Government Releases Report on Professional Reliance Review
Today the BC government released its report on its review of professional reliance in the natural resource sector. Written by lawyer Mark Haddock, the 120-page report with 121 recommendations is submitted as “independent advice” to the BC government.
While there are some recommendations we as a profession can support in the name of continuous improvement, others are troubling. The audits conducted as part of the professional reliance review found the ABCFP and the other four regulators in compliance with their legislation. Despite this clean bill of health, the report’s two recommendations aimed at the professional regulators are unnecessarily heavy-handed. They constrain the autonomy and independence of natural resource professional regulators while doing little to address the core public concerns raised around natural resource development and environmental protection.
Areas of Concern
The report’s two professional governance recommendations could have both transformative and costly implications for a non-profit association such as the ABCFP, which is funded by the dues its registered professionals pay to practice forestry. The two recommendations are:
- A call for the government to establish an Office of Professional Regulation and Oversight independent of the natural resource sector ministries that currently oversee the five professional associations that are the focus of the review (Association of BC Forest Professionals, BC Institute of Agrologists, College of Applied Biology, Engineers and Geoscientists of BC, and Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (R1 page 54); and
- A recommendation for government to legislate critical elements of professional governance through umbrella legislation (R2 page 55).
These recommendations clearly do not lead to better forest management on the ground, and they fracture the critical relationship required between the professional statutes and results-based regulatory regimes that rely on professionals for their delivery. In the absence of more detail, it appears these changes could severely limit the ability of professions to self-regulate and would, in effect, give government control of the professional associations while removing the ABCFP’s statutory reporting relationship to the Minister and Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
Among other things, the recommended new legislation would give government powers to regulate industry firms, and bypass member approval to pass new or change bylaws, including those that set standards of professional practice (such as ABCFP members chose to do when they voted to add a crossing standard in 2014 to elevate forest road crossing guidance). It would also provide government authority to give directives to professional associations and the power to remove and replace their councils with government appointees if directives are not followed. At its most extreme, although it may be unlikely, it more readily enables government to change your right to title and right to practice forestry. Simpler solutions exist to strengthen professional governance.
The ABCFP believes the five professional associations can work in partnership with government to identify more modern and creative solutions with less cost and less bureaucracy than these two recommendations. The ABCFP does support some concepts and aspects contained within the details of the two professional governance recommendations, such as the importance of public representatives, strengthening discipline processes, and continuing competence programs.
Elsewhere, the report recommends government develop auditing programs for professional work product (R18 page 67) and not rely on audits and practice reviews carried out by professional organizations. Another recommendation states professionals should be held personally liable for contraventions or offences (R20 page 68) to deter them from yielding to proponent pressure, with potential sanctions of violation tickets, administrative penalties, or prosecution. This recommendation coincides with another requiring professionals to have professional liability insurance (R19 page 68).
The report also touches on many areas of natural resource legislation, including a detailed focus (page 96) on the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA). There are numerous recommendations that significantly reduce or limit professional judgement and discretion that the profession has worked diligently to support over the past 15 years. For many members, the report’s recommendations will appear to represent a return to more prescriptive forest policy similar to the 1990s-era Forest Practices Code, but potentially without a commitment to the level of government professional staff required to undertake government’s responsibilities under such a model, or the associated required monitoring and research.
Areas We Support and Actions We Are Taking
- Continuous improvement across the natural resource professions.
A close-knit working relationship between the five regulators has developed as we worked through the professional reliance review process. There is ample opportunity to build on this in partnership with the government to improve professional governance of the regulators without the need or expense of overhauling five pieces of existing legislation (responsive to recommendation R1 page 54, R2 page 55).
- Greater transparency and accountability in the work of the profession and its professionals.
In the ABCFP’s submission to the professional reliance review, we committed to increasing the number of public representatives on the ABCFP council and discipline committees, more transparent reporting of discipline actions and complaints, and overall strengthening of the ABCFP complaint and discipline process (responsive to recommendation R2 page 55). Our submission also supported the importance of making the professional documentation that underlies already available forest practice documents more readily available to the public, and defining more work products as professional documents that require professional sign off (responsive to R28 page 73).
- Steps to better enhance the ability of forest professionals to practice competently and independently.
We recently released a practice bulletin on the duty to resolve conflict of interest, as well as a practice bulletin on the duty to report (responsive to R11 page 63). Currently, we are updating our professional independence guidance (responsive to R12 page 64), and are working to enhance our continuing professional development program with more explicit requirements for continuing education (responsive to R2 page 55).Our stakeholder submission also supported government and professional organizations collaborating on developing guidance in areas where public concerns warrant more careful and consistent application. The association has been actively doing this since the introduction of FRPA, producing more than 30 documents to support professionals in practice. Professional service guidance in Visuals and Watershed Assessment Procedures are now in progress (responsive to R6 page 62).
- Improving baseline data on resources to inform resource management decisions (R33 page 75).
Not only will this support individual professionals in their daily practice, acting on this recommendation would support the government’s ability to maintain a robust environmental policy framework in BC and enhance public confidence in the state of the environment. This is government’s role.
- Strengthening all pillars of the professional reliance system.
Including the need for government to provide clear objectives to guide forest professionals (R5 page 62, R88 page 110); and the recommendations for government to undertake increased monitoring (R21 page 69, compliance, and enforcement activity (R23 page 70).
- Enabling Indigenous Peoples to play a more active role in resource management (R24-27 page 70).
This aligns with the goals in the current ABCFP strategic plan.
Additionally, we are committed to implementing other changes within our control to enhance the professional reliance system which were outlined in our public submission to the professional reliance review.
What Happens Next?
As independent advice to government, the report is not tied to any one ministry (despite the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy being responsible for the report’s production), and it does not bind the government to take any specific action.
Based on conversations with government leading up to the report’s release, we believe the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy will move towards the goal of making changes related to Recommendations 1 and 2. We are urging government to undertake deeper consultation with the five natural resource professional associations this summer before committing to a specific approach or taking action on those two recommendations. The remaining 119 recommendations will be delegated to the respective ministries whose areas of responsibility they encompass for consultation over the next several months.
Professional reliance is a dynamic system where each component of the system needs to work for the entire system to function effectively. This means its success is jointly shared across the four key players involved its delivery: government, industry, professionals, and the profession. As such, the potential adoption of any recommendation, regardless of which party implements it, will require the engagement of all four key players.
I encourage all members to download a copy of the report and read it. Know that members can always email their thoughts about the report to me or council via ABCFP President Robin Modesto, RPF, PEng, or you can share them with the membership at large via a letter to BC Forest Professional magazine.
Related: Read the full list of recommendations.
Christine Gelowitz, RPF
CEO, Association of BC Forest Professionals