POL 3600 --- Canadian Public Policy


“Every nation whose affairs betray a want of wisdom and stability may calculate on every loss which can be sustained from the more systematic policy of its wiser neighbors.”

James Madison (president of the United States, 1808-17)


 “Everyone wants coordination on his own terms.”  

Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky (1984)


The formulation and administration of public policy can be difficult at the best of times.  Blessed with abundant natural resources, popularly legitimate political institutions, a highly productive workforce, and a largely pacific and cooperative citizenry, Canadian policymakers enjoy luxuries that governments in far more troubled and turbulent climes can hardly imagine.  Yet even here, the art of crafting a common purpose and the requisite collaborative ventures to go along with them is frequently painful, time-consuming, and fraught with the potential for disagreement and division.  Wealthy societies are not immune to contests over how best to divide the spoils of society—or even how to ensure this affluence is created in the first place.      


In this way, Canada is a fascinating case for the study of public policy.  We are rich and capable enough to address the problems of modern society in a purposeful and meaningful way.  We are divided enough, however, as to be somewhat uncertain how best this should be done.  The aim of POL 3600 is to examine what it is like to live in such circumstances, and also consider the reasons how and why policy makers adopt policies.  In so doing, the class will offer not only a survey of the various issues under discussion, ranging from the context of public policy-making in Canada, to economic and social affairs, aboriginal policy and environmental matters, and dealing with foreign policy and national unity.  It will also offer a chronological framework to consider how policies in each of these areas have changed over time—sometimes substantially so.  The aim of such a historical approach is to provide insight into the enduring elements of Canada’s ‘public interest’, but also to give an appreciation of the difficulties faced by policymakers straddling competition visions of what policies should be adopted, or if such concerns are even worthy in the first place. 


Course work for undergraduates includes seminar participation, a paper outline, a 20-page finished product, and two 15-minute case study presentations—each accompanied by brief, 2 or 3-page synopses.  Opportunity will also be afforded roughly halfway through the course (Feb 14) to present paper outlines to the class, for those students who choose to do so.  Graduate students will complete these same basic requirements, with two exceptions.  First, the length of their final paper will be extended to 25-pages, with the stipulation that the additional 5 pages of material consists of a much more extensive literature review component.  To be clear, graduate students will be required to demonstrate a far more comprehensive grasp of the theories and debates that make up this field.  Second, graduate students will face higher expectations in terms of the quality and quantity of their seminar participation.  Masters and PhD students need to get comfortable with expressing their ideas in public fora, and then partaking in the debate that almost invariably follows.


As this is a seminar course, students will be required to sign up and present two case studies—though the final number will ultimately depend on student numbers.  Cases will be selected by the students’ own choosing.  A sign-up sheet will be passed around during the first class, and a copy will be maintained online.  Selection of cases will occur on a first-come, first-served basis.  Once chosen, students may not change their selection.  


Keep in mind that seminar obligations are not limited to the presenters alone.  All students should arrive at class well prepared to discuss the material to be covered.  This includes completing the readings well ahead of time.  In particular, all students will be expected to be able to answer, by drawing on the course readings, each of the discussion questions outlined below.  In the case of lulls in the conversation, or where certain students are failing to participate in the class discussion, the instructor reserves the right to ask any student any of these questions at any time.  This necessitates a consideration of both the reading material and the discussions well prior to the seminar itself.  Meanwhile, during class discussions, students should make their points succinctly and clearly, and must not unduly monopolize the time available for discussion.  It should go without saying that criticism should be constructive, rather than pejorative, ad hominem, or outside the course material.


Lastly, the core learning objectives of this class come in two forms.  The first and most obvious is the need to become confidently familiar with the policies and events contained within the class textbook.  This work constitutes the bedrock of Canada’s public policy over the last century.  An appreciation and mastery is therefore imperative before any further research in this area can be completed, including a student’s written assignments.  The second set of objectives deal with the mechanics of theory, research, and both verbal and written communication.  In this light, a seminar setting aims to not only further the traditional skills of knowledge recitation and paper writing, but also to practice and develop competence in idea presentation and debate.  Such abilities are highly useful to topics and contexts far beyond this course.


Course Documents


Memorial - Pol 3600 - Cdn Public Policy - Winter 2012.docx


Public Policy Bibliography.docx


Case Studies Sign-up Sheet.xlsx