APRIL 2008 Issue

President’s Notebook



APEGGA President

Although this is a farewell column of sorts, you are not done with me yet. The way the APEGGA Executive Committee is designed, I’ll be directly involved with Council and its business for one more year.

Not counting earlier experience on Council and the executive, the presidential commitment adds up to three years — one as President-Elect, one as President, and one as Past-President.

Therefore, after I turn over the gavel on April 19, you can start calling me Past-President.
Even after these challenging and interesting times on the executive, I’m sure I’ll find other ways to involve myself with the Association and its important business. We have accomplished much in the last year and, I believe, built a solid foundation for whatever new initiatives and challenges the future brings.

It is that future I’d like to address in this column. I have no crystal ball, of course, but there are some things that we as professionals and as self-regulators can see coming and need to be prepared to handle.

Canadian Labour Mobility
One of the bigger challenges looming concerns mobility and trade within Canada. There is a renewed move afoot in this country to eliminate barriers to inter-provincial trade. APEGGA and other self-regulating organizations in Canada will hear, more and more often, calls for greater labour mobility.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Improved trade and mobility are admirable goals, and they’re goals that I personally — and this Association — strongly support.

Yet the rumble beneath the surface is that APEGGA, our sister associations and other self-regulators are somehow part of the problem, a hindrance in moving skilled labour across provincial borders. This is simply not the case. The statement is also more than a little ironic.

Let me explain. Since long before the current labour shortage burst onto the Alberta scene and into political discourse, and since long before Alberta and B.C. signed onto the new trade agreement known as TILMA, your Association has been making a conscientious and fruitful effort to improve mobility.

We’ve done this to help our own members who want to work elsewhere, either through moving or through working on projects in other jurisdictions from an Alberta base. We’ve done this to reduce the wait times for qualified engineers and geoscientists coming into Alberta. And we’ve done this because we believe in free trade. In fact, we’ve been among free trade’s biggest advocates.

I’ve covered the more global aspects of mobility in past columns. Briefly, we’re reaching new levels of respect and cooperation with U.S. regulators, we continue to focus on trade and mobility in the Pacific Northwest through the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, and we’re signatories to a number of mutual recognition and other international agreements.

It’s inter-provincial free trade, however, that could become a hot-button issue. The precursor is the previously mentioned Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, signed by B.C. and Alberta in April 2006. TILMA is set to take full effect next year.

Although there are some qualifications and transitional considerations, the cold fact of the agreement is that “any worker certified for an occupation by a regulatory authority in one [of the two signatory provinces] shall be recognized as qualified to practice that occupation by [the other province].”

We agree — in the vast majority of cases. However, we are required by Alberta legislation, the EGGP Act, and empowered to license engineers, geologists and geophysicists in Alberta. Even if we wanted to (and we don’t), that’s not a responsibility we can abdicate.

We strongly believe in the admission procedures of other Canadian associations, but the due-diligence clause gives us a check and balance, allowing us to ensure that all applicants meet the requirements in Alberta.

IAMA Agreements
Regulatory systems from one province to another tend to be comparable, and that’s particularly true among engineers. The associations in Canada already recognize that. In fact since 1999 our provincial engineering self-regulators have handled transfers from one jurisdiction to another by following an Inter-Association Mobility Agreement, or IAMA.

In 2001 Canadian geoscience regulating associations signed a parallel agreement. Geoscientists face special problems with mobility, which we’re also addressing. More on that later in this column.

Until recently, the engineering IAMA contained a “notwithstanding” clause, which allowed each constituent association to reject a transfer for its own reasons. Nationally, the associations recognized that the term “notwithstanding” carries negative baggage, so revised wording has been proposed.

If approved at the Engineers Canada Annual General Meeting in May, the revised engineering IAMA would indicate that each constituent association perform “due diligence” when processing transfers. In Alberta we’re working hard to have the same type of wording included in the geoscience IAMA.

This is positive language that reflects exactly what our legislation expects us to do when we consider any application. We strongly believe in the admission procedures of other Canadian associations, but the due-diligence clause gives us a check and balance, allowing us to ensure that all applicants meet the requirements in Alberta.

Associations still have differences in licensure requirements, too. In Quebec, for example, engineers-in-training require three years of experience under supervision before they can become a professional engineer, not the four years required in other provinces. Continuing professional development requirements differ in some cases.

We need to remember, always, that the ultimate benefactor of this due diligence is the public. Regulation from province to province is a success story in this country. It can coexist with TILMA and other similar agreements that may be coming.

Although in exceptional circumstances a transfer might be rejected, an engineer licensed and in good standing with one jurisdiction will almost always, after making application or moving to another jurisdiction, receive a licence quickly and without any additional requirements.

In other words, we are absolutely living up to the spirit of TILMA, right now. Professional engineers have virtual full mobility in Canada.

The Geoscience Issue
Geoscience mobility in Canada is more difficult. First, so-called “incidental practice” is commonplace for geoscientists. They may work for a few days or even a few hours in one jurisdiction, before opening a file involving a project in another jurisdiction.

Complicating matters is that there is no national accreditation system for geoscience programs in Canadian universities. Examining whether a geoscientist from one province has the qualifications required of another is therefore not always straightforward.

We are close to accepting, however, a National Minimum Geoscience Knowledge for Registration. This has been drafted by the Canadian Geoscience Standards Board and jurisdictions across the country are currently considering it. That’s a great step toward better mobility and toward future accreditation of university programs in geoscience.

You’ll soon know the results of the member vote on creating a Professional Geoscience designation in Alberta. If it becomes part of our governing legislation, the single designation is another boost for mobility, by bringing us in line with other jurisdictions.

There are also rumblings in the political sphere about governments more directly regulating the professions that are currently self-regulating. Although these comments are not specifically aimed at engineering or geoscience, we could get caught in the downdraft of changes that might be imposed on other professions.

It is therefore imperative that we remain vigilant, not only concerning our own affairs but also those of the other self-regulating professions. We must be prepared to promote our position at every opportunity.

Of course, the best defence is to do and be perceived as doing an excellent job of protecting the public through self-regulation and self-discipline.

Post-Conventional-Oil-and-Gas Alberta
Looking even further down the road, we all need to think about what the Alberta of the future will look like. As regulators, we’ll need to become more open to new and emerging disciplines, and the need to work in teams.

As a province, we need to keep building our universities as centres of excellence. The innovation we’ve applied in Alberta will need to go in new and different directions.

And as a country, we need to work together to the meet all the challenges ahead.

The Year Ahead
The most immediate APEGGA challenges will fall in large part to my successor, Dr. Gordon Williams, P.Geol. I’m confident Gordon, the Executive Committee and the new Council will be well equipped to guide this great organization.

It’s been a busy and interesting year. Thanks to everyone who helped me through it, in particular Executive Director & Registrar Neil Windsor, P.Eng.

Thanks as well to all the members who corresponded or met with me, your input is always needed and valued. For me, it has been a privilege to serve our members, our professions and the public at large.