PEO shouldn’t overreach as a regulator

The article “Pushing the envelope” (Engineering Dimensions, July/August 2018), which introduces PEO President David Brown and outlines his thoughts on challenges facing PEO, includes the sentence: “[Brown] shares a story about a group of newly graduating engineers who’ve designed and developed a product that’s 100 per cent engineering, and how they’re planning to build and sell this on the market—and none of them are licensed.” Brown suggests the question: Should PEO’s mandate include involvement in such situations?

I would argue it should not, providing none of those involved in the activity purport to be engineers, and the product does not fall into a category where supervision by a licensed engineer is already normally expected. In practical terms, it would simply not be feasible for PEO to carry out such a mandate. As Brown goes on to say in the article: “The first thing is, we can’t even define what it is that’s happening, and the second thing is, how the heck are we ever going to have the resources to regulate it in conformance with our act?” But most importantly, a mandated involvement by PEO in such activities would tend to stifle innovation, the lifeblood of a prosperous economy. Precisely because we are in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, novel ideas and products will continually emerge—often not from the domains of licensed engineers. PEO should not overreach in its role of regulation to protect the public interest. The onus of assessing the safety, usefulness, etc. of novel products based on emerging technologies must rest with the public itself, i.e. buyer beware.

In my view, PEO’s role should be twofold: First, it should maintain and promote its register of licensed engineers, that is of persons assessed to have satisfied certain educational and experience requirements who are of good character and have not subsequently been found guilty of serious professional misdemeanours. Second, it should pursue anyone representing themselves as engineers but are not so registered. It may be appropriate to somewhat narrow the legislated scope of engineering work within the purview of PEO such that activities like those mentioned in the preceding paragraph are not included.

Certainly, I agree with President Brown that a thorough review is warranted in light of the rapid change that is taking place, and I wish him well in his efforts.

Richard J. Kind, P.Eng., FEC, Ottawa, ON