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Fresh problems face consulting engineers across the country

Across Canada consulting engineers are facing a variety of challenges including liability risks, questions ove...


Across Canada consulting engineers are facing a variety of challenges including liability risks, questions over fee schedules, and uncertainty as the federal economic stimulus program winds to an end.
The concerns — as well as achievements — were voiced during the “Cross Country Reports” portion of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Canada (ACEC) Annual Summit in St. Andrews-by-the Sea on June 26.
Representing the host province, David Kosak, P.Eng. (Terrain Group/Genivar), reported as president of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada-New Brunswick. He said he was happy to report that firms in that province had been “somewhat isolated from the recent recession,” that the economy is sound, and they were “optimistic for the future.”
He had other good news to report in that the province recently amended its Limitation of Actions legislation and established a cap on the period an engineer can be liable to legal action. Bill 28 limits the liability period to 15 years, or 2 years after discovery.
In B.C., consulting engineers are still wrestling with the issue of limitation of liability, said Jack Lee (Dayton & Knight), president of Consulting Engineers of B.C. (CEBC). The association intends to issue a series of position papers on this and other issues such as the unfair risks that consulting engineers are being subjected to in their contracts. The association is working with a public relations firm to boost its visibility, and it is due to revisit its strategic plan, Lee reported. In terms of their general economic outlook, Lee said B.C. is suffering from “post Olympic syndrome” and as a result of this combined with the end of the federal stimulus program for infrastructure in March 2011, consulting engineers are “not sure what’s going to happen.”
Art Washuta (AECOM), past president of Consulting Engineers of Alberta, reported that their biggest issues last year included dealing with the TILMA agreement and trying to promote qualifications-based selection with municipal clients.
He also explained that CEA has been investigating any possible legal ramifications of their Recommended Schedule of Fees. So far the lawyers have suggested it is acceptable as a voluntary guideline and so long as it is clearly stated that there are no penalties for members who don’t follow it. Another question, Washuta said, is whether refusing to participate in tenders could be perceived as bid rigging.
Ontario’s president, Barry Steinberg, reported that since he started in the position in January the association has been busy formulating a new strategic plan and mission statement. Steinberg said CEO is paying a lot of attention to standard contracts, is regularly meeting with the Ministry of Transport to discuss procurement methods, and has been invited to be on a new public policy task force with Professional Engineers Ontario. Several of the provincial associations have established young professional groups recently, and CEO hopes to develop one as well.
Johanne Desrochers reported as president and director-general of AICQ, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec. On the positive side she said that provincial ministries have been required to use qualifications-based selection for two years. However, she noted, municipalities are obliged to use price as one of the criteria for selecting engineering firms.
Recently in Quebec the media has been paying a great deal of negative attention to the construction industry, Desrochers explained. The role that consulting engineers play with government has come under question, and as a result, AICQ has issued a guideline on ethics that firms can put in place and this was adopted at the AICQ’s recent annual meeting. Meanwhile, the Chief Auditor is looking at the government procurement rules, Desrochers said, and is questioning everything, which causes delays.
AICQ has also launched a young professional groups and it has 140 enthusiastic participants.