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Consulting engineering associations across Canada report on issues they face

At the annual general meeting of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies of Canada (ACEC) in Winnipeg on June 20, representatives of the provincial associations were each allotted a brief timeslot to explain what activities they...


At the annual general meeting of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies of Canada (ACEC) in Winnipeg on June 20, representatives of the provincial associations were each allotted a brief timeslot to explain what activities they have been involved in and what challenges they face.

The cross-country reports highlighted some common, and some divergent, situations.

Procurement issues were a common concern. First, Matt Brossard said that one of Consulting Engineers of Alberta’s priorities is to push for the provincial government to adopt qualifications-based selection (QBS) when hiring consultants. (With QBS the consultants are selected from others based on their work and experience, not based on which company will do the work for the lowest fee). CEA is hoping that legislation implementing QBS will be introduced in the fall.

Chris Newcomb, speaking for ACEC-British Columbia, said that they too are working to have qualifications-based selection embodied in law. In terms of business prospects, Newcomb said work in B.C. is now starting to focus on plans to build pipelines and huge LNG terminals in the province’s north. Another highlight from ACEC-BC is that they have appointed their first female chair: Catherine Fritter.

ACEC-Manitoba’s executive director Shirley Tillett raised a cheer by celebrating that as the host province they had managed to attract more young professionals than ever before — 37 — to the Summit. The association is also proud of a new special group that was formed late last year, the “Technical Women in Consulting Engineering or “T.W.I.C.E.” committee. Its goals are to “encourage increasing diversity in the industry,” and specifically to “increase the retention of women” in consulting engineering firms.

Among issues facing Manitoba consulting engineers, one is that the City of Winnipeg has moved to price-centre procurement and is tending to do more work in-house. Tillett also mentioned that ACEC-Manitoba, like other provinces, is actively lobbying the government to regulate a limitation of liability for professionals.

Contract language was among the concerns of both John Clark of Consulting Engineers of the Northwest Territories, and Ray Landry of Consulting Engineers of Nova Scotia. Both associations have been wrestling with government clients who want to exclude the term “negligence” from their contracts with engineers. The feeling is that this omission opens the engineers to broader potential liability and creates a risk that is probably not insurable.

Speaking for Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO), Bill De Angelis reported that they had some lobbying success on two government bills. Consulting engineers are now included in the wording for Bill 141, the Infrastructure, Jobs and Prosperity Act. And as part of the Construction Design Alliance of Ontario, CEO had successfully lobbied against Bill 69, the controversial Prompt Payment Act. The result was that the government has promised instead to review the Construction Lien Act. Last year, CEO also entered a Memorandum of Understanding with Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority, establishing a joint transit council. De Angelis said that the election of the Liberals in Ontario recently was also good news for engineers involved in infrastructure.

The state of business for consultants in the smaller provincial associations varied. Both Rick Tiller of Consulting Engineers of Newfoundland and John Clark of the Northwest Territories reported they are hotbeds of activity, while Christie Cunningham of ACEC-New Brunswick and Jason Gasmo of Saskatchewan said their economies had slowed.

In Quebec consulting engineers have taken a battering due to allegations of corruption at the Charbonneau Inquiry and in the media. Simon Davidson reported for the Association des ingénieurs du Québec (AICQ), and noted that some firms have left and the membership numbers have declined.

But the association is moving forward. Davidson said that the board is very “dynamic,” has some “great ideas” and has been very productive. They are concentrating on rebuilding confidence in the industry and outreach to firms. Their strategic plan is to promote quality and integrity among firms, and to promote the fact that consulting engineers contribute to the social and economic development of Quebec.