Professional Governance Act
In November 2018, the BC Government passed the Professional Governance Act, which will consolidate government oversight of the five professional regulators for engineering and geoscience, forestry, agrology, applied biology, and applied science technology under a new Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance.
The new legislation is a result of government’s professional reliance review, which examined the current legislation governing qualified professionals in the natural resource sector, and the role their professional associations play in upholding the public interest.
The legislation will set consistent governance standards across the professions it governs, and will come into force over the next few years as regulations are developed to support its implementation. As each regulation is developed and details are determined, it is expected to involve its own consultation process, which Engineers and Geoscientists BC expects to be actively involved in.
It is expected to take the next three to five years for the Professional Governance Act to be fully implemented.
Once it is fully in place, the new Act will replace the Engineers and Geoscientists Act, the current legislation governing the practice of engineering and geoscience in BC.
The Professional Governance Act
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Regulations are currently being developed to support the implementation of the Professional Governance Act. In November, government initiated consultation on the first set of regulations, releasing an intentions paper that lays out their intent and invited comments from stakeholders and the public.
On March 4, Engineers and Geoscientists BC submitted our formal response to the BC Government's intentions paper. Our submission addresses the regulation of firms, competency and conflict of interest declarations, and independent practice rights of professions. The association has been working with Council and a focus group of professional members with senior experience in varied disciplines to develop policy positions for each of the regulation topics.
A brief overview of the government’s proposed approach for each regulation, along with a summary of Engineers and Geoscientists BC’s positions, is outlined below.
- Regulation of firms: Under the Professional Governance Act, the government is proposing the regulation of firms in BC.
Engineers and Geoscientists BC has spent several years, guided by an advisory task force and working closely with our membership, to develop a corporate regulation model that improves regulatory oversight, protects the public interest, and provides opportunities to organizations to improve their processes and reduce their risk. The government’s intentions paper recognizes the strength of the model we have developed, and we believe that this model should act as the basis for corporate regulation in BC. In addition, we support the use of this model for multi-disciplinary firms so that these firms need only deal with one regulator and one set of processes. We are recommending to government that these regulations come into effect in 2021.
- Competency declarations and conflict of interest declarations: Under the proposed Act, when a registered professional provides services that are within their scope of practice, they may be required to sign competency and conflict of interest declarations.
Engineers and Geoscientists BC supports the principle of transparency and agrees that further disclosure regarding competence and conflict of interest is in the public interest. However, government must ensure that any declarations are not redundant and do, in fact, provide further value commensurate with the resources required to implement such a system. Declarations must be risk-based, must build upon existing processes to increase compliance, and reduce duplication. We recommend that government use Assurance Statements, a system used already by many Qualified Professionals to implement this new requirement. Finally, these declarations should be centrally and electronically filed with the Superintendent or Ministry, not the regulator, and be public and searchable to increase transparency.
- Independent practice rights of professions: The proposed act enables the granting of practice rights for all five professions covered by the new legislation. This includes providing independent practice rights for engineering technologists, regulated by the Association of Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC).
Engineers and Geoscientists BC is very concerned that a separate parallel regulator for certain aspects of engineering presents a risk by creating confusion for the public, government, and employers; it will also create duplication and inefficiency. Moreover, having separate regulatory bodies will limit the opportunities for the regulatory model in BC to respond in a flexible and timely manner to changes in the field of engineering.
The single-regulator model is currently applied for most other professions in BC–foresters, veterinarians, lawyers–and should be followed for engineers and engineering technologists. Engineers and Geoscientists BC is recommending that all work that falls within the definition of the practice of engineering (including engineering technology) should be regulated by a single government-designated regulator whose mandate is to regulate the practice of engineering.
We continue to engage with government and other stakeholders to articulate our concerns regarding these proposed policies. We will continue to advocate that any changes must benefit the overall public good and follow the principle of Right Touch Regulation–using the right amount of regulation to achieve the intended outcome; no more and no less.
This is a process that is expected to take several years. In order to positively influence the outcome of this process we will continue to contribute constructively to the discussions with government, ensuring they understand the complexities and risks, and positive alternatives, to any proposed policy change.
The Professional Governance Act provides a framework, to be administered by a new Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance, for consistent governance standards across the five regulators for engineering and geoscience, forestry, agrology, applied biology, and applied science technology.
These standards include:
- increasing public representation and instituting a merit‐based nomination process for council;
- setting common ethical principles;
- requiring competency and conflict of interest declarations from qualified professionals;
- strengthening professionals’ duty to report unethical conduct of other professionals;
- providing whistle blower protections to those who report; and
- enabling professional regulators to regulate firms.
These changes, many of which are consistent with the regulation of engineering and geoscience professions in other jurisdictions across Canada, would be introduced over time in order to modernize the regulatory standards in BC.
And, while there are a number of unanswered questions about the implementation of the legislation, the framework introduced is considerably better than the one originally proposed by government in June, reflecting some key recommendations made by Engineers and Geoscientists BC during consultations.
While we appreciate these concessions, and see benefits in proper resourcing of government oversight and the addition of new regulatory tools to protect the public interest, it is too early to determine the efficacy of this new legislation.
The Office will have broad and sweeping powers and a number of the changes to regulatory oversight are significant. The key to successfully improving the framework and protecting the public interest will be careful, well considered implementation of the office and these changes. We are calling on government to be cautious and to work with the impacted regulators to ensure that the risks associated with sweeping change are identified and mitigated.
The Professional Governance Act was brought into law by the BC Legislative Assembly on November 27, 2018. Regulations will now begin to be developed to support its implementation.
We have been advised that this would be a long-term process, with regulations on various provisions of the Act coming into force as they are developed. Each regulation, as it is developed and details are determined, is expected to involve its own consultation process, which Engineers and Geoscientists BC expects to be actively involved in. It is expected to take the next three to five years for the Act to be fully implemented.
Since the release of the Professional Reliance Review Recommendation Report, we have been engaging with government and other stakeholders to articulate our concerns that any changes to regulatory oversight should enhance, rather than weaken protection of the public interest.
To date, the association has devoted significant effort and resources to working with government to ensure that these changes benefit the overall public good and support key regulatory priorities identified by Engineers and Geoscientists BC to that end.
Those efforts have resulted in some changes by government, which we feel will avoid a number of risks and unintended consequences. As regulations are developed, we will continue to work with government to the best of our ability to ensure changes to the regulatory model are carefully considered and effectively implemented.
The full text of the legislation is available on the BC government's website. Additional background on the Professional Reliance Review and Engineers and Geoscientists BC’s engagement with government on this issue is also available on our website.
Do you have questions about the new legislation, and what it could mean for you? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for answers to common questions about this issue.
Questions about the Professional Governance Act and the Professional Reliance Review can also be addressed to [email protected].