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Calls for Alberta to reconsider change to rules around ‘engineer’ title

Engineering group does not want to see loosening of title
A group representing Canada’s engineers is urging Alberta’s premier to reconsider a proposal the province recently tabled that aims to loosen restrictions around who can use the “engineer” title. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks to party faithful at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A group representing Canada’s engineering profession is urging Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to reconsider a proposal that aims to loosen restrictions around who can use the “engineer” title.

Engineers Canada said Friday that it opposes changes to the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act that would allow technology companies and workers to use the title “software engineer” without holding a professional engineering licence from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta.

In a news release and letter to Smith, Engineers Canada chief executive Gerard McDonald said Bill 7, which would carve out an exception and allow software engineers and those with similar roles permission to use the title, undermines the public trust and compromises safety.

“This exemption and the open-ended nature of the regulations set a dangerous precedent for other jurisdictions in Canada,” said McDonald.

“It risks eroding the established framework of professional regulation and could extend beyond engineering, impacting fields such as medicine and health, among others.”

McDonald said he supports the growth of Alberta’s technology sector but wants to ensure those designing critical systems impacting health, finance and quality of life are held accountable for their actions and potential unethical behaviour.

He worries the current state of the bill tabled on Tuesday would allow the government to extend the exemption to other titles through regulations.

Mackenzie Blyth, press secretary for Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney, said in a statement that a ruling published Thursday by the Alberta Court of King’s Bench supports the government’s position that allowing the use of the term “software engineer” does not affect public safety.

The council of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta had sought an injunction in September against two companies, iStock and Jobber, over their use of the term.

The ruling from Justice John Little said the association framed its application “as being required as part of its mandate, as the regulator for the practice of engineering, to protect the public from the unauthorized use of restricted titles.”

“I find that there is no property in the title ‘software engineer’ when used by persons who do not, by that use, expressly or by implication represent to the public that they are licensed or permitted by APEGA to practise engineering as that term is properly interpreted,” Little wrote.

Blyth noted that the judge found “no clear breach” of the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act that contains some element of possible public harm that would justify an injunction.

“Bill 7 allows our tech sector to use the term ‘software engineer,’ which is a globally accepted term, and in conjunction with this legal precedent will now make Alberta the most attractive jurisdiction in Canada for recruiting tech talent,” Blyth said in the statement.

“Alberta’s government respects and values the role APEGA plays in maintaining high standards for ethical, professional and technical competency.”

The bill came after Canadian tech companies spent the last year arguing for Alberta to loosen restrictions around the engineering title because they thought current rules put them at a disadvantage when recruiting talent.

More than 30 tech companies signed a letter last October, seeking a change that would allow them to more freely use the engineer title in Alberta.

However, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta has fought such a change, even filing lawsuits against tech companies that use variations of the engineer title.

It has argued the term “engineer” comes with a licensed and ethical set of responsibilities and accountabilities akin to other regulated professions, such as health and legal roles.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press