Maintaining the Brand We Call 
“The Professional” in Canada

by Denis Blais


he relationship between the professional and the community has evolved over the years.  Previously, the word “professional” was regarded as a sacrosanct term used to describe only the most noble of subject-matter experts, highly regarded as guardians of the well being of the community.

Although there are still professionals who practice today, some would argue that the term “professional” has become clouded by overuse and a sense of entitlement. Others would bluntly say that professionals have become self-serving. How do we make sense of it all and how do we retain the brand? Perhaps the answer lies within the constructs of self-governance.

The relationship between the professional and the community used to be simple. The community identified true professionals as self-sacrificing individuals who put the needs of the community ahead of their own. The community expected these angels of mercy, or professionals, to dedicate themselves to the needs of the community without thought of privilege or compensation. What privileges or compensation the community bestowed upon them was directly proportional to the perceived self-sacrifice they submitted themselves to and was directly proportional to the ability of the community to compensate. Many professionals met those expectations.

But times have changed. The lines between a professional and a person for hire have been blurred. Subject-matter experts claiming to be professionals have skewed the brand, and the public is now suspicious of anyone who uses the label.

Further, the true professional has evolved into a more sophisticated entrepreneur who understands that to meet the needs of the community in the long term you need foresighted investment, investment in research and investment in continuous learning. Both of these investments must form part of what the word  “professional” represents if self-sacrificing angels of mercy are to have any hope of maintaining their status within the community. It all begs a renewed relationship with our communities.

Models of cooperation between community and professional abound, but what I highlight here is the professional self-governance model used in Canada. It has done wonders for the brand and our relationship with the community.

Legislation Used

All of the professions in Canada are recognized through legislation. It defines the objects of the profession and defines the workings of the governing body. The governing body is not part of a government bureaucracy but rather consists of elected members of the profession, a government representative, and members of the broader community appointed by the government. Funding for the self-governing body is borne by the professional members through mandatory yearly levies.

What works well within this model is the fact that the legislation captures all the key standards of care the community has come to expect from a professional. These are what separate the professional from the subject matter expert and include:
  • minimum educational requirements,
  • mandatory liability insurance,
  • peer review,
  • continuing education, and
  • code of ethics.
For the community, the advantage of having legislated standards of care is that the community can amend them if expectations change. For the professional, the advantage is a set of standards that no one can manipulate to skew the brand.

Another key feature of the model captured in the legislation is the governing body’s mandate to protect the public interest. The governing body must appoint committees to address complaints from the public, conduct peer reviews, and discipline members who deviate from the standards of practice or breach the code of ethics. Some would question the wisdom of having professionals review professionals; however, as previously mentioned, the model includes government-appointed members of the community. They ensure that the governing body does not become self-serving.

All in all, the model works well and has its advantages. For the community, it:
  • frees scarce government resources because it’s funded by the professionals,
  • defines who is a professional through the community’s legislative representatives, and
  • provides safeguards to ensure the profession is not self-serving because the community is represented on the governing body.
For the profession, it:
  • helps the brand by clearly separating subject-matter expert from professional,
  • provides community representatives who become more knowledgeable of the profession and who champion professional behavior, and 
  • provides an avenue for investing in the future.
Just like the old days, but better. 

The Canadian Professional Land Surveyor

The first professional statute regulating the practice of land surveying was passed in the Province of Manitoba in 1881. All other provinces, with the exception of the Atlantic Provinces, followed suit within the next 30 years, with the Atlantic provinces proclaiming legislation in the early 1950s.

Land surveying in Canada falls under 11 different jurisdictions—one for each of the 10 provinces, and one for “Canada Lands,” which are loosely defined as all Indian Reserves and National Parks wherever they are located in Canada, the three northern territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut), and the offshore.

Each provincial jurisdiction has a legislated, self-regulated land surveyors’ association that regulates cadastral surveying (property boundary surveying) within its jurisdiction.  The associations take care of the full range of licensing responsibilities including entrance requirements, examinations, peer review, discipline, complaints, and continuing education, with the overriding mandate of public protection. 

Most recently, the land surveyors in Canada have joined together to form a new national organization known as Professional Surveyors Canada. Its mandate is not legislated; it’s an organization that fosters cooperation, advocates for the profession, and supports the brand. Although there is a clear need for self-regulation, we recognize the need to reach a broader segment of the community outside the confines of a legislated mandate.  All of this is done in a transparent manner. This national model of cooperation has helped standardize entry requirements and helped foster mutual recognition, all of which benefits the community and the brand. To learn more, go to www.psc-gpcca.
Denis Blais is a land surveyor living in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. He works for the government of Ontario and is a past president of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors. He has served on various professional committees and is past chair of Professional Surveyors Canada and president of Canadian Council of Land Surveyors.

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