Canadian Consulting Engineer

Letter to the Editor: Unifying regulation of Canadian engineers

June 24, 2024
By Sasha Harpe

Engineering in Canada


Mr. Saunders,

As an engineer registered across Canada, I want to raise an issue most of us take for granted. Simply put, the separate regulation of engineers in each province is needless, bureaucratic and unhelpful, despite the efforts of various organizations to make transitions between jurisdictions as simple as possible.

While it’s true labour regulation has traditionally been the jurisdiction of the provinces, following an unconvincing decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (the British based predecessor of the Supreme Court of Canada) in 1925, I would argue that can be worked through—though I’m sure lawyers will have wildly diverging views on the practicality.

First, examine the why. Today, schools are accredited by a single national organization that sets the standard for an engineering education across the country. In every jurisdiction, this education is the core requirement for becoming an accredited engineer.

Next, each jurisdiction acknowledges its peers perform an equivalent role. When moving between provinces, in most instances, simply demonstrating equivalent accreditation in another jurisdiction is sufficient. To my knowledge, only the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (NAPEG) asks for applicants to additionally demonstrate a basic understanding of the unique engineering limitations of the north.

Further, the differentiation of jurisdictions applies more stringently to some disciplines than others. A car, train, plane or boat can be engineered by a team of professionals registered in a single jurisdiction. In contrast, the corresponding roadways, railways, airports and docking facilities for those vehicles are regulated by each province where they are constructed.

The multiplication of the regulatory process simply adds barriers to interprovincial commerce and, frankly, discourages new engineering firms from starting up in Canada. While I’m all for effectively acknowledging engineering experience from abroad, I think our first focus should be on maximizing the use of engineers already in Canada.

If we accept that a single organization can and should effectively regulate Canadian engineers, how can that come to pass? I would suggest we do not need to remove the provincial organizations immediately. Instead, two paths are possible.

One we can focus on is creating a Canadian certification process that would allow engineers, within their scope of practice, to work anywhere in the country. I think this would have obvious benefits to many engineers. Over time, it would simply become the preferred licensing process and the provincial organizations could be allowed to close.

Alternatively, the provincial organizations can agree to a free exchange of practice and equal regulation between bodies, perhaps restricting their membership to place of address to protect funding for smaller jurisdictions.

Would this take some political will? Definitely, yes, but unless we make this an issue, we will continue to function under an archaic and cumbersome regulatory process that fundamentally multiplies the regulation burden on engineers without any substantive additional benefit for permit holders.

Sasha Harpe, P.Eng., is owner and principal engineer for Straight Tracks in Petawawa, Ont.

This letter originally ran in the May/June 2024 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.


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