Professional reliance review targets BC natural resource regulators

On May 18, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy released its Professional Reliance Review in the Natural Resource Sector. The review was initiated in October 2017 with the goal of examining the current legislation governing qualified professionals in the natural resource sector and the role their professional associations play in upholding the public interest. Engineers and Geoscientists BC (EGBC) was one of five self-regulatory bodies whose procedures and policies were explored, along with regulators of agrology, applied science technology, applied biology and professional forestry.

The 135-page report—prepared by University of Victoria environmental law professor Mark Haddock, who was commissioned by the BC government to review the professional reliance model—makes 121 recommendations. The most notable recommendations affecting EGBC include:

  • EGBC and five other regulating bodies would fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Professional Regulation and Oversight (OPRO), which would regulate most aspects of self-regulation, including investigations, codes of conduct and thresholds of incompetent practice;
  • The OPRO should appoint council members, potentially eliminating elections;
  • A requirement that 50 per cent of governing bodies and committees of professional regulatory bodies are non-professional members of the public;
  • Government regulation should develop a set of practices to ensure accountability of professionals;
  • Mandatory continuing professional development of regulated professionals; and 
  • The government should standardize professional governance by regulating the profession and clarifying regulators’ roles to protect the public.

On June 28, EGBC released its response to the report, which included some concerns regarding these key recommendations, notably:

  • The inclusion of EGBC under this umbrella legislation would make the administration of the engineering regulator difficult, since 80 per cent of its members don’t work in the natural resource sector; and
  • The OPRO would add a new level of costly administration that would create an unnecessary distance between professional engineers and the government.

In addition, EGBC has expressed concerns that the OPRO, a body without any technical expertise, would have sweeping powers to overturn and appeal independent decisions by EGBC.

In a subsequent news release dated July 31, EGBC noted that “while the Office [of Professional Regulation and Oversight] would have broad and sweeping powers, its mandate is not defined. Its proposed authority appears to reflect the healthcare oversight model used in BC and the UK…[which] is under review by the minister of health due to concerns about its effectiveness.”

EGBC Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Megan Archibald told Engineering Dimensions: “We share [the] government’s desire to see certain regulatory processes strengthened—and we’ve been working for a few years now to advance several amendments to our governing legislation, which is nearly 100 years old. However, we feel the regulatory improvements included in the report can be achieved through amendments to the Engineers and Geoscientists Act, without creating a new level of potentially costly administration.”

Archibald adds: “We also recently undertook an external audit of our own—initiated prior to the professional reliance review—in an effort to identify ways to strengthen the regulatory and governance tools we have, within the current framework.” UK-based Professional Standards Authority, which undertook the review, found that EGBC is meeting seven out of nine Standards of Good Regulation and would be fully compliant with just a few amendments (see “The value in regulatory performance reviews,” p. 6).

“We were pleased to see several of our recommendations in the [Professional Standards Authority] final report,” Archibald says. “Primarily, the report reinforced our request for additional tools for stronger regulation, including the ability to regulate engineering and geoscience companies and the ability to ensure competency of engineers and geoscientists through continuing professional development.” 

Other regulatory bodies and business associations in BC had equally harsh reactions to the report, particularly to the OPRO, and its implied usurpation of regulatory control. The Business Council of British Columbia asked why “a professional working for government is somehow more skilled and ethical than one in the private sector,” adding that the “government’s responsibility is to enforce its laws, policies and regulations, not to oversee the maintenance of professional standards….” 

The BC Council of Forest Industries noted the forest industry is already highly regulated, adding “it has a good record of compliance.” The Mining Association of British Columbia noted the present regulatory system “is comprehensive and clearly articulates the roles and responsibilities of qualified professionals in relation to mine-related approvals,” accenting that the Code of BC was significantly strengthened in 2016—in consultation with government and First Nations—resulting in a “world-class regulatory system for mining.” And the Association for Mineral Exploration urged the government to focus on changes to “provide both public and investor confidence and allow our members” to develop technology for a low-carbon future. All organizations, including EGBC, agreed that the report goes beyond the government’s original intention to strengthen regulatory bodies.