SPPA annual breakfast featured Hon. Deb Matthews

Minister Matthews with our undergraduate student leaders

As part of its annual tradition, York University’s School of Public Policy & Administration (SPPA) brings together its students and alumni in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) for a morning of stimulating discussion on the contemporary challenges facing public policy-makers and administrators.

Chancellor Sorbara introducing the Hon. Deborah Matthews
Chancellor Greg Sorbara introducing the Hon. Deborah Matthews

The 2016 breakfast took place on Oct. 4 and was co-hosted by Chancellor Greg Sorbara, who introduced the event’s distinguished guest, the Honourable Deborah Matthews, currently serving as the chair of Cabinet, minister of Advanced Education & Skills Development, minister responsible for digital government and deputy premier of Ontario.

Rhonda Lenton, vice-president academic and provost, and Alice Pitt, vice-provost academic, also welcomed Matthews.

The early start of the event at 7:30am at the downtown location of the Osgoode Professional Development Centre did not deter over 80 enthusiastic participants – students, faculty and alumni – who were eager to hear the deputy premier’s thoughts on “Female Leadership in Government” as the designated theme of this year’s OPS breakfast.

From left to right: Professors Kimakova, Soennecken, Minister Matthews and Vice-Provost Academic Alice Pitt
From left to right: Professors Alena Kimakova, Dagmar Soennecken, Minister Deb Matthews and Vice-Provost Academic Alice Pitt

Professor Alena Kimakova, SPPA director, opened the event by highlighting that the inspiration for this year’s theme was the school’s own exceptional female student leaders at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These female students were keenly aware of the remaining challenges to gender parity in our society, and welcomed the federal government’s move towards a gender-balanced cabinet and the further changes this move can bring about.

The school’s alumni also enthusiastically embraced the theme, and showed support by participating in large numbers before returning to their desks in the OPS.

Professor Dagmar Soennecken, director of the school’s Master of Public Policy, Administration & Law (MPPAL) program, moderated the questions to the deputy premier, who offered her very frank and insightful reflections on the topic, as well as her personal experiences.

Minister Matthews with our undergraduate student leaders
Minister Deb Matthews with undergraduate student leaders

Matthews covered a range of issues, including women’s involvement in elected office, their impact on public policy decisions and the interaction with the non-partisan professional public service. Passionate about female leadership, but also aware of the over-representation of women and children in poverty, Matthews reflected on recent policy developments in this area in Ontario and during her extensive parliamentary career, which included serving as minister responsible for women’s issues and minister of Children & Youth Services between 2007 and 2009; and as minister responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy between 2014 and 2016.

Minister Matthews with SPPA alumna Tanya Waugh, Advisor at Cabinet Office (BPA class of 2013, MPPAL class of 2015)
Minister Deb Matthews with SPPA alumna Tanya Waugh, advisor at Cabinet Office (BPA class of 2013, MPPAL class of 2015)

In terms of more recent initiatives, Matthews emphasized the importance of evidence-based decision-making and program evaluation expertise. In response, Kimakova highlighted the alignment of the school’s curriculum with this trend in the discipline by including program evaluation courses in its bachelor’s, master’s and certificate programs for professional development. At the same time, Matthews, Kimakova and Pitt each emphasized the importance of diversity, stakeholder involvement and the enduring challenge for improving the quality of data and methods of analysis for informed public policy decision-making.

Each year, the SPPA OPS breakfast serves as an intellectually stimulating event that kick-starts the academic year and brings together senior public sector officials with faculty, students and alumni in the public service to reflect on current challenges and future trends in public policy and administration.

A full event gallery is available on the school’s website at sppa.laps.yorku.ca/about/event-galleries.