Programs mint the next generation of civil leaders

Adela Talbot // Western News

“One of the neat things about teaching in local government is you have, and you develop, these local connections to local concerns. Local government does things that are immediately visible to people,” said Stephen Turner, London’s new city councilor for Ward 11.

Stephen Turner, London’s new city councilor for Ward 11, had canvassed 8,000 homes in his ward since the start of his election campaign during last fall’s municipal election. When he introduced himself to voters, he listed the master’s degree in public administration he received from Western as one of his qualifications.

“On the doorstep, it’s well-received by voters when I’m talking to them. Then, I can point out I do have experience and strengths in leadership in municipal administration,” Turner said.

Turner is one of many graduates from the Local Government Program, which is run through Western’s Political Science department. The program offers a Diploma in Public Administration (DPA) and a Masters in Public Administration (MPA). Western’s MPA program is the only one in Canada with a focus on municipal government, said Martin Horak, the program’s director since 2010.

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“One of the neat things about teaching in local government is you have, and you develop, these local connections to local concerns. Local government does things that are immediately visible to people,” he said.

The Local Government Program began 40 years ago with the launch of the diploma program while the masters program was introduced in 1990. The DPA and MPA programs prepare people seeking careers in municipal government, whether they choose to work in administration or run for election, like Turner.

The MPA is offered as a one-year full-time program or a three-year part-time program.

Neale Carbert, 22, and Melissa Bauman, 23, two current students in the one-year MPA program interested in pursuing careers in local government, said Western’s MPA was the perfect choice.

“I’m really interested in municipal affairs and having a career in city management. This was the only program in Canada that allowed me to study local government in a political science environment and gave me management training to become a city manager,” Carbert said.

The part-time MPA program is designed for people who currently work in municipal government. The part-time students often discuss real municipal examples from their work in the classroom.

“They’re a great addition to the program because they provide for the full-time students, which may look at things a little more in the theoretical sense, a lot of comparison to how these theories may work in practice in their everyday experiences,” Bauman said.

However, even though local government impacts peoples’ day-to-day lives the most, a lot of people don’t vote or pay attention to local government, Horak said. That’s why citizen engagement is an important theme in every course.

“The thing about local government is that it is relatively closer to people. It’s smaller scale, even in a city like London,” Horak said. “In a lot of ways, it’s more accessible and so administrators have the opportunity to reach out to people at the community level, at the neighbourhood level, and say, ‘What are your concerns? What are your needs?’”

That level of community interaction was evident as the sun set on that fall evening on Bruce Street in Turner’s ward. He continued to knock on people’s doors, determined to finish his route for the night.

Even though encouraging the public to vote is challenging, Horak said more people are seeking careers in local government and there is an increased demand for the Local Government Program based on the number of applications they receive. He added they are looking at ways to expand this program so that it has a lasting effect on its graduates and the communities they work for.

“It teaches people who then manage issues that a have a real, direct, and immediate impact on the quality of life in London and other communities in southern Ontario.”