CLS, BCLS, SLS, P. Surv.
Professional Reliance Under Greater Public Scrutiny
Former B.C. Ombudsperson, Kim Carter, presented a report – STRIKING A BALANCE: THE CHALLENGES OF USING A PROFESSIONAL RELIANCE MODEL IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION – BRITISH COLUMBIA’S RIPARIAN AREAS REGULATION (RAR) to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in March 2014 (before the Mount Polley mine disaster) and she wrote “the potential for administrative unfairness arises when there is inadequate government oversight of private professionals and project proponents or the level of public accountability for their actions and decisions falls below acceptable standards.” She further wrote “I hope that this investigation into the operation of the Riparian Areas Regulation highlights a number of useful lessons that may assist any other environmental protection programs in British Columbia facing similar challenges.
On August 4, 2014, the Mount Polley mine’s tailings dam in BC broke, sending millions of cubic meters of mining waste into nearby lakes and rivers. Two reports, by B.C.’s chief inspector of mines and an independent panel of engineering experts, found the “collapse was caused by a poorly designed dam that didn’t account for drainage and erosion failures”.
In response to the above incident together with governance issues in the health sector, the Province created a Governance taskforce to review the professional reliance model in the natural resource sector in British Columbia. The review of the Province’s professional reliance model was conducted in fall/winter 2017-2018 with the goal to ensure the highest professional, technical and ethical standards are being applied to resource management in B.C.
There were five components to the professional reliance review including:
- Professional Association Audit
- Assessment of the enabling legislation and performance of professional associations that govern Qualified Professionals (QPs).
- PR Appropriateness and Effectiveness Assessment
- Assessment of 27 NR sector regulatory regimes to determine appropriateness of the use of QPs and whether these regimes follow best practice to protect the public interest.
- Interviews with key government and private sector users of QP information, with professional associations, with stakeholders, and with representatives of the public, focusing on their experiences with PR models in the NRS.
- Jurisdictional/Sectoral Scan
- A jurisdictional and sectoral scan to identify best practices in PR models of other jurisdictions and other sectors.
- Report and Recommendations
- A report with recommendations for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy was released to the public on June 28, 2018.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy received the final report on the professional reliance review on June 28, 2018. The report contains 121 recommendations for improvements to the professional reliance model.
In response to the first two recommendations, the Professional Governance Act (PGA) was introduced to the Legislative Assembly on October 22, 2018 and received Royal Assent November 27, 2018. The legislation will come into force by regulation and in stages beginning in 2019.
The five regulatory bodies and statutes in scope to be regulated by the PGA are:
- Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of B.C. (ASTTBC) (Applied Science Technologists and Technicians Act)
- Association of B.C. Forest Professionals (ABCFP) (Foresters Act)
- B.C. Institute of Agrologists (BCIA) (Agrologists Act)
- College of Applied Biology (CAB) (College of Applied Biology Act)
- Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, known as Engineers and Geoscientists B.C. (EGBC) (Engineers and Geoscientists Act)
Fortunately, the Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors (ABCLS) was not included in the PGA.
The intent for the initial stage of implementation is to establish the Office of the Superintendent of Professional Governance (Office) and bring in select powers of the Superintendent. During the implementation transition period, the governance statutes of the five regulatory bodies within scope of the PGA will remain in force until regulations are developed to fully implement the PGA, at which time the five governance statutes will be repealed.
In summary, the regulations will include:
- Increasing public representation and instituting a merit-based nomination process for councils of regulatory bodies;
- Setting common ethical principles;
- Requiring competency and conflict of interest declarations from registered professionals;
- Strengthening the duty to report hazardous practices of professionals;
- Providing whistle-blower protections to those who report;
- Providing practice rights authority for all five professions; and,
- Enabling regulatory bodies to regulate firms.
The above 5 professional bodies in BC will soon be regulated by the Superintendent under the PGA (similar to the US model). The Superintended under the PGA has sweeping powers including amalgamating one or more professional bodies and bringing more professional bodies under the Act. At the heart of the PGA are public trust, separation of advocacy and regulating functions, transparency and whistle-blower protection.
The land surveyors are not impacted at the present time. In future, more professions will come under public scrutiny and professional reliance models may be reviewed across Canada. All self-governing professional bodies in Canada will be better off aligning their practices and activities with the spirit of the PGA. ABCLS has already taken some steps to better align their practices and activities with the PGA. I would like to encourage all SLSA members to review the PGA.