Ottawa API5116 Democratic Government and Public Policy

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Course description

Study of the making of public policy in Canada and other liberal democracies, with emphasis on how democratic institutions, norms and politics shape public policy. Topics include the workings of democratic governments, the constitutional constraints placed on their authority, intergovernmental relations, the role of the bureaucracy and its relation to the political executive, policy design and the selection of policy instruments, public opinion and agenda-setting, citizen engagement, lobbying and interest representation.


Luc Juillet and Patrick Fafard (Fall 2015)


At, accessed 1 April 2016.

Syllabus link on Atlas

Additional description from the Syllabus

General course objectives

The course focuses on the principles, institutions and processes that guide and structure the formulation and implementation of public policy in democratic societies. In this perspective, its general objective is to ensure that students understand the purpose, nature and effects of the institutional and normative framework provided by the constitutions of liberal democracies on their governments and the bureaucracies that serve them. We also examine how democratic and bureaucratic institutions, and the politics that they contribute to shape, influence the making of public policy. While special attention will be paid to Canada, the experience of other democratic countries is also examined, partly to place the Canadian experience in a comparative context but also to draw our attention to broader principles or phenomena that can be found across democratic polities.

At the end of the semester, students should be able to describe and discuss, in a critical and sophisticated manner, the main principles, processes and institutions that guide policy-making and public administration in democratic societies. In particular, they should be able to describe and discuss critically the complex relationships among the various institutional components of the democratic state, some of the key political and bureaucratic decision-making processes associated with policy-making in some of those states, how policy issues are framed and get onto the policy agenda, the role of evidence, judicial review and intergovernmental relations in the policy process, and how and why government choose different policy instruments. They should also be able to discuss how democratic politics (e.g., lobbying and party politics) influence the making of public policy.

In addition to the acquisition of knowledge and the development of critical reading skills, the course also seeks to help students develop some of the analytical and writing skills that they will find essential in the workplace. Professionals in the field of policy-making must be able to communicate, in a clear and succinct manner, their analysis of complex issues, often under severe time constraints. Accordingly, as part of the course, students will be challenged to hone their research, writing and communication skills by completing two policy-oriented assignments. These assignments should help students better understand challenges involved in communicating policy analysis in a professional environment as well as develop their writing skills (clarity and concision; capacity to summarize and synthesize; ability to assess and adjust to different reading audiences; using language strategically).

Teaching methods

On Mondays at 11h30, all sections of the course will meet together as a group. The professors, taking approximately 80 minutes, will present 11 lectures with opportunity for questions and discussion. Then, either on Monday or Friday, each section will meet separately for a weekly seminar discussion on the subject matter of the lecture and readings. Some seminar sessions will also be dedicated to guest lectures and in-class exercises. The readings are available online, through the library’s electronic resources or on Blackboard.

Assessment methods

Attendance and active participation to the lectures and seminars are required to successfully complete the course.

Components of Final Mark
Evaluation format
Active Participation


Every week
Individual Briefing Note


October 19 – To be submitted to the instructors in class
Group Advocacy Brief


November 23 – To be submitted to the instructors in class

Final Exam


December 16 – Directly to the instructor in his office

Class participation and weekly journal

The success of a graduate course depends in good part on the active participation of students. In this perspective, students are required to be present at each class and they must come prepared to engage in class discussions, having completed the mandatory readings and given some thought to the issues to be discussed in class. In class, all students should actively participate in the discussion and they may be called upon by the instructor to share their analysis of the week’s readings with their classmates. They will also be expected to actively participate in in-class exercises (e.g. discussion of short cases). Occasionally, some students may also be asked to prepare questions for invited guest speakers or present the outcome of discussions held in breakout groups.

As well, in order to prepare for class discussion and allow the instructor to better monitor your learning, you are required to maintain a weekly Journal on the course website on the University of Ottawa Virtual Campus. At a minimum, the Journal must include questions on what you have read for this course. Therefore, each week, by 5:00 pm on the day before your seminar group meets, you must draft at least one question on the required readings for that week and post it to your journal on the course website. These questions can simply focus on the arguments made in the readings (e.g., a request for clarification; a critique of what you read) or, more broadly, raise issues about the implications of the readings for our collective understanding of democratic government and public policy. Only the instructors will see these questions. In some cases, during the weekly seminar, the instructor will try and address the questions raised. In other cases, the questions will be submitted to the seminar group for discussion. Note that the objective of the class discussion is to deepen your understanding of the issues raised by the readings. Therefore, you should not be embarrassed – and you will most certainly not be penalized – to admit that you do not understand something and use your Journal entries to request clarification in class. However, you are also encouraged to use your Journal to write short commentaries on what you have read, draw attention to current events that are linked to material being discussed (particularly if they appear to confirm or contradict claims being made).

Your entries in the Journal as well as your contribution to the seminar discussion will be evaluated. They will be the basis of the participation grade that will be 20% of the overall final grade for the course.

Individual briefing note

The purpose of this exercise is to allow you do develop the capacity to quickly research a complex policy, administrative or governance problem; identify the facts and arguments of most import and relevance; and effectively communicate in writing your findings and views in a succinct and clear manner that addressed the needs of decision-makers. These are important skills for policy advisers and analysts as well as for those who, outside the bureaucracy, seek to influence policy-making. In order to help students acquire these skills and familiarize themselves with this type of professional writing, over the course of the semester students will be required to write a briefing note advising a decision-maker on an important governance or policy issue.

The briefing note must be a maximum of four pages in length (single spaced including the title page with the summary) and conform to a strict template that will be provided in class. The note is to be written from the perspective of a policy analyst or policy advisor working in the Public Service. For this reason, the template is adapted from one currently used by departments of the Government of Canada. You will be asked to write the briefing note on a mandatory topic and we will provide a short scenario that describes the issue and the context of the exercise. The briefing note will be evaluated based on several criteria, including the quality of the research informing them, the strength of the analysis and argumentation that they offer, and the precision and clarity of the writing. More details and guidance will be provided early in the semester.

The deadline for the briefing note assignment is October 19th. The note must be handed in at the outset of class on that day and will account for 20% of the final grade for the course. We will not accept briefing notes after this deadline and missing the deadline will mean that you will get a grade of 0/20 for this assignment. The only exception will be for medical reasons in which case a doctor’s note will be required.

Submission of an advocacy brief to a Parliamentary Committee

Students are also required to prepare an advocacy brief on a current public policy issue. The submission is meant for a fictional parliamentary committee. Later in the term we will distribute a short scenario describing the policy issue and providing some context for the exercise. For this assignment, each seminar group will be divided into teams of four or five students. Each team will write from the perspective of an association or group of their choice that has chosen to prepare a submission to the committee. In contrast to the individual briefing note, this second assignment will require you to advocate and attempt to win support for a policy that reflects your interests or preferences rather than provide neutral advice and analysis to support a government decision-maker. You will be writing from the perspective of a group outside government who wishes to influence policy decisions.

Your advocacy brief should be no more than 6000 words and must be handed in to the professors at the beginning of class on November 23rd. Late submissions will not be accepted. Students in groups that miss the deadline for this assignment will receive a grade of 0/20 for the assignment. An advocacy brief contest will take place on December 9th. The best two briefs from each section will be presented before class to a jury of practitioners and professors. The winning team will be awarded a 10% bonus on the grade for their advocacy brief. Format: 7-minute presentation, PPT presentation.

Final exam

The final exam is a take-home exam. Students will be asked to write two analytical essays responding to a set of questions provided at the end of the semester. The essays should demonstrate a good understanding of the material covered through the semester, in class as well as through the readings. They will be assessed for the rigor and clarity of the argumentation, the quality of the writing, and the ability to use the material covered in class lectures and in the readings in an appropriate and sophisticated manner. Format: 12 pages, Times 11, double-spaced. The exam questions will be handed out at our last class on December 9th. Submission deadline: December 16th 4.00pm – Paper submission at the office of the professor.

Week-by-week topics

Week 1: Introduction: Why this course. Review of course outline.

Seminar session: Writing Effective Briefing Notes

Week 2: Parliamentary Government and Public Policy

Aucoin, Peter, Mark Jarvis and Lori Turnbull (2011) Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, Toronto, Emond Montgomery, chapter 2 – “Responsible Government: Theory and Practice” and chapter 4 – “The Prime Minister and the House of Commons: The Democratic Deficit”.

Stephen Barber (2014) “Stretched but not snapped: Constitutional lessons from the 2010 coalition government in Britain”, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 52:4, 473-492.

Week 3: The Power and Organization of the Executive

Bennister, Mark and Richard Heffernan (2012) “Cameron as Prime Minister: The Intra-Executive Politics of Britain’s Coalition Government”, Parliamentary Affairs, 65, 778-801.

King, Anthony and Nicholas Allen (2010) “Off with their heads: British Prime Ministers and the Power to Dismiss”, British Journal of Political Science, 40, 249-278.

Smith, Martin (2010) “Intelligence and the Core Executive”, Public Policy and Administration, 25:1, 11-48.

Week 4: The Executive, the Public Service and Decision-making

Pfiffner, James P. (2011) “Decision Making in the Obama White House”, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 41:2, 244-262.

Fleischer, Julia (2009) “Power Resources of Parliamentary Executives: Policy Advice in the UK and Germany”, West European Politics, 32:1, 196-214.

Week 5: The Role of the Public Service and the Political-administrative Interface

Lewis, David E. (2011) “Presidential Appointments and Personnel”, Annual Review of Political Science, 14, 47-66.

Eichbaum, Chris and Richard Shaw (2008) “Revisiting Politicization: Political Advisers and Public Servants in Westminster Systems”, Governance, 21:3, 337-363.

Juillet, Luc and Ken Rasmussen (2008) “Struggling to Defend Political Neutrality, 1979-2006”, in Defending a Contested Ideal: Merit and the Public Service Commission, 1908-2008, Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, 124-151.

Week 6: Public Opinion and Agenda Setting

Berinsky, Adam J. (2007) “Assuming the Costs of War: Events, Elites, and American Public Support for Military Conflict”, Journal of Politics 69:4, 975-997.

Green-Pedersen, Christoffer and Jesper Krogstrup (2008) “Immigration as a Political Issue in Denmark and Sweden”, European Journal of Political Science Research, 47:5, 610-634.

Week 7: Lobbying, Advocacy Coalitions, and Networks of Representation

Smith, Katherine E., Emily Savell, and Anna B. Gilmore (2013) “What Is Known about Tobacco Industry Efforts to Influence Tobacco Tax? A Systematic Review of Empirical Studies”, Tobacco Control, 22:2, 144–53.

Paul Cairney, Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: The Advocacy Coalition Framework, at, accessed 2 April 2016.

Pierce, Jonathan J. (2011) “Coalition Stability and Belief Change: Advocacy Coalitions in U.S. Foreign Policy and the Creation of Israel, 1922-44”, Policy Studies Journal, 39:3, 411–34.

Week 8: Issue Definition, Framing, and Evidence in Policy Making

Head, Brian W. (2010) “Reconsidering Evidence-Based Policy: Key Issues and Challenges”, Policy and Society, 29:2, 77–94.

Kiss, Simon (2014) “Where Did All The Baby Bottles Go? Risk Perception, Interest Groups, Media Coverage and Institutional Imperatives in Canada’s Regulation of Bisphenol A.”, Canadian Journal of Political Science, 47:4, 741–65.

Kamradt-Scott, Adam and Colin McInnes (2012) “The Securitisation of Pandemic Influenza: Framing, Security and Public Policy”, Global Public Health, 7:sup2, S95-110.

Week 9: What is Policy? Policy Design and Instruments

Salamon, Lester M. (2002) “The New Governance and the Tools of Public Action”, in L.M. Salamon (ed.) The Tools of Government, New York, Oxford University Press, 19-41.

Barry Rabe (2015) “The Durability of Carbon Cap-and-Trade Policy”, Governance,(advanced publication), 1-17.

Week 10: Federalism, Intergovernmental Relations and Public Policy

Burke, Brendan, and Margaret Ferguson (2010) “Going Alone or Moving Together: Canadian and American Middle Tier Strategies on Climate Change”, Publius, 40:3, 436–59.

Fafard, Patrick and Patrick Leblond (2012) Twenty-first century trade agreements: Challenges for Canadian federalism, Montreal, The Federal Idea, 27 pages.

Week 11: Rights, Judicial Review and the Role of the Courts

Hirschl, Ran (2008) “The Judicialization of Mega-Politics and the Rise of Political Courts”, Annual Review of Political Science, 11, 93-118.

Panagos, Dimitrios and J. Andrew Grant (2013) “Constitutional change, Aboriginal rights, and mining policy in Canada”, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 51:4, 405-23.

Week 12: Advocacy Brief Contest

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 April 2016.