Canadian Consulting Engineer

Should minimum engineering fees be law?

A panel at the annual meeting of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (A...

October 29, 2001   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A panel at the annual meeting of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC) at the end of October discussed the hiring of consulting engineers and the possibility of enshrining minimum fees in the province’s Engineering Act. If such a proposal was included in the legislation (the Act is currently being revised), the change would make it illegal for consultants to charge fees below the recommended levels and for clients to hire consultants based on price.
Panelists and participants noted that it would be expensive and difficult for the associations to monitor conformance to mandatory minimum fee schedules. However, most favoured some form of quality based selection.
Workshops held by the consulting practice division of APEBC over the past year to consider the issues have formulated two options. Under both options clients of medium or large projects, whether public or private, would have to select consulting firms using a two-envelope system. In the first envelope stage the client would select on the firm’s “quality,” i.e. their past experience, qualifications, methodology, etc. In the second envelope stage the client starts considering price. The difference is that consultants fees would be set at mandatory minimum levels in the first option, and left as recommended but optional in the second.
Allen Russell, P.Eng., representing Consulting Engineers of B.C. said the organization has supported quality-based selection “wholeheartedly” for years, and said they would be pleased to see it enshrined in the Engineering Act. However, he said the members had differences of opinion on charging mandatory minimum fees. Some believe the strategy would solve the financial problems firms face and help them again attract the most talented young engineers as employees. Others, like himself, feared that there would be expensive legal challenges, and that minimum fees may encourage mediocrity and discourage innovation. The issue went for further discussion at the annual general meeting, and final recommendations will likely go before APEGBC council next year.


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