I’m not going this year either, but I went regularly from about 2009-2013 (just guessing at those dates). It’s quite different from AEA, and mostly in good ways, from my perspective & experience.
I may get a few details wrong, but in a nutshell Canada’s federal government takes evaluation seriously and promotes serious eval/program research as well (e.g., IDRC/CRDI). The CES/SCE reflects that practical and functional (yet social-scientific) orientation, and there’s a sizable membership subset working only in Canada on federal or provincial Canadian programs. That’s a totally different model than in the US - less academic & theoretical, for instance. Still plenty of models and conceptual thinking, though!
Ah, here’s a little more info/evidence: “Program evaluation has been a core function of the Canadian federal government for over 40 years”; full article (open access) at the link: https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/cjpe/article/download/43179/pdf
International (development) evaluation from a Canadian perspective is more creative and interesting, in my opinion, than in the US landscape, perhaps because it lacks a dominating funder. The context is complicated when it comes to eval of domestic programs focused on or affecting cross-cultural and marginalized groups, and there may be some sensitivity (or barriers) to competition for work in Canada from US and other outside practitioners.
I’ve had very good experiences at CES, and it’s a great venue to connect with terrific & highly competent people you might not meet otherwise. Average quality of the work, both in general practice and at the conference, in my experience, is impressive. Occasionally the conference is so focused on their own national/federal/cultural issues that it’s been less useful for someone like me. As noted, I haven’t been in a while, so someone else can chime in on more recent experiences.
Full disclosure, I earned CES/SCE credentialed evaluator status in 2011.