The Voice - newsletter
of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers
Winter 2012 edition
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,
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
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
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.