Writers ‘Very Concerned’ About
APEGGA’s Inclusivity Model

Editor’s Note: The following letter on APEGGA’s inclusivity initiative was copied to The PEGG for publication. Dated March 12, it is addressed to APEGGA President Mike Smyth, P.Eng., and APEGGA Council. Since then, Council has decided to postpone a vote on the new category. The AGM will be used for the discussion of the category only.

We, the undersigned, are very concerned about the proposed inclusivity model to be presented to the APEGGA Annual General Meeting in April. We feel that this proposal is, at best, being rushed to implementation without the opportunity for due diligence by the membership, and, at worst, is a serious and irreversible mistake in setting a new direction for APEGGA and the whole notion of professional licensing.

Our particular concern is with the proposed categories of Registered Engineer, Registered Geologist, and Registered Geophysicist.

Regarding due diligence, although there have been presentations at the branches and more planned via town hall meetings in the next couple of weeks, we are not convinced that the membership is being presented with a balance of views on this issue. Furthermore, we know of many members who are not aware of this initiative at all. This letter is receiving a wide circulation to help rectify this.

To our knowledge, the Board of Examiners has not been officially requested to review the details of this proposal, has not discussed it at a meeting of the full board (which includes both public members and representatives from the minister) and has neither reported to Council nor presented board members’ views in a public forum. It seems only reasonable that since the board will be the instrument of this new policy, it should have the opportunity to know exactly what is being proposed, to discuss this thoroughly, and to give feedback to Council and the general membership regarding perceived problems and concerns prior to its adoption.

We fully recognize that the Board of Examiners cannot set policy at this level. However, with its prime vantage point on the licensing procedure, it is remarkable that the full board’s input has not been encouraged or sought. It is clearly within the board’s terms of reference (APEGGA website) “to establish and maintain academic standards,” “to establish and maintain standards of qualifications,” and to “develop standards, policies, and procedures that meet the intent of the [EGGP] Act.” In regard to these tasks and the inclusivity initiative, the full board has not been able to exercise the required due diligence.

As for professional licensing, we feel this proposal is ill-conceived for numerous reasons. First, a great deal has been made of how inclusivity would lead to increased protection of the public. In this regard, we must be careful to not confuse “qualifications” with “status.” Our executive director says (March 2004 PEGG) inclusivity will “greatly reduce the amount of unregulated practice of engineering and geoscience in Alberta.” Under current regulations, unregulated practice is sought out and challenged by the Compliance Department, and in extreme cases can be the subject of legal proceedings.

Mr. Smyth says (March PEGG) that inclusivity will “license qualified individuals to legally do what they are already doing.” (It might be useful to draw a distinction between “qualified” and “capable” here.) This statement clearly implies that what these individuals are currently doing is illegal – practicing without a license.

Now, it seems, proponents of inclusivity would rather switch than fight – rather than prevent practice by unregistered personnel through mechanisms already in place, simply make them members. This changes their status without changing their qualifications.

How does this lead to greater protection of the public? This seems to come from the “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” school of professional practice enforcement, whose main effect would be to increase the membership roster. With the same people doing the same jobs as before (albeit now legally), there is no evidence to prove the assertion that public safety would be improved under the new rules.

Under inclusivity, what is to guarantee that people currently practicing without a licence would even apply for membership? Enforcement will still be an issue. Where is the “compelling reason for change” alluded to by Mr. Smyth? We have yet to see the connection between inclusivity and increased public safety.

In fact, the situation may even be the opposite. The issue here is qualifications rather than status. There is no known accreditation system for non-engineering degrees even within Canada, although geoscientists have an agreed-upon syllabus that is required across the country for licensing in geology and geophysics.

There is no system for quality control or assessment of Canadian four-year science degrees, much less foreign degrees. There are thousands of these institutions and degrees around the globe. The board that must evaluate these qualifications has literally no idea about the quality or content of all these programs.

How, then, is the adequacy of these unknown degrees to be assessed in a way that can ensure public safety? Quite simply, it can’t – there are nowhere near enough resources available to individually assess these degree programs to the level of confidence provided by an accredited degree.

Can an applicant therefore be determined to be academically qualified or not? Who knows? Inclusivity is simply opening the doors to any and all comers. If persons with any four-year degree are to be admitted as members, this truly represents a “dumbing-down” of the Association (letter from Horace Gopeesingh, P.Eng., March 2003 PEGG). How can this possibly serve to increase public safety, much less maintain it?

So then what is the message APEGGA is sending to universities with accredited engineering programs, or the students in those programs? The Canadian accreditation system for engineering degrees is a model for the world. Why is it to be ignored by arguably the strongest association in the country?

Since any four-year degree in any of several disciplines (including science, biology, geography, and presumably others) is acceptable for registration as an R.Eng., there is no real need to maintain any form of accreditation, or for students to endure the rigour of an engineering degree.

Mr. Smyth indicates that the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers has been consulted (in September 2003) on the “framework” of inclusivity. Does CCPE realize that, with the proposal now available in detail, inclusivity will void any need for a CEAB accredited degree for someone to practice as a (registered) engineer? We would like to hear CCPE’s response on this question.

The projection (March PEGG) of only a hundred likely applicants for the R.Eng. (or R.Geoph. or R.Geol.) in the next five years is simply not credible. If this is the number required to “greatly reduce the amount of unregulated practice” (in a province with more than 30,000 practising members!) then perhaps the problem is not nearly as serious as presented.

This is significantly fewer than the number of cases (155 cases in 2003 alone) involving practice by unregistered individuals (Compliance Department Activity Report for 2003, APEGGA website). However, the number applying for R.Eng. (or R.Geol. or R.Geoph.) is more likely to be several thousand in the indicated time period.

Applications to APEGGA now number over 2,000 per year. Approximately half of these could immediately benefit under these relaxed rules for the new category of licensure. Many would probably pick it rather than the laborious exam route to full professional registration (especially when the plan proposed is to treat both designations the same, as discussed below). This does not even count the potential flood of new applicants if general four-year degrees are permitted – this number could grow much larger.

Regarding the equivalence of R.Eng. and P.Eng. designations (and R.Geol.-P.Geol., R.Geoph.- P.Geoph.), the report to Council (Feb. 5) indicates that for all intents and purposes these would ideally be indistinguishable. In the President’s Notebook (March PEGG), it is indicated that the public will not (should not?) be expected to know the difference.

Will these be second-class members? “No,” says Mr. Smyth, “They will be professional members of APEGGA.” The FAQ attached to the Inclusivity Task Force Report to Council contains the following response to the question of possible confusion between the two designations:

“ A successful title for this category [R.Eng., R.Geol., R.Geoph.] is one that avoids unnecessary differentiation between the two categories. The primary reason for a title other than ‘professional’ for this new category is that we must preserve the mobility of individuals who do meet the national and international requirements for licensure as recognized under our mobility agreements.”

The implications of this statement are astounding. First, it admits that R.Eng.’s (and R.Geol.’s and R.Geoph.’s) do not meet national and international standards for licensure. Second, it implies that ideally the public should not perceive any difference between the two. Is this not an attempt to mislead the public?

Third, it implies that, except for mobility, the two designations are fully interchangeable. This is not the case for the R.P.T. designation, to which the operation of the R.Eng. is often compared (for example, both have a limited defined scope of practice). The professional members of APEGGA must be informed of this. What is the likely response of employers when two applicants apply for the same job: one with a P.Eng. and the other with an R.Eng.?

A basic premise of the inclusivity proposal seems to be that, under current policy, many qualified and capable individuals are “prevented from gaining full professional licensure.” These fall into the categories of “international graduates, emerging disciplines, technologists, and others.” Here lies a serious misunderstanding of the requirements for registration and the assessment procedures used by the Board of Examiners.

Let it be made clear that under current rules no qualified applicant is prevented from registration, as has been implied by some statements to Council. On the contrary, when evaluating all academic credentials (especially those from a non-accredited [non-CEAB] institution), the board operates on a “looking to exempt” policy.

As much as possible, qualifying or confirmatory exams are excused with just cause (usually by virtue of suitable advanced education or outstanding experience). The issue for many applicants is not about failure to academically qualify for membership, but the difficulty of evaluating academic credentials from unknown or poorly documented unaccredited programs or, in some cases the inability to adequately document many years of foreign experience.

Under the rules that have been established specifically to protect the public interest, the Board of Examiners must exercise due diligence in assessing the academic background of applicants. If accurate and reliable academic credentials cannot be provided, how can the applicant be considered to be qualified?

Due diligence requires positive proof, not the absence of negative proof. If exams are assessed in order to verify qualifications, how can these be waived if the experience record is incomplete or poor?

The board is frequently asked to reconsider decisions to assess examinations and, with new additional detailed information concerning the applicant’s background, will often waive previously assessed exams. It is not the board’s job to make registration easy but to make sure persons granted membership are qualified.

Finally, under the proposed inclusivity guidelines, there is no exam route alternative to obtaining membership in the Registered category. Assuming that qualification reviews were somehow feasible under inclusivity, this implies that if membership is denied on the basis of inadequate or incomplete academic qualifications (e.g. a three-year degree), the applicant is out of luck.

This is considerably harsher than the current system whereby perceived academic deficiencies or questions of academic qualifications can be overcome by specified or confirmatory exams. The proposed rules do not indicate what avenues might be available to these applicants, but we can expect such decisions (to deny membership) to be appealed frequently and vigorously.

In his column in the APRIL ISSUE of The PEGG, Mr. Smyth talks of “lengthening the bar” rather than lowering it. In fact, what inclusivity would do is remove the bar altogether. It would not, as the AGM advertising in the same issue of The PEGG indicates, “make the circle stronger” but make it so big as to be meaningless. If you make it big enough, a curved arc becomes a straight line that encloses nothing.

Mr. Smyth also says that, “These changes aren’t radical.” We do not think this statement could be more wrong.

We strongly urge that the general vote on the inclusivity motion planned for the next AGM on April 24 be delayed until the final detailed motion can be given more serious study by the general membership. In fact, considering the far-reaching implications of this change, an appropriate course of action might be to hold a referendum (preferably mail-in to receive the broadest participation) during the Council elections in spring of next year.

This will give considerably more opportunity to hear the voice of the general membership.


Dr. Roger Toogood, P.Eng.
Dr. Mark Loewen, P.Eng.
Dr. Anil Mehrotra, P.Eng.
Dr. Ken Porteous, P.Eng.
Dr. Warren Finlay, P.Eng.
Dr. Barry Patchett, P.Eng.
Dr. Gary Faulkner, P.Eng.
Dr. Larry Kostiuk, P.Eng.

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