather than the policy and institutional specialists that had come from the older public administration programs. Several universities responded to this early movement toward the New Public Management by creating a common first year in their MBA and MPA programs. Others argued that public administration had an organizational milieu of its own that grew out of the special role of the state, and that therefore career programs in this field should follow a curriculum that addressed management issues from a public sector perspective.

These divergent views have led to considerable variety in the programs offered by Canadian schools. Some continue to blend the MPA and MBA programs; others attempt to offer strong management studies from a public sector perspective; still others concentrate on the policy side of the field. Such diversity is often frustrating to employers, students, and of course to those faculty members who would like to see the MPA degree more widely recognized. On the other hand, the great variety of positions available to graduates at various levels of government, in non-governmental organizations and at the interface between the public and private sectors probably justifies the resistance of rival programs to standardization.

Association of Graduate Programs in Public Administration (AGPPA)

In the early 1980s, a separate organization called the Association of Graduate Programs in Public Administration (AGPPA), which consisted of the directors of the various graduate schools of public administration, emerged. The major concern that the graduate programs had was that CSPPA was not able to provide the necessary institutional support for professional education in public administration. They felt, with some justification, that those who taught public administration at the undergraduate level were less interested in professional training and development.

The idea behind AGPPA was to create an organization that would have a more formal relationship between graduate programs in public administration and those federal agencies particularly concerned with management. This relationship would facilitate (1) the flow of information to the professional schools concerning changes in management practice, (2) the establishment of exchanges between the schools and federal agencies, and (3) the recognition of the professional qualifications held by the graduates of public administration programs. AGPPA had some success with its first objective, persuading the then Chair of the Public Service Commission, Madame Huguette Labelle, to initiate an annual meeting between academics and senior public servants at the government’s training facilities in Ottawa.

In other respects, however, the AGPPA experiment failed. It became evident that there were too few graduate programs and their resources too limited to permit complete independence, particularly if this independence did not have the support of IPAC, with its influence in government circles, and with schools of public administration themselves.

CAPPA is Born

Eventually discussions between CSPPA and AGPPA led to the creation of CAPPA, which was launched in August of 1987. This new organization recognized the diversity of educational opportunities in public administration.

In its early years, CAPPA could claim the following important achievements:

  • It organized a mini-conference on teaching public administration that coinciding with its AGM at the start of the IPAC annual conference in late August. This mini-conference has been an important venue for the dissemination of new teaching techniques as well as of ways to incorporate new subject matter into the public administration curriculum. Topics at these mini-conferences have ranged from teaching law in public administration, teaching human resource management, using technology, the case approach, teaching about provincial public administration, teaching research with public documents, postmodernism, and the value of theory versus practice.
  • It worked with the Canadian Centre for Management Development (now Canada School for Public Service) to develop an annual seminar for university professors in which senior civil servants highlight current developments in federal government management and policy issues. The annual seminars, held in early May, play a vital role in enhancing the quality of public administration education by keeping faculty members up to date on the latest developments. This has become a solid feature of CSPS’s year, coinciding with the delivery of the John Manion lecture.
  • It has become the academic presence in, and built a close relationship with, the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. This is made explicit through CAPPA’s holding its AGM at the IPAC Annual Conference, and the President of CAPPA having ex-officio status as a member of IPAC’s Board of Directors and Research and Professional Practices Committee.
  • It developed an annual student essay competition, in which programs nominated the best student essays at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and a jury chose winners of national awards.
  • It published a directory of public administration programs and catalogue of outlines of public administration courses.

Despite the efforts that CAPPA made in the 1980s and 1990s, it had to cope with a difficult environment. As a result of persistent deficits, public services throughout Canada were downsizing by means of voluntary replacement packages, occasional layoffs, and hiring freezes. This reduced the demand for public administration graduates, and called into question the raison d’etre of the professional programs. In addition, the ascendance of conservative governments reflected a public distrust of big government, bureaucracy, and public servants, and, conversely, a public glorification of the business sector.

In the academic context, public administration’s deepest roots were in political science, as many public administration scholars had received their graduate degrees in political science, and saw public administration as a sub-discipline of political science. Political science departments, however, considered a variety of other sub-disciplines for example, rational choice, election studies, policy studies, gender and class as the leading edge of the field. As a consequence, when public administration scholars retired, their positions were often filled by new Ph.D.s in these other sub-disciplines.

A second academic context for public administration was the management, or business, schools. At the intellectual level, the affiliation of public administration scholars with political science made them anomalous in faculties dominated by the management disciplines (finance, marketing, organizational behaviour, strategy, etc.). The weak public administration job market and low esteem of the public sector understandably led to much greater student interest in business administration than in public administration courses. In some instances, management schools chose to de-emphasize or drop their public management streams, and redefine themselves more narrowly as business schools.

Public administration academics, as well as senior public servants, became concerned that the public administration academic community was shrinking and aging. Fortunately, by the late 1990s and early years of this decade, the environment began to improve. Governments had begun to restore fiscal balance, so had the means to resume hiring. The hiring freeze in the 1990s meant that the public service itself was aging, so hiring was a necessity to create a viable leadership cadre to be in place when the baby boom generation retires. A variety of external events, from the attacks of 9/11 to a wave of corporate governance scandals, led to a societal re-evaluation of the images of both business and government. Clerk of the Privy Council Jocelyne Bourgon launched her La Releve initiative to revitalize the public service in 1997; when she became President of the Canadian Centre for Management Development in 1999, she saw the need for a similar initiative to revitalize Canada’s public administration academic community.

Canada’s universities have also recognized that education in public administration or public policy is now a growth area, and new schools have been established in the last few years at Simon Fraser University, the University of Calgary, the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan, the University of Waterloo, York University (at both Glendon and Atkinson Colleges), the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and the University of Ottawa. The establishment of new programs and increased hiring in existing programs means that there is now an active academic job market in the field. Some of these are graduates of Canadian public administration programs, and others are from other disciplines and other universities.

CAPPA has taken several significant steps to become part of this revitalization of the academic community in public administration.

CAPPA has had a long relationship with the Canadian Center for Management Development, which has been generous at providing access and resources. CCMD and CAPPA at one time held an annual symposium, held in the fall in Ottawa, where directors of CAPPA member programs meet with senior public servants to better understand each other’s learning agendas. CCMD has put in place a deputy ministers’ champions program, designating a deputy minister champion for each school, now expanded to each university. CCMD also established a public servant in residence program, to increase the number of public servants available to CAPPA member schools for one or two-semester visits.

CAPPA emphasizes evidence-based decision-making, and CCMD did provided the resources to support a wide variety of studies of issues of importance to the academic community. Early studies have dealt with core curriculum in master’s programs, accreditation (discussed below), and the effectiveness of government initiatives to recruit MPA graduates. CCMD is supported the following studies:

  • A follow-up of the initial MPA curriculum study, to encompass both the new schools that have begun and elective as well as core curriculum
  • A study of the market for master’s program graduates
  • A study of doctoral education in public administration in Canada, including the feasibility of establishing a network Ph.D. program
  • A study of the state of public administration education at the undergraduate level
  • A study of the state of public administration education in the colleges
  • A study of current and potential roles of public administration faculty in international development projects in public administration and the education of public servants from other countries.
  • A study which lead to the development of the Atlas of Public Policy and Administration, administered by the University of Toronto, School of Public Policy

CAPPA also began serious consideration of accreditation of master’s level programs. The rationale for a system of mission-based accreditation was that it would provide greater transparency for students, lead to quality improvement and sharing of best practices among the schools, and raise the visibility and professionalism of the field. Under CAPPA’s leadership, accreditation of Canadian schools would be based in Canada. Four background studies, all posted on the accreditation page of the CAPPA website, were undertaken. After 18 months of study and discussion, an online vote of CAPPA members was held on March 27-29, 2006, and accreditation was accepted with 17 in favour, one opposed, and three abstentions. An arms-length accreditation board was established.

In partnership with IPAC, the student essay competition was transformed into a system of National Student Awards and Thought Leadership Awards. Each participating school gives awards to its best students. Winners of the student awards make poster presentations at the IPAC annual conference, and the three best are awarded IPAC’s Thought Leadership Awards. The new awards system couples recognition for the most promising students with their participation in the IPAC conference.

Finally, CAPPA took a number of organizational development initiatives to enhance the professionalism and continuity of its own operations.

  • A constitutional amendment changed the presidency from a one-year term to two years, with a maximum of two consecutive terms, and clarified the board membership and who are voting members of CAPPA.
  • Websites were developed and are maintained in both official languages, highlighting news, links to all public administration programs, information about accreditation, and information about Canadian students completing doctorates in public administration and available faculty positions.
  •  Dues were increased to $500 per annum for programs with a graduate component and $250 for all other programs.
  • A National Public Management Conference was developed in 2012. This has been an important development and continues to attract a large section of the public administration community and PhD students.
  • National Case Competition was begun in 2011 and this has proven to be another enormously successful endeavor and is a key feature in bringing MPA students together from across the country and developing a sense of community.

CAPPA had taken great strides over the years and continues to work with all public administration schools to advance their common interests. CAPPA is now playing a major role in the revitalization of public administration education and scholarship in Canada.

Authors: Paul Pross, Ken Rasmussen and Sandford Borins

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