Canadian Consulting Engineer

Big vote coming up that affects consulting engineers

Consulting engineers across Canada are facing a big question in the next couple of weeks. Consulting engineering as...

May 26, 2008   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Consulting engineers across Canada are facing a big question in the next couple of weeks. Consulting engineering associations in Ontario, Manitoba and B.C. are holding annual general meetings and posing the question to their members of a name change. The question is whether to drop the term “consulting engineers” in favour of “engineering companies.”
In Ontario, for example, the organization is considering changing its name from Consulting Engineers of Ontario to the “Association of Canadian Engineering Companies – Ontario,” which would be abbreviated to ACEC Ontario.
To the general public this change of name must seem like an arcane or trivial point. But for engineers in private practice, the question carries significant weight and could be a turning point in the history of the industry.
In Ontario and Saskatchewan the name “consulting engineer” has long been a controlled title, designating engineers who have a superior level of experience. And unofficially throughout the country the term “consulting engineer” is understood to refer to the fact that the company or individual offers services to the public and operates as an independent private company, one that “consults” or advises clients on specific projects.
Despite this general understanding, there has been lots of confusion about the term. Last year, we at Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine held a poll on our website asking our subscribers: “Do you think that the public understands the difference between a ‘consulting engineer’ and a ‘professional engineer?'” The answer was a decisive 94% saying “No.” With fewer than 100 respondents, the result cannot be definitive, but the high ratio of respondents who felt the term “consulting engineer” was not familiar to the public suggests that something is amiss.
For the consulting engineering associations, the issue of changing their name revolves chiefly around how they can best identify their role as an organization representing companies and their business interests rather than individual engineers. It was largely for that reason, and to follow the lead of its U.S. sister organization, that the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) became the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies in June 2007.
Now, the board of Consulting Engineers of Manitoba will be asking its members to vote on a change of name at its annual meeting as early as tomorrow (May 27). Next week, on June 5, Consulting Engineers of Ontario will be holding a vote at its annual meeting in Toronto. Consulting Engineers of British Columbia already has sent out ballots to all its members about a prospective name change, and will announce the results at its annual general meeting on April 12.
But it is not a national movement. Wendy Cooper, chief executive director of Consulting Engineers of Alberta, says that her association has decided to hold off posing the question until 2009. And last week, the board of directors of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ) decided that based on input it has received from members and committees, it will not be pursuing a change of name.
Not so long ago — in 2004 — Consulting Engineers of Ontario was considering this whole issue from a very different perspective. In fact, it was asking whether the term “consulting engineer” should be even more strictly controlled and used to designate individuals with special expertise. In Ontario and Saskatchewan the title “consulting engineer” is currently regulated by the licensing associations.
Intrigued by this idea of raising the bar for the use of the title, Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine held another poll. The question we asked was: “In Saskatchewan, the title ‘consulting engineer’ is regulated and a requirement for anyone wishing to offer engineering services to the public. Should the title be regulated the same way in all Canadian provinces?” The answer again was 94% in favour, and only 6% against.
At Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine we feel that whatever decision is made over the name of the associations, for individuals, the title of consulting engineer should be maintained. Not only that, but the title should be controlled in more provinces, and used to designate individuals with special experience and expertise. Then that list could be used as a basis for a roster of specialist consultants maintained by the professional licensing associations. That way the title of “consultant” would be truly meaningful.
Given our name, Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine has a big stake in this issue, so we encourage readers to get out to your provincial association’s annual meetings, express your opinions and, if necessary, cast your vote.
For previous discussions, see:
Comment, “Clearing the Fog around the Name, “Canadian Consulting Engineer, August-September 2004, p. 4.
“New Name for ACEC,” ACEC Review, Canadian Consulting Engineer, October-November 2007, page 21.
“Consultants v. Companies: a Question of the Name,” discussion paper by Consulting Engineers of Ontario, published in Canadian Consulting Engineer, January-February 2008, p. 17.


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