Professional Governance Legislation

On October 22, 2018, the BC Government took its first step in implementing the Professional Reliance Review, tabling new legislation that will impact how the professions of engineering and geoscience are regulated. If approved, the Professional Governance Act would restructure government oversight of the five professional regulators for engineering and geoscience, forestry, agrology, applied biology, and applied science technology.
 

What is the Professional Governance Act?

The Professional Governance Act is proposed provincial legislation that would eventually replace the individual governing legislation for five professional regulators, including Engineers and Geoscientists BC. The legislation also consolidates oversight of professional regulators in an Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance, which will set consistent governance standards across these professions.

While the Professional Reliance Report contained 121 recommendations, this new legislation addresses just the first two, specific to governance and oversight of professional regulators. The remaining 119 recommendations that address provincial resourcing and specific statutes—the items likely to have a more direct impact on individual practitioners—will be dealt with separately.
 

What's IN the legislation?

Establishing a Framework

The Professional Governance Act provides a framework, to be administered by the Office, for consistent governance standards across the five regulators involved in the professional reliance review, including:
  • 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 last week is considerably better than the one originally proposed by government in June, reflecting some key recommendations made by Engineers and Geoscientists BC during consultations. 

In particular, our Council felt it was essential to limit the potential for political interference in the profession. To that end, Engineers and Geoscientists BC argued forcefully that that new office should not be appointed directly by, or reporting to, Cabinet—something government had initially proposed. While the details have yet to be fully disclosed, at this time we anticipate that the head of the office will be a member of the civil service and will have statutory decision making authority, rather than giving Cabinet this power. 

In addition, Engineers and Geoscientists BC recommended strongly that an advisory committee be established to guide the actions of the office and oversee key implementation activities. This committee should be made up of representatives of affected ministries as well as the five professional regulators. This committee was included in the legislation and government has committed to including the regulators in its membership.

Finally, the Professional Reliance Report, and government’s initial direction, suggested that elections would be eliminated as the method to select Council members, as would the ability to support advocacy initiatives that promote and sustain the professions. As a result of strong push-back by Engineers and Geoscientists BC, government changed direction and agreed to maintain both of these elements which we feel are important tenets of professional self-regulation.

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.
 

Practice rights under consideration for technologists

In addition, another area of concern emerged late in the consultation process: government has broadened the scope of the Professional Reliance review to include the subject of practice rights for agrologists, biologists, and applied science technologists and technicians. 

While the Professional Governance Act enables the provision of these rights, practice rights will not be immediately granted with the passing of the legislation. Like the rest of the legislation, practice rights would only be granted with the development of supporting regulations that would specify the scope of any such rights. 

Government has published an intentions paper on this subject, and is collecting input as a part of a consultation process.  Engineers and Geoscientists BC will be actively engaged in that process to ensure that the public interest is appropriately protected. We are currently reviewing the intentions paper, and as we consider the implications, will be providing more information to members through this website and other means.

The BC government is seeking feedback and comments over a 90-day period to inform the development of policy and regulations under the proposed Act. Feedback can be provided through the Province's website at engage.gov.bc.ca/professionalreliance or by email to [email protected]. The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2019 at 4:00 PM.

To help keep the association informed, members providing submissions to government are welcome to forward a copy of that feedback to [email protected]
 

WHEN WILL THIS TAKE EFFECT?

The Professional Governance Act was tabled on October 22 (first reading) and passed second reading on October 30. It is expected to go through final debate and third reading later this month and be brought into law by the end of the Fall 2018 Legislative Session. 

If the legislation is enacted, regulations will need to be developed to support 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.
 

WHAT ACTION IS ENGINEERS AND GEOSCIENTISTS BC TAKING?

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. 
 

Where can I find more information?

The full text of the legislation is available on the BC government's website. Government has also released an intentions paper to help inform the development of future policy and regulations under the proposed Act. 

For background, see our Professional Reliance webpage

Questions about the Professional Governance Act and Professional Reliance can be addressed to [email protected]