OIQ Loss of Self Regulation
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And I’m Brian. And we’re both from Calgary, AB.
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This is our last episode for 2022! Happy Holidays to all of you, whatever you are celebrating, including the Grinchs out there. I personally celebrate not moving from the couch for as long as I possibly can during this period of time. Thank you to all of the support you’ve given us this year. We look forward to bringing you more engineering failures in 2023. But we also hope that things don’t continue to fail due to poor engineering design, even if it would mean ending this show.
This week in engineering news, engineering is a regulated profession (In Canada) for a reason.
● This article comes from APEGA, the association of professional engineers and geoscientists of alberta. The organisation that regulates the engineering and geoscience professions in Alberta. There are similar organisations in each province.
● This article comes as a rebuttal of sorts to the tech sector after they complained about not being able to use the title “engineer” in their job postings and titles without acquiring proper permitting and licensure from APEGA. Their argument is that they cannot effectively compete for top talent without using the term engineer. And APEGA maintains that engineering is a regulated profession and shall remain as such.
● And let me just state for the record, I agree with APEGA here.
● As per Engineers Canada, only those who are licensed can use the term “engineer” and courts can impose fines and injunctions for unauthorised use of the title. This is similar to doctors and lawyers, which are also regulated professionals.
○ The other piece to this is a perception of the public on engineers. When we strengthen our self regulation and ensure accountability amongst our profession, we maintain a high level of trust from the public. But if we were to start throwing the word “engineer” around, it starts to mean less and the public's trust starts to erode.
● In other parts of the world, specifically the US, the term engineer can be used a bit more loosely and it is common for software developers and others within the tech industry to use the term software engineer as their title.
● In Canada, and specifically Alberta, software engineering is a recognized discipline of engineering that requires extensive training and education, as well as licensing. As well, companies who practise engineering or wish to use engineering in their title, must also acquire a permit to practise from APEGA which includes a professional practice management plan detailing requirements for permit holders to meet the intent of the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act to protect the public. It’s my understanding that Alberta is currently the only province that requires a professional practice management plan, but others are following suit.
○ We’re going to talk a little more about the history of engineering in Canada and how one can acquire their licensing when we get into this week's failure.
● As we continue to advance technology, utilising more machine learning tools to make decisions, the importance of public safety in the design of these systems is paramount. Because of this, software engineering as a regulated profession is more important now than ever.
● If you want to read more, check out the link on the web page for this episode at failurology.ca.
Now on to this week’s engineering failure; we’re going to talk about the time that Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec lost their ability to self regulate the engineering profession.
History of Engineering in Canada
● Before we get into that, let’s talk a bit about the history of engineering in Canada, and what the profession looks like today.
● The very first act to regulate the practice of engineering passed in Manitoba in 1896. This was about 10 years before the collapse of the Quebec bridge that set off a bunch more regulations.
● In 1920, regulating bodies formed in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. Ontario followed in 1922, Saskatchewan in 1930, Newfoundland in 1952, PEI in 1955, Yukon in 1956, Northwest Territories in 1969 and Nunavut in 2008. (nunavut separated from the northwest territories in 1999).
● The Dominion Council of Professional Engineers formed in 1936, changing their name to Engineers’ Canada in 2007. Engineers Canada works with all of the provincial and territory regulators to support high standards of the profession, enhance growth, and inspire public confidence.
● Today there are about 300,000 members of the engineering profession.
● In addition to regulation, the iron ring is worn by many Canadian trained engineers as a symbol and reminder of their obligations and ethics to the profession and the public. The ring is given in a private ceremony to engineering graduates, called “The Ritual Calling of An Engineer”, but is not a symbol of qualification as a professional practising engineer. In fact the organisation that hands out the iron rings is separate from the regulatory bodies. The iron rings aren’t actually made from iron, they are made of stainless steel. The first one costs the equivalent of 4 years of tuition, lots of tears, and many hours of lost sleep. If you lose that one, they can be purchased from the Corporation of the 7 Wardens for $30.00
● The first iron rings were handed out on April 25, 1925 in Montreal, with a ceremony in Toronto following shortly after.
○ There is a myth that the rings are made from beams of the first Quebec bridge that collapsed in 1907, but this is not the case.
● Since we are in Alberta, we wanted to talk about APEGA a little as well. The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta.
○ Created on April 10, 1920, APEGA regulates the practice of engineering and geoscience in Alberta on behalf of the Government of Alberta through the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act.
● APEGA’s responsibilities include:
○ Licence professional engineers and geoscientists
○ Set practice standards
○ Develop codes of conduct and ethics that govern members and permit holders
○ Investigate and discipline members and permit holders
○ Investigate and take action against individuals and organisations that practise our professions without licences or permits
○ Investigate and take action against individuals and organisations that use our protected titles without licences or permits
○ Provide services to members and permit holders to support them in their professional practices
● Along with these and our privilege to self regulate, engineering and geoscience professionals must adhere to the following code of ethics.
○ Professional engineers and geoscientists shall, in their areas of practice, hold paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public and have regard for the environment.
○ Professional engineers and geoscientists shall undertake only work that they are competent to perform by virtue of their training and experience.
○ Professional engineers and geoscientists shall conduct themselves with integrity, honesty, fairness, and objectivity in their professional activities.
○ Professional engineers and geoscientists shall comply with applicable statutes, regulations, and bylaws in their professional practices.
○ Professional engineers and geoscientists shall uphold and enhance the honour, dignity, and reputation of their professions and, thus, the ability of the professions to serve the public interest.
● APEGA regulates more than 70,000 members and is the largest regulatory body in Western Canada.
● As part of the process to become an engineer in Alberta, and it differs across provinces, one must complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering from an accredited program, have a minimum of 4 years of experience, submit an application with work records and references, and complete the National Professional Practice Exam (NPPE).
○ I took a bit of a different path. I am a Professional Licensee of Engineering, which is a little different from a Professional Engineer, but can still use the title of engineer as per the engineering act. I required more work experience and am limited to a scope of practice.
● The NPPE confirms knowledge of professionalism, law, and ethics. It is different from the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) and PE (Principles and Practice of Engineering) exams that are written in the US. The NPPE is an ethics based exam, but does include technical components, whereas the FE and PE are both technical exams.
OIQ Loss of Self Regulation
● This is a story of corruption and lack of oversight in the construction industry, specifically in the public sector in Quebec. This story has a tendency to slant politically due to the involvement of the public sector. However, this is not a political podcast and we will do our best to stay fact based and focus on the importance of maintaining integrity in the engineering profession.
● Quebec is no stranger to corruption.
○ Appointing judges
○ Political financing
○ Favouritism in the provincial daycare system
○ Long undisclosed premier stipend
○ Corruption in construction
■ 30% more to build a stretch of road than anywhere else in the country - 3,000km were built in the 1960s alone, with limited oversight.
■ Montreal Mafia 1970s - rushed mega projects (Mirabel Airport, James Bay hydroelectric,
○ Sponsorship scandal
■ Syphoning of $100 million from a fund to stand the Canadian flag on all things Quebecois
○ All of that said, Quebec is not the only province that suffers from corruption, they just seem to have more of it or at least be more public about it than the rest. We all have our problems.
● All of Quebec's corruption came to a head in 2011 when then Premier Jean Cherest ordered the Charbonneau Commission. Published in 2015, the commission was a public inquiry into the award and management of public construction contracts. It was chaired by Justice France Charbonneau, a Canadian judge on the Quebec Superior Court, hence the name.
● The mandate of the Committee was to:
○ Examine the existence of schemes and, where appropriate, to paint a portrait of activities involving collusion and corruption in the provision and management of public contracts in the construction industry (including private organisations, government enterprises and municipalities) and to include any links with the financing of political parties.
○ Paint a picture of possible organised crime infiltration in the construction industry.
○ Examine possible solutions and make recommendations establishing measures to identify, reduce and prevent collusion and corruption in awarding and managing public contracts in the construction industry.
● Their scope was from 1996 to 2011 and included 263 days of hearings, 300 witnesses, 3,600 documents, and produced 70,000 pages of transcripts.
● The scope included any agency or person in the public sector, which included hundreds including government agencies, universities, municipalities, school boards, and companies with government ownership.
● The commission found
○ Conflicts of interest when awarding public contracts
○ Inappropriate ties between union executives and construction contractors
○ Bid rigging - whereby the bidding parties collude to determine the winner of the bidding process.
● The evidence found corruption in engineering firms and construction contractors around conflicts of interest, collusion and kickbacks, Mafia infiltration and political financing. These unacceptable behaviours of engineering professionals were not related to technical competence, but a failure of professional ethics.
● Five consulting engineering firms are among the largest service providers in the City of Montreal. SNC-Lavalin, SM, Services EXP (formerly HBA Teknika), Cima + and WSP (formerly Génivar).
○ We have pulled some information on the cases and charges against each of these companies. Before we dive in, we would like to note that these were all pulled from public news sources, and we would also like to acknowledge that these companies may have since learned the error of their ways and improved their operation standards. We simply don’t know.
○ One of the cases investigated was related to fraud and forgery in relation to a $22.5 million kickback under the guise of “consulting fees” in the McGill university Health centre. SNC-Lavalin was outbid by $60 million, but still won the contract for the project. Following the investigation, the administrator was arrested on fraud charges and SNC CEO was charged in several counts related to the bribe. SNC sued their CEO claiming he “stained its goodwill”.
○ Genivar, now known as WSP, acknowledged it made $525,000 in improper political contributions to get municipal contracts between 2005 and 2009.
○ Employees at CIMA+ gave $2.2 million in political donations to provincial parties between 1998 and 2011, and produced fake invoices for $3+ million in order to give cash bribes to the city of Laval.
○ The head of Groupe SM was found “guilty of having tolerated and neglected to take measures to prevent his firm from being involved in a system of sharing contracts for engineering mandates, most notably for the city of Montreal and the city of Longueuil ” between 2002 and 2009. He also paid money to municipal parties to secure contracts. As penalties for these items, the disciplinary council revoked the operating licence and levied a $50,000 fine against the head of Group SM.
○ These are just some examples of the corruption that went on, there are several more cases, some big, some small, over the 15 year period of the investigation. I will say though, one doesn’t start with a million dollar bribe, that’s something you work up to. I have to imagine this type of thing has been going on in Quebec on some scale for decades.
● Following release of the report in November 2015, the Ordre des Ingenieurs du Quebec proposed responses to the Charbonneau Commission recommendations, such as increasing membership fees to fund improved regulatory capacity, including mandatory ethics and professional conduct training and continuing professional development.
● The Quebec government decided that OIQ was not able to adequately respond to the problems and recommendations outlined in the commission, and on July 6th, 2016, they were placed under provincial government trusteeship.
○ "The Office determines that the effective execution of its activities of control of the profession and the financial stability of the OIQ are seriously affected, to the point of putting in doubt the capacity of the OIQ of carrying out its primary mission of protecting the public," the Office said in a news release.
● This caused a chain reaction of the regulatory bodies across Canada taking a closer look at their policies and ensuring that something similar would not happen to them. With several provinces introducing or strengthening their continuing professional development (CPD) mandates.
○ In Alberta, you have to submit 240 CPD hours over 3 years. This equates to 80 hours per year, but makes allowance for leaves of absence by averaging over three years. Up to 50 hours per year can be logged as professional practice, which if you are a practising engineer is great news! You can also log hours for formal and informal activating, participation in the profession, presentations and contributions to knowledge.
● In November 2018, two years after the trusteeship started, Kathy Baig, OIQ President, penned an open letter asking for the trusteeship to be lifted, stating that the OIQ has:
○ Strengthened public protection mechanisms
○ Consolidated governance, including Leadership and board renewal
○ Is in good financial health
○ A 67% reduction in the average time for disciplinary investigations
○ And the adoption of an exhaustive and measurable action plan.
● The Quebec trusteeship was lifted on February 20, 2019.
So there you have it, the story of how the OIQ lost its ability to self regulate. This is a lesson to all engineers, Canadian specifically, about the privilege we have to self-regulate and the importance of our professional ethics to maintain public safety over all else.
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