This unpublished, but privately circulated, paper was first drafted in 2005 to address a “turf war” that was brewing at the time between PEO and OSPE. It was subsequently expanded to include CCPE [now Engineers Canada] and CEO, and updated again in 2011 to reflect more recent developments. It remains particularly relevant today in light of the recent dispute between PEO and OSPE that led to the PEO member referendum to terminate the PEO-OSPE Agreement.
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Since the creation of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) in 2001, there has been confusion regarding the respective roles of PEO and OSPE within the engineering profession in Ontario. This confusion has been projected on to the national engineering scene, raising further questions regarding the relationship between PEO, OSPE, and Engineers Canada.
The common membership of PEO and OSPE, particularly those involved in the leadership of PEO chapters and committees, has been particularly frustrated by the confusion. Many questions remain unanswered to this day regarding the appropriate roles of PEO chapters and volunteers vis-à-vis OSPE.
The confusion has been evident even at the level of PEO Council and the OSPE Board, who have at various stages held differing interpretations of the PEO – OSPE Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement, and of the framers’ intent behind these documents. These differences of opinion have led to repeated conflicts, the resolution of which has consumed substantial time and energy on the part of the leadership of both organizations. This unfortunate situation can be expected to continue – to the detriment of our profession – until all parties concerned come to a common understanding of their respective roles and agree on some rules of engagement.
This position paper represents an attempt to address some of these issues, and to arrive at a common understanding of the respective roles of PEO, OSPE, Engineers Canada, and CEO within the engineering profession in Ontario. It is offered in the hope of establishing a common shared vision of how the engineering profession in Ontario can best be organized and led to serve the public interest, the interest of the self-regulating profession, and the interest of its members.
I believe we – the membership of the profession and the leadership of the four engineering organizations named above – should place a very high priority on eliminating any role confusions or conflicts among ourselves. Our volunteer leaders have been experiencing a high level of frustration, to the point where I fear some are losing respect for and confidence in their professional institutions. If we do not succeed in clarifying these issues, none of the organizations will be as effective as it could be in carrying out its mandate, and both the profession and society at large will suffer as a result.
At the risk of dredging up some history that might better be left buried, here is my assessment of the current situation and what has led to it.
- From 1922 to 2001 (i.e., for most of its history), the engineering profession in Ontario was led and governed by a unicameral organization (PEO) that embodied both regulatory and non-regulatory functions. Although PEO has never been primarily focused on advocacy for either the self-regulating profession or its members, there has been a steady undercurrent of demand from the membership for it to do more to elevate the value of the profession in the eyes of the public, and in particular, the various levels of government. And while I contend that professional engineers have always done a better job than any other self-regulating profession of putting the public interest before their own self-interest, there has been evidence that some members of the profession have seen it more as an exclusive club than as a self-regulating profession in the public interest. It is not only the government, but also the members of the profession, who have lost sight of the original concept of a self-regulating profession and how it is supposed to work. In this vein, a couple of past Attorneys General, notably Roy McMurtry and Marion Boyd, have urged PEO to divest itself of non-regulatory interests and functions in the interest of avoiding any [even perceived] conflict of interest, in the same manner as the legal and medical professions have. Such divestiture has represented a paradigm shift for most members of the engineering profession, who have been used to thinking about things in a certain [unicameral] way, and acting accordingly, for some eighty years.
The irony of this is that the current Government of Ontario does not appear to feel as strongly as some of its predecessors about the need to have regulatory and advocacy functions in separate organizations. As evidence of this, I would cite their willingness to treat unicameral professional bodies like the OAA, and even non-regulatory / advocacy bodies like OACETT, equally as regulators. During my term as PEO President, the then Attorney General (Michael Bryant) encouraged PEO to undertake a grassroots campaign to educate members of the Legislature on the role and value of the self-regulating engineering profession, and on our regulatory issues. He and his Parliamentary Assistant do not consider such activities to be at all inappropriate for a regulatory body. Moreover, they have urged us to work together with OSPE to deliver our key messages, with each organization putting its appropriate spin on them, citing the legal profession (the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Ontario Bar Association) as a model of how this is done.
- I am informed that this is the third time in its history (since 1922) the engineering profession in Ontario has attempted to create a separate advocacy organization. During the ten or so years leading up to the formation of OSPE I heard many times that previous attempts had failed because [A]PEO had scuppered them by refusing to give up any of its mandate or functions. Personally, I have never bought that argument, but I believe it led the framers of the PEO – OSPE Agreement to try to reduce PEO’s mandate to solely regulatory functions and to include anything and everything else in OPSE’s mandate.
- This might be a workable division of responsibilities if it were possible for OSPE to sustain itself on the scale necessary to do everything of a non-regulatory nature needed by the profession. (The division of responsibilities between the Ontario Medical Association and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario approximates this scenario, although it is impossible to draw a good parallel between the engineering and medical professions, given that members of the latter are essentially public servants with a common employer, and the OMA has accordingly been deemed by the courts to be trade union, with the power to collect significant dues from all practitioners.) The reality here is that PEO, as the grantor of both a licence and a title, has much greater ability to raise needed funds than the Society, in which membership is, and must remain, completely voluntary.
- At the same time as OSPE was being conceived, there was significant criticism within the profession of the governance and management of PEO. Many within the leadership felt that Council and senior staff were isolated from, and unresponsive to, the membership at large and the active volunteer base. They therefore exercised their democratic right to elect new leadership with a change agenda. This resulted in a significant upheaval within the elected and staff leadership of PEO. One side effect of this was that the founders of OSPE wanted to model it as differently from PEO as they could. But while OSPE’s governance processes ended up quite different from those of PEO (which incidentally had by then embarked on a governance review of its own), the content and value proposition of OSPE in terms of what it was actually going to do and how remained unclear through the first several years of its operation.
- A further problem is that there is no general agreement on what is regulatory and what is non–regulatory. The fact of the matter is that many of the things we do as a profession are neither regulatory nor non-regulatory. One might say they are “neutral”. So when and why does this regulatory / non-regulatory distinction matter? I submit that it matters only when an activity is either (i) necessary for the protection of the public (i.e., “the regulation of the practice of engineering in the public interest”) or (ii) necessary for the promotion of the self-interest of members of the profession. Many of our activities such as communications, professional engineer’s awards, education outreach, and public policy are both in the public interest and in the interest of members, with no identifiable conflicts in those interests.
- During the transition period, PEO programs and activities that were clearly non-regulatory, like the Employment Advisory Service and the Employer Salary Survey, were transferred to the Society. Attempts were made to transfer other PEO activities to OSPE such as the Professional Engineers Awards, National Engineering Week, and WEAC; however the Society was initially unable to assume either financial or administrative responsibility for them; so, with the exception of WEAC, they remain shared programs to this day.
- Some PEO leaders have come to the conclusion that the originally envisaged split of mandates and responsibilities between PEO and OSPE was misguided:- that it should have been instead member advocacy and member services to OSPE and the remainder to PEO.
- PEO chapter leaders have, in the main, supported the Society since its inception, and have tried to find a role for themselves in supporting its work (other than just paying its membership dues). Attempts by chapter leaders to involve themselves in OSPE were initially rebuffed on the legalistic grounds that there is an inherent conflict of interest between PEO and OSPE, and the two organizations should always be at arms length. This can be frustrating to members, who do not see themselves as split personalities. After all, they argue, we are all members of the same profession, we all have simultaneously both public interest and self interest, and both organizations need volunteer involvement and leadership.
- Another reason for the negative response to the notion of chapter involvement in OSPE may be that OSPE has not seen a significant role for non-elected member volunteers in its activities.
Our Shared Vision
Now let me turn to what I think we should do about this unhealthy situation. (By the way, I acknowledge that a few of our colleagues have opined that tension and conflict between PEO and OSPE is inevitable and healthy, but I disagree. We simply can’t afford to devote our limited time and energy to conflict over matters where no fundamental conflict of purpose or interest exists! This applies to both organizations.)
First, I suggest we agree on a shared vision, which I would articulate this way:
(1) That the engineering profession in Ontario is regarded as the world’s best example of a self-regulating profession that serves and protects the public;
(2) That the engineering profession in Ontario is well understood, well regarded / respected / trusted, and well compensated for its contribution to our society.
(3) That the engineering profession in Ontario has signifcant influence in public affairs.
Notice that both PEO and OSPE have important roles in achieving this vision. Note, however, that it is the engineering profession in Ontario that is the subject of the vision, not one professional body or the other. Let’s keep our eye on the ball!
Some governing Principles
Second, we need to articulate a position on division of responsibilities between PEO and OSPE. My suggestion:
(a) Only PEO, and not OSPE, will govern and regulate the profession.
(b) Only OSPE, and not PEO, will advocate on behalf of and provide services to members of the profession.
(c) Anything that does not fall clearly into either (a) or (b) may be done by either PEO or OSPE individually, or by both bodies acting either independently or together.
(d) We will attempt to avoid duplication of individual efforts and uncoordinated joint efforts.
(e) Within established constraints designed to maintain the independence of the two bodies, members of the profession may be involved simultaneously in the activities of both organizations so long as they are careful to attribute those activities correctly and to avoid conflicts of interest.
In order for this division of responsibilities to work, it is critical that PEO and OSPE have continuous and open communications on the issues facing the profession. When a new issue comes up or a new initiative is proposed, there should be open dialogue between the two organizations to reach agreement on the following:
- Is it regulatory or non-regulatory or neutral?
- If it is neutral, who is going to address it (PEO, OSPE, or both)?
- If both organizations are going to address it, will they do so jointly or severally?
- If jointly, how will we organize our joint response?
- If severally, how will we coordinate and/or keep each other informed or our respective activities and positions?
This kind of exchange is the primary responsibility and raison d’être of the PEO-OSPE Joint Relations Committee (JRC) established in 2005, which I’m sorry to say has had a checkered history of success.
Some elaboration is required on the notion of advocacy and the respective roles of PEO and OSPE in it. It is incorrect to assert that advocacy and public policy activities belong exclusively to OSPE and not to PEO. It all depends on what is being advocated, and why.
The self-regulating engineering profession has legitimate self-interests, and PEO (not OSPE) is the “trustee” of that profession in Ontario. So it is entirely appropriate and necessary for PEO to communicate and advocate on behalf of the profession. PEO cannot, however, advocate for the economic or employment interests of professional engineers. It is also entirely appropriate for PEO to advocate for good government and sound public policy, which, after all, are in the public interest. The only constraint on such advocacy is PEO’s commitment to put the public interest first, ahead of any self-interest.
Ironically, advocacy for good government and sound public policy are not the main interest of OSPE, which was created to serve the self-interests of members of the engineering profession in Ontario. OSPE has no obligation to put the public interest first before the interest of its members, as PEO does. For example, there seems to be a consensus that we have an over-abundance of professional engineers relative to the market demand for their services, at least in southern Ontario. PEO is legally obligated to license any applicant who meets its qualifications for licensure, and cannot advocate for restricting the labour supply in the profession. But OSPE can (and should)!
Some Other Suggestions
Finally, I have a couple more suggestions of things we (PEO and OSPE) should agree to:
- We will each refrain from trying to tell the other body what it should and should not be doing.
- We will stop arguing about what is regulatory and what is non-regulatory.
- We will stop arguing about who can do advocacy and public policy work, and will both get on with advocating from our respective positions of concern.
- We will collaborate on common messaging unless there is a blatant conflict in our positions.
- We will each stop criticizing the other organization and its leadership.
If we can come to consensus on some of these basic issues, we can both get on with the important work we have to do to achieve our shared vision.
The National Scene
The relationship between PEO and OSPE has been complicated by the fact that PEO is part of a national organization, the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (now called Engineers Canada). Engineers Canada is an association of the twelve provincial and territorial engineering associations across Canada (i.e., it is the “child” of its constituent members; not the other way around). Engineering in Canada is regulated by provincial statute; so Engineers Canada has no regulatory mandate of its own in terms of legislation. However, it does assist its constituent members to coordinate their regulatory activities, and it does provide input to the Federal Government on matters of federal acts and regulations that involve or affect engineering (such as the Railway Safety Act and the National Building Code).
All of the constituent members of Engineers Canada except PEO in Ontario and OIQ in Quebec continue to have both regulatory and advocacy / member services roles. Indeed, their representatives have had considerable difficulty understanding why Ontario engineers felt it necessary to separate these roles into separate organizations. Like its constituent members, Engineers Canada has always been unicameral in scope and mandate, and has not historically separated or even distinguished between its various roles. Moreover, Engineers Canada has historically arranged and managed affinity programs such as group life, disability, and health insurance for engineers across Canada on a national basis on behalf of its constituent members. These programs have generated substantial revenue for Engineers Canada (in excess of the assessments paid by its constituent members to fund its operations), which has been used to fund various advocacy initiatives on behalf of the Canadian engineering profession at large.
Ontario’s separation of regulatory and advocacy / member service functions has been perceived as a threat to Engineers Canada’s mandate and financial viability by some of its directors and staff. OSPE affinity programs in group insurance and retirement investments, introduced to help fund OSPE, now compete with Engineers Canada’s national offerings, as do those of Serviq in Quebec.
It would seem logical that OSPE would have some formal relationship with CCPE insofar as advocacy and member services – but not regulatory issues – are concerned.
There is yet another organization involved in the self-interest and leadership of Ontario’s engineering profession: Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO). CEO is an organization of companies that provide consulting engineering services on a fee-for-service basis. CEO represents consulting engineering firms of all sizes from sole practitioners to 1000+ member firms, but does not represent or serve individual employee engineers. Analogous to the relationship between PEO and CCPE, CEO is part of a national organization of consulting engineering firms called the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) that coordinates the efforts of the provincial associations and supports them at the national level.
Although their respective mandates are for the most part clearly distinguishable, PEO and CEO have a strong working relationship. CEO members require a Certificate of Authorization (CofA) from PEO to offer their engineering services to the public. (The converse is not true: CofA holders do not require membership in CEO, which is voluntary.) The only vestige of PEO’s specialist designation system remaining today is the Consulting Engineering designation, which is sought and maintained by members of consulting engineering firms.
CEO members have a strong interest in the public, and the government in particular, understanding the role and value of engineering in society. CEO therefore stands regularly together with PEO and OSPE in promoting the status of the engineering profession and in representing it on matters of public policy where engineering is concerned.
In a perfect world, it might be possible for our engineering advocacy bodies (OSPE and CEO) to do most of the advocacy work required by the profession in Ontario. But economic realities dictate otherwise. With its volunteer membership, OSPE will never have the membership base or the financial resources that PEO has available to it. And CEO’s mandate does not include advocating for individual professional engineers unless they are selling consulting services. So if the profession at large is going to have advocacy, PEO has to be a significant and effective player. The alternative is simply not to have the advocacy all – for most of us, an unacceptable alternative. Some have suggested that PEO can fund OSPE to do its advocacy, similarly to the way it compensated OSPE to solicit advertising for Engineering Dimensions. But such an arrangement would be of questionable legitimacy. A much better solution is for PEO and OSPE to carry out joint programs in advocacy and public policy with mutually agreed upon messaging. In this way, the two organizations’ volunteers can work side by side, and the two organizations can share the costs of the program (not necessarily equally). CEO and Engineers Canada can potentially join in these endeavours and their funding as well.
This sort of arrangement is reflected in the composition of our new Government Liaison Committee. This is the kind of “joint ownership” model that was contemplated all along for the Ontario Centre for Engineering and Public Policy (OCEPP) – it was never intended to be a PEO staff department under the CEO/Registrar.
In conclusion, it is my fervent hope that a shared vision of what we can accomplish together for our profession, a consensus on our respective roles in advocacy and public policy, agreed upon rules of engagement, and a collaborative working model can resolve the current disputes and get engineering in Ontario where it needs to be for the benefit of the profession and the public we serve.
George R. Comrie, P.Eng., CMC