Nate Hendley, Freelance Writer


The Voice - newsletter of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers

Winter 2012 edition

Regulating Advocacy

By Nate Hendley

Should associations that regulate professions also advocate on their behalf?

Arguments about advocacy largely hinge on how the word is defined. If advocacy is viewed as pushing one specific viewpoint for the self-interest of a given profession (as opposed to the public interest) then pundits agree that regulators should steer clear.

"Combining the role of regulator with that of advocate is problematic. It is difficult to avoid the perceived, if not real, conflict of interest between protecting the public and protecting the profession," says Laurie H. Pawlitza, Treasurer (the LSUC term for President) of the Toronto-based Law Society of Upper Canada, which licenses and regulates lawyers in Ontario.

"I don't think a regulator could be an advocate ... I see it as a bit of a conflict of interest. If you're a regulator and you're advocating for something then you're not being impartial. And for sound regulations to go forward they need to be based on impartial analysis," says Dr. Gail Krantzberg, a civil engineering professor and director of the Centre for Engineering and Public Policy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

"I think the roles should be split," agrees Doug Reeve, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toronto and director of the Toronto-based Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead).

Advocacy done for the sake of the public interest, however, is seen in a more benign light.

"Advocacy can take many different shapes and forms. My own view is that it may be acceptable for these regulatory bodies to advocate for the public interest. So if they're advocating for what's good for Canada, what's good for a province, what's good for the public, I think there can be a very important and constructive role for them to play. But if they are advocating purely for self-interest and for the self-interest of the members of the profession, there can be a potential conflict," says David Mitchell, president and CEO of Public Policy Forum.

Based in Ottawa, the Public Policy Forum describes itself as "an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of government in Canada through enhanced dialogue among the public, private and voluntary sectors."

Advocacy for educational purposes also gets a thumbs up.

"There is a need for knowledge dissemination-knowledge transfer of a specialized variety from many professional groups to the broader community. That's not advocacy in a narrow sense, that's in the broad public interest," says Mitchell.

Some pundits question whether educational initiatives should even be classified as advocacy.

"Advocacy is done by vested interest groups that want to advance their views on a position ... educating is presenting a number of different viewpoints-working out different options and their implications for society," says Dr. Krantzberg.

The legal professions offer a good example of how to balance regulation and advocacy.

Both the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Canadian Bar Association (CBA)-which represents lawyers nationally-do advocacy work. Their duties are well-defined, however, along sharply delineated lines.

"The Law Society regulates [and advocates for] lawyers and paralegals in the public interest. The Canadian Bar Association advocates on behalf of the profession, not the public. So the fundamental accountability of each organization is different," explains Pawlitza.

"The Law Society's mandate requires us to advance the cause of justice and the rule of law. We have a Human Rights Monitoring Group who regularly intervene, usually by letter writing, in situations where the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of members of the justice system are threatened ... this advocacy is quite distinct from the work of the Canadian Bar Association and those other agencies that represent the interests of lawyers in Canada," continues Pawlitza.

This public-minded spirit is exemplified by a November 4, 2011 LSUC press release expressing "grave concerns about the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of human rights lawyers and activists in Iran."

By contrast, the Canadian Bar Association, headquartered in Ottawa, is dedicated to "promoting the interests of members of the [CBA]," according to the group's website. Under the title "CBA Advocacy", the website lists independence of the legal profession, solicitor-client privilege, access to justice and fairness in the legal system as "recurring themes" of interest to the group. The CBA's advocacy takes the form of submissions to government, court interventions and policy resolutions.

Organizations representing the medical profession take a similar tack.

The Toronto-based College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) regulates 35,000 doctors in the province. The College also advocates "on regulatory-related issues impacting the practise of medicine in Ontario," says Kathryn Clarke, senior communications coordinator at the CPSO.

"The CPSO has often submitted its position on draft legislation that will directly affect the CPSO or the medical profession. The CPSO will also periodically engage in public policy initiatives," continues Clarke.

In September 2009, for example, the College submitted a position paper on Bill 179, which concerned the regulation of health care in Ontario. More recently, the CPSO held a forum to discuss "issues related to opioid prescribing, dispensing and misuse," says Clarke.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), meanwhile, is headquartered in Ottawa and primarily exists to "advocate on behalf of Canadian physicians and the public about topical health care issues," as the group's website puts it.

In terms of advocacy work, the CMA offers a "MD-MP Contact Program" which links physicians with their local Member of Parliament and an online "eLobby" Tool designed to make it easier for doctors to contact politicians. The CMA also organizes a lobby day on Parliament Hill and trains doctors to be advocates for their profession.

The CMA makes frequent submissions to government on issues impacting their membership. Within a three-day period in October 2011 alone, the CMA made presentations on accountability in health care, health and the economy, and chronic diseases related to aging, to Senate and House of Commons standing committees.

Evidently, the Medical Association does a good job of rallying support for their cause; the CMA is "consistently ranked one of Canada's most influential advocacy organizations," boasts the Association's website.

The Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) is another regulatory body that does a dash of advocacy.

The Toronto-based group's mission is to "represent, regulate, support and promote the profession of architecture in the interest of all Ontarians and to lead the design and delivery of [buildings] in the province of Ontario," states the OAA website.

According to the OAA communications office, the Association wants to raise greater awareness of the architectural profession. Advocacy work includes a People's Choice awards program which encourages public-input on architectural projects, a website called Discover an Architect and community events such as Architecture Week.

Architecture Canada/the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, which is headquartered in Ottawa, represents architects across the country.
"One of the most important roles the RAIC performs on behalf of its members is to act as the unified voice for the profession on a national level," states the RAIC website.

"RAIC is active in lobbying the federal government on numerous issues such as a fair and transparent system for selecting and contracting architects; the protection of intellectual property rights for architects; and efforts to require that all those with training in architecture within the public service be licensed or registered," continues the site.

In summary, associations representing law, medicine and architecture all engage in advocacy work. There is a very distinct separation of duties, however. Provincial bodies such as the LSUC, CPSO and OAA regulate their members and advocate in the public interest. The CBA, CMA and Architecture Canada, by contrast, are national organizations that primarily use advocacy to advance the specific interests of their members.