In memoriam ‑ Peter Aucoin

Reflecting on a teacher, mentor and scholar

- July 11, 2011

Peter Aucoin profile photograph
Peter Aucoin profile photograph

Peter Aucoin—beloved Dalhousie professor and internationally-renowned academic and policy advisor—passed away in Halifax Friday at the age of 67. A leading scholar for four decades in both political science and public administration, Dr. Aucoin has been a mentor to countless students, was renowned for his integrity and sound judgment, and served in an advisory capacity at all levels of government in Canada.

The Premier of Nova Scotia was one of many offering condolences. “Nova Scotia, and Canada, has lost one of its most respected all-round political scientists of this generation,” said Premier Darrell Dexter in a statement. “Dr. Aucoin made his mark as a great teacher, researcher and advisor for all levels of government.”

At Dalhousie, those who knew Dr. Aucoin are taking time to reflect on his impact as a teacher, mentor and scholar.

“Peter not only combined excellence in research and publication but he also had a deep and genuine concern for students,” says Paul Brown, professor of policy formulation with the School of Public Administration, who first met Dr. Aucoin when he was a student and subsequently worked with him for 40 years.

“In fact, he would come in to my office and we would talk for hours about how to better engage students and whether or not his teaching methods were being understood. He cared so much. There are a lot of people with outstanding academic achievements and numerous publications. But Peter combined this success with genuine love and concern for each and every student.”

A legacy of service

Born in Halifax in 1943, Dr. Aucoin was first appointed to the Department of Political Science as a lecturer in 1970, following an M.A. from Dalhousie and a PhD from Queen’s, where he held a Canada Council scholarship. By 1979, he had risen to full professor. He served as director of the School of Public Administration from 1985 to 1990, and chair of the Department of Political Science from 1992 to 1995. In 1993, he was appointed a McCulloch Professor in Political Science, and in 2003 he was named Eric Dennis Memorial Professor of Government and Political Science, a title he held with pride until his retirement from Dalhousie in 2009.

On secondment from the university over the years, Dr. Aucoin held several postings with government bodies, too numerous to list. He was most proud of the work he did as Research Coordinator for the federal Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada (1985-6) and as the Research Director for the federal Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financial (1989-91). The research conducted and published under his direction for the latter commission constituted then, and still remains, the most comprehensive examinations of electoral law and campaign finance undertaken anywhere.

Public policy leadership

As a public administration scholar, Dr. Aucoin was as at home in public service circles as he was in his university setting. He was a Senior Fellow of the Canada School of Public Service for the Government of Canada, and frequently asked to be an advisor and consultant by many federal and provincial government agencies, including the federal Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission. His comparative research took him many times to Australia, Britain and New Zealand. He held professional leadership positions, nationally and internationally, and served for many years on the executive boards of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada and the Canadian Political Science Association. He was president of the latter organization in 1995-6.

Dr. Aucoin authored and edited 15 books and wrote more than 80 journal articles and book chapters on Canadian government and Canadian and comparative public administration. His 1995 book on public management reform in Canada in a comparative perspective received an international award as the best book in comparative public policy and administration by Governance, the leading international journal in his field.

In 2006, Dr. Aucoin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Academy of Social Sciences), Canada’s highest award for outstanding scholarship. In 2007, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In May, 2011, his alma mater, Saint Mary’s University, conferred on Dr. Aucoin the degree of Doctor of Civil Law (honoris causa). He also received the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Excellence in Public Administration in 1999, and the Governor General Vanier Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Public Administration in 2005.

Beloved teacher

Some of his greatest impacts, though, were with his students. Over the years, Dr. Aucoin taught and mentored hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom have entered the professions of law and public service in Canada and abroad. Scores of his former students became colleagues and friends. His commitment to, and his success as a teacher and mentor, were recognized in 2006 when he received Dalhousie’s Alumni Association Award for Teaching Excellence.

"I've heard from a lot of alumni since he passed away saying, 'Dr. Aucoin was one of my favorite profs' or 'Dr. Aucoin was my favorite prof,’” says Dr. Brown. “Peter was someone who had friends from one continent to the next. He had a unique capability of making people feel bigger and more consequential than they were; that’s what endeared him so universally. He made everyone feel important by just being around him, including myself.”

Dr. Aucoin is survived by his wife, Margot Anne; daughter Nicole and sons Paul and Richard of Halifax; his two sisters and brother; his two grandchildren and many wonderful nieces and nephews.

Funeral services will be held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, corner of Jubilee Road and Oxford Street, on Tuesday, July 12 at 1 p.m. Donations in Dr. Aucoin’s name may be made to a charity of the donor’s choice. Condolences can be sent to



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