Changes to Ontario Engineers Act could put Canadian scientists out of work

I am reproducing a letter that I received from the Canadian Association of Physicists today.  This isn’t something that I would normally do, but it’s actually a very important and pressing issue that will effect scientists, specifically physicists, across Canada.

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Dear CAP Member (or recently lapsed member) :

I am requesting your urgent action on a matter which, if not addressed very promptly, could make it difficult or impossible for many natural scientists to practise their profession in Ontario, and perhaps eventually in most provinces.

Late last Friday, August 27th, the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) sent a letter to the Ontario Attorney-General (“A-G”) regarding a very serious threat that a proposed change to the Ontario Engineers Act poses to the ability of natural scientists (and computer scientists / mathematicians) to practise their profession.  The letter is long, but the initial “Summary” paragraph which summarizes the threat is reproduced below (if you wish to see the entire letter, it can be downloaded from https://www.cap.ca/onlineforms/Aug10-AG-letter.pdf and the attachments referred to in the letter can be downloaded from https://www.cap.ca/onlineforms/download/Aug10-AG-letter-attachments.pdf ).

As one who has been deeply involved in this kind of issue, across many Provinces, for 15 years, I can personally assure you that that the problem is real.  Robert Mann, Past-President of CAP, spoke with the CEO of Professional Engineers Ontario on Monday, August 30th.  During that conversation, it was confirmed verbally that the change was intentional, and that efforts were apparently not made to contact the scientific societies.  As a result, the legislative process was very well advanced before it came to light, so that ANY INTERVENTIONS MUST BE MADE VERY SOON, PROBABLY IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS.

I should perhaps add that the issue here is not to denigrate engineers in any way, nor to suggest that scientists should be allowed to practise outside their areas of expertise.  Rather, it is to ensure that the practice of natural science does not get swept into the definition of the practice of professional engineering, which is legally reserved to registered engineers.

While this may look like an Ontario problem, it is in fact broader, as other provinces could well follow Ontario’s example.

I WOULD THEREFORE ASK YOU TO SEND AN E-MAIL TO THE A-G, with a copy to the others in the distribution list, TO SUPPORT THE CAP’S STAND.

In the interests of time, a suggested letter appears below, which we would encourage you to cut and paste into an e-mail to the individuals listed in the letter (full set of e-mail addresses appears just above the text of the letter), ensuring that you add in your name, title, and affiliation.  Of course, an individually drafted letter is always welcome.  At this point, however, the volume of letters is probably the biggest measure.

With best wishes,

Paul Vincett
CAP Director of Science Policy


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SUMMARY PARAGRAPH INCLUDED IN CAP’S LETTER TO ATTORNEY-GENERAL, for your information only (suggested text to send appears below this paragraph)

We wish to bring to your urgent attention a major problem with one specific component of the currently-proposed revisions to the Ontario Engineering Act, within the Omnibus Act (Bill 68). This revision – the removal of the exemption for natural sciences from the definition of the practice of professional engineering (Chapter 1 of the current Act) – could make it impossible for many, if not most, natural scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, computer scientists, etc.) to practise their professions, in industry, government, and universities. This could clearly have a major negative impact on Ontario, as well as on the professions concerned. We appreciate that our intervention comes at a late stage of the Bill’s progress; however, while our very serious interest in this matter over many years was certainly known to the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), and although PEO has indicated to the Standing Committee reviewing the Bill that they have “consulted broadly with other groups”, neither we nor (to our knowledge) any other scientific societies were either informed of the existence of the new proposals or consulted in any way. Moreover, despite the representation by PEO to the Standing Committee that the proposed bill ‘adopts the national definition of “professional engineering”‘ (i.e. that suggested in the attached guidelines published by the Canadian Council for Professional Engineers), the proposed legislation fails to include the companion natural science exemption clause which is part of those same guidelines.


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SUGGESTED TEXT TO SEND TO A-G AND OTHERS LISTED AT END OF NOTE (USE E-MAIL  DISTRIBUTION LIST BELOW TO SEND TO ALL)

The Honourable Christopher Bentley
Ministry of the Attorney-General
11th Floor, 720 Bay Street
TORONTO ON M5G 2K1

Dear Minister Bentley


I am writing to you to express my grave concern regarding a proposed modification to the Ontario Engineering Act that is embodied in Bill-68.


The modification to the Act contained in this bill, which is soon to be given 3rd reading in the Ontario Provincial Parliament, removes the exemption for natural sciences from the definition of the practice of professional engineering.  This could make it impossible for many physicists (as well as other natural scientists including chemists, biologists, computer scientists, etc.) to practise their professions, whether in industry, government, or university.  The great difficulty in defining engineering principles without implicitly including natural science in the definition is what led to the inclusion of a specific exemption for the practise of natural science in the current Act.  Removing this exemption will have very damaging impacts on a very broad scale, not only for the scientific community, but also for Ontario’s economy, post-secondary research and education system, and even health care.

Just a few examples of highly-qualified people who could be affected include the following:  An expert in lasers working in a laboratory could be prevented from carrying out his/her research without the supervision of an engineer. Similarly, a fully-qualified, experienced medical physicist might be obstructed from practising in a hospital without similar supervision.  A Ph.D biologist at a vaccine manufacturer or biotech start-up could not practice without an engineer’s supervision, nor could a Ph.D. chemist developing a new drug.  Atmospheric scientists who are trained in understanding noise propagation and wind flow over varied terrain could be prevented from assessing site locations for wind turbines.  Indeed, any scientist (physicist, chemist, computer scientist, etc.) in industry, government or academia working on anything that could possibly be patentable or create other economic value would be swept in.  At the extreme, removal of this exemption could be interpreted to mean that weather forecasting, which is currently undertaken by meteorologists in Environment Canada as part of their legislated mandate, must be undertaken by engineers as there is public safety, health, and the protection of property involved.


I understand that the Bill is at a late stage in the legislative process; however, the natural science community, who are very much impacted by this legislation, were not consulted on this proposed change, nor notified in any way that it was proposed.  We became aware of it only by happenstance, a situation that is both surprising and disturbing.  It is extremely important, therefore, that you delay the final reading of Bill-68 until it is appropriately reworded so as to re-instate an exemption for the natural sciences.


Sincerely


Your name, title

Institution

Email Distribution List:

  • The Honourable Christopher Bentley, Ministry of the Attorney-General – cbentley.mpp[at]liberal.ola.org
  • The Honourable Sarah Pupatello, Minister of Economic Development and Trade – spupatello.mpp[at]liberal.ola.org
  • The Honourable Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario – dmcguinty.mpp.co[at]liberal.ola.org
  • Mr. Pat Hoy, Chair, Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs – phoy.mpp[at]liberal.ola.org
  • Mr. Kim Allen, CEO and Registrar, Professional Engineers of Ontario – kallen[at]peo.on.ca
  • Canadian Association of Physicists - cap[at]uottawa.ca
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7 Responses to Changes to Ontario Engineers Act could put Canadian scientists out of work

  1. Rob says:

    Do I understand correctly that according to this law, in future every Canadian PhD student in the Sciences will need a (non-PhD) Engineer as a supervisor as her current professor will not be qualified?

    Sounds as if Canadian science is in for a troubled future.

  2. Pingback: Good News: Exemptions for natural scientists to the Ontario Engineers Act | The Language of Bad Physics

  3. Rob Knop says:

    I’m a physicist new to Canada — just moved to BC, where I’m teaching at Quest University — so I’m not familiar with what the remove of the exemption for Natural Sciences would do. What is the quick summary of why certain physicists wouldn’t be able to practice their field without an engineer present? Is this some sort of law whereby you have to be a licensed and bonded engineer to do “engineering”?

  4. From the Professional Engineers of Ontario, the old Act gave this as the outline for what was considered “engineering”:

    1. Is it an act of designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising?
    2. Does it involve the safeguarding of life, health, property or the public welfare?
    3. Does it require the application of engineering principles?

    If what you do meets all three tests, and you are not a natural scientist, then you are practising professional engineering. The definition applies to all situations where this particular combination of intellectual activity, societal protection and methodology exists regardless of whether the position is in industry, government or consulting.

    Which is amazingly general and, if it were not for the “natural scientist” exemption, could be broadly interpreted to cover much of what many scientists do (especially because point 2. is rather ambiguous). The Act would make it impossible for anyone who wasn’t a bonded Professional Engineer from practising what they designated as “engineering”. What would actually be classified as engineering could be entirely at the discretion of whoever was overseeing the regulation of the act (it was the ambiguity that had people worried).

    In B.C., people were particularly worried about a similar Act appearing, because almost all jobs at TRIUMF would be classified as “engineering” (experimental particle physics has a more obvious connection to “safeguarding life” because of all the medical applications/isotope production they do). This is why CAP was pushing for its “Professional Physicist” designation to be taken seriously a few years ago.

    So, in short, yes, this was supposed to be a law that said if you did “engineering” you had to be an engineer (“engineering” defined broadly and ambiguously).

  5. Doug Nix says:

    The Ontario Professional Engineer’s Act has been modified by Bill 68, although I have yet to determine exactly when the change will come into force. The definition of “professional engineering” now reads:

    “practice of professional engineering” means any act of planning, designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising that requires the application of engineering principles and concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment, or the managing of any such act; (“exercice de la profession d’ingénieur”)

    The fact that this incredibly broad definition was permitted into legislation is already a problem. I was not able to find any case law where the courts faced a challenge related to this definition, but I can’t see how this can stand. Almost any activity where a person engages in the use of “engineering principles”, which is not defined in the Act, could be covered. Based on my reading of the Act, I believe that a carpenter building a house could be construed to be “engaging in professional engineering” based on the tests provided. After all, is not the use of a tape measure and a protractor the use of engineering principles? The carpenter must have detailed knowledge of the design in order to construct the house. Failure to do so correctly will negatively impact the safety of the people using or owning the house, and will have a negative social and economic impact on those people.

    We have a major problem. If we cannot get our politicians to re-consider the changes that were made, then not only will most natural scientists be open to harassment by PEO in the Province, but so will every Technician and Technologist. The question will be one of enforcement and application of the ridiculously broad powers that PEO has been granted. I am all for reasonable regulation of Professions, but this goes well beyond that.

    I’m not sure where to begin, but I would like to continue this dialog with anyone who is interested.

  6. Doug Nix says:

    Further to my earlier comment, I have discovered a current News Bulletin from CAP on this topic. Quoting from the bulletin:

    Volume 11, Number 1
    August 18, 2011
    PEO Statement RE Natural Science
    The Executive Committee of the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), at its August 8th meeting, approved the following statement clarifying its relationship with the practice of natural science:
    PEO has no jurisdiction over the practice of natural science. Under the Professional Engineers Act, it regulates the practice of professional engineering. Where PEO is concerned a person not licensed by PEO might be practising professional engineering in addition to natural science, the Overlapping Practices Committee will be consulted.
    This statement now appears on the first page of the PEO website (www.peo.on.ca) in a section reserved for ‘permanent items’. In addition PEO will also cite the clarification in its publications wherever appropriate. The Overlapping Practices Committee, with a balanced representation of natural scientists and professional engineers, has the expertise required to help PEO resolve disputes early. The statement concludes the long negotiations begun last fall following amendments to the Ontario Professional Engineering Act which had removed from the definition of professional engineering an important exemption for practicing as a natural scientist.

    Looks like the Natural Scientists have managed to do something that the Technicians and Technologists have yet to be able to do.

  7. Doug Nix says:

    The Ontario Government has done it – The ‘industrial exemption’ in the Ontario PE Act has been revoked, as of 1-Mar-13, with a transition period of one year endin 1-Mar-14. PEO has a ‘compliance kit’ to help you determine if your work falls under the definition of engineering practice in the act (as it almost certainly does), and whether you need to hire a P.Eng. to supervise you in your work. for more on this see: http://www.pem-mag.com/Industry-News/ontario-repeals-industrial-exception-from-professional-engineers-act.html and also http://engineeringinontario.ca/.