After graduating from New College in 1971 with a degree in Economics, Mel Cappe continued on to complete an M.A. in the same field at the University of Western Ontario.
Earlier in his career, he held senior economic and policy positions in the Departments of Finance and Industry, and has since worked as Deputy Secretary to the Treasury Board, Deputy Minister of the Environment, Deputy Minister of Human Resources Development, Deputy Minister of Labour and Chairman of the Employment Insurance Commission.
Mr. Cappe then served as Clerk of the Privy Council, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service in Ottawa before his appointment as High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom. From 2006-2011 he was President of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
In 2009, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada “for his contributions to the federal public service, notably as a deputy minister, and as clerk of the Privy Council and as secretary to the Cabinet”.
Today, Mel Cappe spends his time as a Professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, teaching in the Masters Program and acting as Coordinator of the Undergraduate Program in Public Policy.
We sat down with him to talk about the path that led him from New College to where he is today…
Describe yourself in 50 words or less?
Bearded, modest and afraid to describe myself.
Was there anyone in particular at New College (staff, student or faculty) who had a strong influence on your life or made a lasting impression on you?
Several of the faculty, like Dr. Ivey who was principal then, but I knew him from the Grade 13 high school film he did of challenging perspectives by smoking his pipe upside down. Brilliant. But the most significant event of my life was meeting my wife who was an exchange student from Smith College in Northampton Mass in residence at New College. We met in Urban Geography and Urban Economics classes and courted (an admittedly anachronistic term) in the New College Library and Residence. My whole life was changed with that New College relationship.
How did your academic and social experience at the University/College prepare you for life and your career?
Critical thinking and sophisticated analysis came from my time at the University then. My undergraduate studies set the stage for my graduate studies and my professional career thereafter as an economist and senior executive in the Public Service of Canada.
Tell us about some of the lessons you learned and how valuable they are today?
I learned about the value of evidence and the role of critical thinking. And I learned about the importance of being a good person.
What are your major accomplishments and who had the most influence on your Career?
My children and their accomplishments are my major accomplishments and much more important than anything else I did. I went to grade 22 and no one ever taught me how to do the most important thing I would do in my life … raise our children. But New College did a good job in setting the stage.