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Finding joy in public service

Posted by Margaret MacQuarrie on May 12, 2023 in Alumni & Friends, News

Laura Lee Langley has always been interested in people: in understanding what matters to them, what motivates them, and how they are affected by the world around them.

As a journalist in the 1980s, working first in a radio newsroom and then at CTV, Global, and the former MITV, she put people at the centre of her stories. “I loved doing stories about the underdog or about interesting people,” says Laura Lee. One of her proudest accomplishments was a series she prepared on the long-term impact of child abuse on victims and the implications it had on population health.

But as much as she loved journalism, working in an environment that was often about “looking for the worst in people” was taking a toll on her, especially when she was raising two young children. “I wanted to transition to something that gave me a little more joy,” she says.

Citizens, not politicians, should be at the centre of public policy conversations

She found that joy in the public service. According to Laura Lee, “The public relations field was moving away from being just about developing key messages and marketing to more strategic work. I was drawn to that. And my skills as a journalist easily transferred to PR.”

In 1999, after only two years at the Department of Transportation and Public Works, she was approached by her deputy minister about taking the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program in the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie.

“People talk about government as a system, but it's many systems and they intersect at all levels. The program offered the perfect opportunity for me to gain insight into how those systems work together, how to support people where they are, what it looks like to develop good public policy.”

The program brought Laura Lee back full circle to her interest in people. “I believe we need to have citizens at the centre of every conversation around public policy,” she says. “Putting the citizen at the centre — rather than the bureaucrats and the politicians — that's a shift. And seeing the need for that shift is something I came to understand through the program.”

Dalhousie and the Faculty of Management are leaders in Public Administration

Today Laura Lee holds a list of impressive titles including Deputy Minister of the Office of Citizen-Centered Approaches, Deputy Minister of the Office of the Premier, and CEO of Communications Nova Scotia. She says she still relies on her program’s professors and fellow students for support, adding “I can call any one of those who taught me or whom I learned with for advice or to pick their brains. We have innovative conversations that often lead to new pathways forward.

“Dalhousie is a leader across Canada in the realm of public administration,” she continues, saying she would recommend the MPA to anyone interested in having a career in the public service. It’s a career she still sees as rich and rewarding after more than 25 years. “We are making decisions and giving advice that influences the lives of the people who live next door to us in our communities. When you think of it in that context, it's not just a job, it is a rare privilege.”