Following a report issued in June, 2018, the B.C. government has introduced legislation aimed at making sure decisions affecting the province’s natural resources are science-based, transparent, and protect the province’s environment.
If passed, the Professional Governance Act will modernize and strengthen the roles and expectations of qualified professionals in the province. It will also establish an office of the superintendent of professional governance to ensure consistency and best practices are applied in the work of qualified professionals.
“This legislation is about making sure we live up to our responsibilities to British Columbians in protecting our natural heritage for our kids and grandkids,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “British Columbians are rightly proud of our natural resources and environment—they represent who we are and where we’ve come from. This legislation recognizes that legacy and symbolizes a recommitment to putting the public interest first when it comes to managing our natural resources.”
The legislation and the establishment of the office of the superintendent of professional governance are intended to increase public access to natural resource information and ensure professionals are held to the highest ethical and technical standards. They are being proposed in response to two recommendations included in the final report of the Professional Reliance Review, also known as the Haddock report.
The Haddock report targeted some of its recommendations at oversight of municipal wastewater and in upholding the integrity of the Water Sustainability Act. In particular, the report asserted that both domains require independence in oversight and monitoring. With respect to wastewater, emphasis was put on improved environmental impact studies.
Currently, only five natural resource professions are overseen by existing B.C. legislation. The new Act would amalgamate oversight for these organizations and set consistent standards across all of the disciplines, which are: the BC Institute of Agrologists; Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of BC; College of Applied Biology; Engineers and Geoscientists BC; and Association of BC Forest Professionals.
“We support efforts to improve the regulatory framework and are hopeful that the legislation introduced today can achieve that goal,” said Ann English, P.Eng., CEO and registrar, Engineers and Geoscientists, B.C. “Changes to regulatory models are complex and require careful implementation, especially when managing areas of practice overlap. We are committed to working with government to ensure this is accomplished to the benefit of the public we both serve.”
The proposed legislation also received support from other professional sectors in the province: “Mark Haddock, the independent reviewer retained by the government, developed an excellent and comprehensive report, and the EOCP is encouraged that the report has culminated in the Professional Governance Act,” said Kalpna Solanki, chief executive officer for B.C.’s Environmental Operators Certification Program (EOCP). “The Professional Governance Act is a step in the right direction—it limits conflicts of interest and will improve government oversight of qualified professionals to enhance public confidence in natural resource decision making such that steps are in place to avert another Mount Polley disaster.”
While there are no current plans to expand the scope of the Act to other professions, the government has stated that the Act’s oversight could be expanded in the future. Indeed, if enacted, the new legislation could touch on some wastewater operators: “Any Operators who are also Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioners (ROWPs) would be affected by the new Professional Governance Act, and the increased oversight of this discipline is welcome due to the cost and difficulty involved with rectifying problem systems,” said Solanki.
Other recommendations from the Haddock report focus on natural resource regulatory regimes. B.C. has stated that it is acting on many of these recommendations as part of broader goals and mandate commitments for natural resource management, including strengthening results-based laws, building government capacity for compliance and enforcement, modernizing land-use planning, and building partnerships with Indigenous peoples for resource management.