The Need for Competent Engineers

Posted February 19, 2014 by Kayle
Categories: Thoughts

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The other day I posted on my Facebook page that APEGA (the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta) was appealing a decision by the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal (HRT) that ruled that APEGA discriminated against a foreign applicant. I’ve decided to put my full thoughts down on why I believe APEGA is right and why the HRT (sometimes called Star Chambers, or pretend courts, and actually legally referred to as quasi-judicial courts. The ones that tried to censor Macleans magazine and lost, the one that tried Ezra Lavant, the one that generally makes a fool of itself) is wrong.

My thoughts are going to fall into 3 parts: 1st on what I am calling the Superior Jurisdiction principle, 2nd on the difference between unjust and just discrimination and why I believe the HRT misunderstands the difference and erred in their interpretation, and 3rd on why we need to have highly competent engineers and why APEGA made the right decision.

(One quick note if you are following the HRT decision. The HRT talks about APEGGA, which is the former name of APEGA. APEGGA stood for the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta).

 

So, first things first, I’m going to talk about the Superior Jurisdiction principle: When you are a professional from one jurisdiction who is doing work in another jurisdiction, you are obliged to follow the professional rules of the jurisdiction that has the greater requirements. Thats the definition I’m giving. What I mean is that you need to follow the rules in your own jurisdiction and the rules in the one you’re working in, but when there is a difference you have to follow the more stringent ones.

Here’s an example (protip: engineers love examples). An Albertan graduating from an Alberta accredited engineering college (like the U of A or U of C) can automatically enrol in APEGA as an Engineer in Training (EIT). However, if an Alberta engineer wants to work in the US they have to take additional steps (specifically, they have to write the FE – Fundamentals of Engineering – exam). The US has higher requirements for working as an engineer than Canada does, so you have to follow the higher requirements.

Now an opposite example. Many developing nations (such as Africa) have less stringent requirements to work in engineering. If you are a Canadian engineer working in Africa, however, you are still required to fulfill your professional obligations required by engineers in Canada (including ethical rules – such as rules on bribery – and the need to do and track professional development). Just because you are working in a jurisdiction with less requirements doesn’t mean that the requirements of your home jurisdiction can be ignored.

In this particular case, it is apparent that Alberta has more stringent requirements for professional engineers than the former Czechoslovakia. According to this principle I have laid out then, an engineer from that country should have to meet the additional requirements in Alberta before being able to practice as a Professional Engineer here.

 

Ok, lets move to the second question then, which is about discrimination. Discrimination is not a bad word. We discriminate all the time when we decide what to wear, or what to eat (the discrimination against sugar is serious right now!), or what route to take to work. When it comes to Human Rights legislation, what we are talking about is unjust, or arbitrary, discrimination. This is different then justified, or factual, discrimination. Arbitrary discrimination means that given 2 options, you exclude 1 for superfluous reasons. For example, when choosing between a pink cupcake or a blue one, you choose the blue one because you hate pink. Strictly speaking, there is no reason behind such discrimination against pink, you just don’t like it. But if the pink cupcake has twice as much sugar as the blue one and you want to cut down on sugar, then it would be a justified discrimination against the pink cupcake (not because it’s pink, but because it has more sugar).

When it comes to arbitrary discrimination, what we tend to think of is the Civil Rights movement. African-Americans (people of colour? I’m not up-to-date on what is PC right now) were treated differently because of the colour of their skin, which does not have a discernible affect on anything. There was no justified need to have separate bathrooms or water fountains, for example. It was unjustified discrimination.

What the HRT is talking about though is place-of-origin discrimination. Human rights legislation is always written to be against unjust discrimination, and so we are talking about excluding people because of the country they come from. This is what the claimant argued at the tribunal. However, he and the HRT are wrong (Yes, I am just making that as a statement). APEGA did not discriminate against him because he was from Czechoslovakia, but because the standards for engineering in that country are lower then they are in Alberta. This is a factual, justified discrimination. Just because you practice engineering in another country does not give you the right to practice it in Alberta. We have higher standards, as as my Principle says above, you have to adhere to the higher standards. I believe that the HRT has made a ruling error here in conflating justified discrimination with arbitrary discrimination, and therefore the ruling should be overturned by the court because there was an error in scope. Essentially, the HRT does not have the jurisdiction to rule on justified discrimination, and so the ruling they made is legally invalid.

 

Ok, now we’re onto the third section: on the need for competent engineers, and comments on the specifics of this case. Professional Engineers in Alberta are given a lot of power and responsibility. It is at their discretion to approve or not approve plans and designs, and if they do give approval they take on the liability for those plans. This is why engineering schools in Canada are accredited, and why there is heavy scrutiny on foreign schools. Some countries we have agreements with to accept their engineering credentials after we have scrutinized them to ensure they have standards as strict as ours. Other countries we do not have agreements with, and engineers from those countries, essentially, have to prove themselves.

One of the questions brought up by the complainant was that Canada has agreements with some, but not all EU countries (sections 55-56). Dr. David Lynch (who is the Dean of Engineering at the U of A) testified that not all European countries had subjected themselves to examination, and neither had the school the complainant had gone to (no. 100). An agreement cannot be made with the whole EU because the different countries do not have the same requirements, and some of them do not meet Canada’s high requirements. The discrimination is not done based on citizenship, but based on the school (ibid).

The further evidence is that the complainant was not at the level required in Alberta. He failed the NPPE (the National Professional Practice Examination, which is on ethics and law) 3 times (no. 66 a, d, e). All engineers (Canadians, Americans, Europeans, ect) are required to pass this exam to be registered as a Professional Engineer. The Complainant also refused to take the FE exam, which would have tested his technical knowledge. APEGA has in the page (if I remember correctly) required certain engineers to take this exam (or one like it) if they are taken before the disciplinary board.

I believe the HRT also erred in it’s assessment (in no. 211), when they criticized the need for foreign engineering graduates to perform just as well as Canadian graduates. I don’t know if the HRT missed the memo on this, but That. Is. The. Whole. Damn. Point. If you want to practice engineering in Canada then you need to be able to practice as well as any engineering graduate from a Canadian school.

The absolute arrogance of the HRT continues (in no. 222) when they complain that APEGA did not “explore any alternatives” to the NPPE or “offer any courses or instructions to assist”. Earth to HRT, Earth to HRT: APEGA does not offer that to any applicants. All Professional Engineers must pass the NPPE regardless of background. The HRT complains (in 223) that this is “particularly unhelpful to foreign trained engineers”. I have some mere news for the HRT: the complainant wants to practice engineering in Canada. If he wants to practice engineering in Canada, he needs to know the rules for practicing engineering in Canada, not the rules in another country.

Here’s the jist of the HRT ruling: APEGA should be required to hold peoples hands when they come to Canada so they can work here. WRONG. The onus on anyone who wants to come and work in Canada is on themselves to acquire the skills (technical, legal, ethical, language, education, etc) needed.

See, here’s the thing about engineering especially as distinct from other careers. If you want to be an engineer, you have to be a self-starter. You have to do the studying yourself for the degree. You have to get your own job. You have to study and understand the ethics and legal stuff needed to pass the NPPE. You have to make the all the applications yourself. Nobody holds your hand in engineering. If you want to be a Professional Engineer, then you have to do it yourself. That is the culture, that is how everyone does it.

Engineers are different because they have high legal requirements and expectations. An engineer has to individually decide whether to approve something, and they have to put their name on it. Along with the legal license, there is a social license that you can see. Society is saying to everyone who has a P.Eng. that “we trust you to make decisions that aren’t going to screw up and get people killed”. Every engineer must be trusted to make these decisions, decisions that sometimes quite literally mean life or death. Missing that little detail, that little nuance, could mean death or serious injury for a construction worker, or an industrial worker, or an office worker, or, God forbid, a member of the public who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That is why we need extremely competent engineers, that is why the bar is set so damn high.

The entire ruling from the HRT reads like them saying “The bar is so high! You don’t need it that high, do you?”, and that’s probably what pisses me off the most. I just hope that the APEGA appeal goes well and the HRT gets slammed for trying to impose wishy-washy feel-goodness on engineering, which is a profession that deals with facts and science, not making people feel good.

The Compulsion of Truth

Posted August 13, 2013 by Kayle
Categories: Thoughts

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This post is a bit of a continuation of my thoughts from yesterday, and will be another meta-type post.

The question I want to look more into today is Why Do We Blog? Or more broadly, why do we Social Network (blog, post stories on Facebook, retweet things, or have a Youtube channel)? I want to argue that the reason we do is ultimately because of the Truth.

This needs to be fleshed out more to be seen more clearly. What I’m looking at is our motivation behind sharing something or posting something or ranting to your followers about something. I want to go back to Gabriel Marcel for this. One of his contemporaries whom he criticized was atheistic existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (who’s Kantian-on-steroids philosophy of the Imperial Autonomous Self is quite popular, even though his philosophy is not very good nor compelling).  Sartre likes to talk about how he likes to work at a cafe because he is just a single anonymous person amongst other anonymous people, with no connection to anyone around him; no communion with others.

Even Sartre fell afoul of his own philosophy however, because he wanted others to know what he’d found: That we are “condemned” to freedom. All Sartre’s talk of the me without need of the you comes crashing down because not only does he want you to know what he’s found, he wants you to agree with him and follow his line of thinking. It’s a bit of a philosophical irony: Sartre wants communion with you.

So what’s this communion I keep speaking of? I’m using it in this case how Marcel uses it, which is to talk about how people are “joined” together, not physically but in a deeper, psychological way. These people have experienced each other and, to borrow a term from a popular dating website, they are compatible. You can say that they are one-in-mind, they have similar beliefs about the way the world is.

So what does this little philosophical discussion have to do with the topic of truth? Because that is why we blog, to bring others into communion with us, and that communion is based upon Truth. We have found something (a news story, a study, a cool blog post or video) that “speaks to us”, something that seems to tell us “This is how things are”. In a word, we think we’ve found Truth. And the funny thing about Truth (whether it’s on Loneliness, or civic politics, or the “actual” birth location of a certain public office holder) is that when you find it, you want to tell others about it.

It’s not something that follows a Cartesian-Rationalist methodology, or based on a reflection on how it’s good to tell the truth because it’s a virtue, or a rational duty, it’s a compulsion. When you find the truth, you are driven to tell others. When you know something that is Truth, it wants to rip itself out of your head to tell the whole world. Post-modernistic anti-Realism dogmas about the non-existence of the Truth be damned,  because the Truth wants to get out.

And that is why we blog, why we share, and why we Youtube: because we got the Truth and we are compelled to tell everyone.

Loneliness

Posted August 13, 2013 by Kayle
Categories: Thoughts

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There’s a video going around Facebook today called The Innovation of Loneliness, and it makes me want to talk about it.

Well, if you’ve watched the video this might seem ironic to blog about it. Well, that’s because I’m a weird blogger. It took me a while to figure out what this blog is for due to the many social network tools we now have available to us, and I decided that this is for my thoughts: if I want to respond to some common misconception (in science, politics, and sometimes policy and law) and I feel like yelling at someone about how stupid and wrong their opinion is (which my friend Michael sometimes does, but with more charts and tables), and sometimes because I have a thought I want to write down.

This one is a thought. I’m putting some words down, and if my (I’m pretty sure it’s largely imagined) audience wants to read them they are free to. Or not to. I don’t really care, I’m not in it for the (again, largely imaginary) fans. If what I say affects someone then it seems like there was a reason for me writing. And it nobody reads this? Then it was just thoughts I was putting down. Think of this as my poor attempt at journaling (something which I may or may not be about to get good at). In public. Because it addresses a public topic, a public video.

And if there is someone reading this, then they have already read what makes up some of my response to the video.

Now here’s the rest. I agree that you let social media, like Facebook, run your lives (~1:40).  If you are feeling pressured to post something or feel guilty for not posting, then that’s unhealthy. So is letting Facebook run your social life (~1:55).

Collecting friends (almost like Pokemon?) is also a no-no. The idea is not to have the most friends.

I think the author of the video has it wrong when he criticized “picture sharing and chatting” as mere connection. There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, and sharing a specific picture with a friend can have a big meaning. Or does he mean our Facebook photo album? Is there really a substantial difference between a digital photo album, and a physical one that you pull out to show people when they come to your house? We’ve taken the awkward “Hey, want to see my vacation photos!” non-question that gets you labelled a jerk for declining, and instead said “I’ve put my photos up, if you want to see them they’re there, and if you want to talk about photos we can also do that”.

The chatting is the next issue that the author really has a rant about (2:10~2:50). Here I think the author has confused or conflated two unrelated topics: presenting a persona, and exercising discretion. This is made clear is the image presented at ~2:27, where a woman throws a drink (presumably at a guy) because he said something stupid. That’s not an example of “being you” or “putting yourself forward”, that’s just being a jerk. Choosing your words carefully, ironically enough, actually shows a certain maturity with language, and discretion is something that people, sadly, often lack at some level.

As for the underlying issue, people open up more to others when they feel comfortable in doing so. Nobody needs to walk around as an open book to the whole world, that’s just silly. So this criticism, overall, is a point not well taken (maybe more of an author tract).

So, onto his “3 points” (~3:10): 1. Put out attention wherever we want it to be, 2. We will always be heard, and 3. We never have to be alone.

I don’t understand the 1st point, because we’ve always done that. Is it about people focusing on what they want and ignoring what they dislike? Or about the internet’s ability to connect people with interests in obscure topics that wouldn’t happen otherwise? Sometimes I focus on one thing and ignore others, because that’s the only way you can live. To do one thing is to choose (actively or not) to not doing anything else. This first point doesn’t seem to say anything.

The second point seems to only affect people who actually think that “internet=instant audience”. I’ve made several points that I don’t know if someone reads this, and it doesn’t really matter to me. The thing about having philosophy training is that when you hear a propositional video like this it makes you want to respond, and writing helps me do that.

The third point is one that I really can’t relate to. Yes, Facebook allows you to keep up on what’s going on in friends lives, but it’s not a replacement for them, no more then the telephone was 10 years ago. If you think that social networks will avail loneliness, then you have been misled. But this goes to something deeper, which is a fear of being alone altogether. I’ve been with people like that, who seem like they feel like they’re going to disappear unless they’re talking to you at every second. I’m not one for small talk, nor am I very good at it. I’m fine with not talking (but I know that would send some people right over the deep end).

That’s ultimately not a social network issue; it’s a insecurity one. It’s something that social networks can aggravate, but it’s not a sole cause. It’s something a person should work on regardless of social media use.

I find “I share therefore I am” (~3:30) an interesting twist on Descartes, but this video is pretty late to the party, because Existentialism was a thing that happened quite a long time ago know. Gabriel Marcel talked about the need for communion with others and self-giving over 60 years ago in The Philosophy of Existentialism. Again, the problem is not sharing with others, but indiscriminate sharing, a focus (again) on quantity over quality. This is again, not a social media problem, but an insecurity problem (the need to have approval from others in order to have a self-worth).

So overall, there are some interesting points, but it needed the work of a (better?) editor to get some ideas across better and in a clearer way. Does it pose some cautions on the mis-use of social media? Yes. Should you go and immediately delete your Facebook account because “social media is teh evilz”? No, of course not. Social media, like Facebook, like Twitter, and like blogging are above all tools to be used, and like any tool there is a right way and a wrong way, which may take some practice (experience) and practical advice (inculcation).

Oh, and don’t let anonymous Youtube videos and internet bloggers decide how you should run your life. That’s just irresponsible.

The End of Educational Freedom

Posted March 24, 2013 by Kayle
Categories: University

Tags: , , , ,

The U of A’s mandate letter (I’m sorry, “letter of expectation”) is out.

See it here.

Basically, the government is trampling all over the institutional independence normally expected for a major public research university and turning it into a de-facto extension of government policy. Which, by the way, is not what universities are for.

Why do we even need a BoG or Senate if the government is just going to overrule anything they want to do and impose new direction on them? All joking aside, the U of A is not badly run (especially compared to, say, several provincial ministries of the current administration), so there’s no pressing need for external intervention.

Really, the only current problem is in finances. Oh right, that was the Provincial Government’s fault too, by slashing spending for higher education because of Alberta politicians inability to have a method of stable income and instead relying on a notoriously unstable form of income to cover a substantial part of their budget.

So let’s do a check-up. We have a government intervening to fix what they see as a problem happening at a university that they caused by not giving enough funding. So their solution is to tell them how they are suppose to handle having less funding which will result in … the same amount of inadequate funding as before.

The mandate letter is pretty heavy on this new “Campus Alberta” thing. What they want is for institutions to decrease “program duplication” across campuses. In regular everyday speech, we call that healthy competition between programs. Nope, according to your Alberta Government, having more then 1 program for philosophy or music or biology (presumably) is redundant even though there is currently interest in such programs simply by the fact that they exist.

This is simply astonishing how arrogant the government can be in saying that they know what’s best for all the post-secondary institutions in the province, even the (now nominally it seems) private ones. Oh, also they want to reduce this through transfer agreements. Don’t get me wrong on that, transfer agreements are not a bad thing to do, but this new policy seems to suggest that we turn a bunch of two-bit colleges (I’m sorry, but there’s a reason people choose the U of A as their first choice) into feeder schools for better ones like the U of A.

I remember when people use to refer to Saskatchewan as some kind of “socialist” haven, but Saskatchewan never did something like this (they did change the nursing program, which use to be 2 years at SIAST and 2 at UofS/UofR to 4 years at the UofS/UofR. Nursing/Medicine is a lot more regulated through, including how many spots there are).

Congragulations Alberta, you are officially more Socialist than Saskatchewan at its heyday. Heck, I don’t even think Quebec intervenes in its Universities like this. Not impressed Government of Alberta.

Quebec’s Construction Corruption

Posted January 7, 2013 by Kayle
Categories: Politics

Tags: , , ,

Well, if you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in Quebec, then you know about the current corruption inquiry investigating kickbacks from the construction industry to cities, politicians and political parties, and the mafia (with taxpayer money no less).

I’m not going to talk about that because it pretty much speaks for itself how unethical that is. Instead, I want to look at something else that Macleans has highlighted in a recent issue on the Quebec construction industry: the relationship between unions and contractors.

It turns out that in Quebec, the decisions about where to send labour for a project is not made by employer, but by the union. That in itself is flabbergastingly stupid, and that’s not even the point I’m getting at. Like, how can a firm decide on what projects they can do on certain days when they have no control over they employees? When I worked in construction (consulting in materials testing), jobs would often come up the day before or the day of which could see me have to work long hours unexpectedly based on what could be done or permits or the weather. My boss would just tell us “you’re doing this job tomorrow” and that was that, no need to consult a union or other person to ask permission for workers to work.

Oh, but it gets worse. So, we have a union who decides where workers go. Now the union also happens to own a share of one of the contractors. So now the union has an economic interest in the success and profitability of one contractor (just one, to the exclusion of others) and controls the employees. So it is within the unions power to prioritize one project with enough workers while impeding others by sending less workers. Wow, just wow.

I don’t know what they learn about ethics in Quebec, but that’s pretty much a textbook example of a conflict of interest. It would be like Enbridge owning part of Husky and allowing Husky all the pipeline space it needs while offering less or none to Suncore and Syncrude and Shell. Or if Epcor owned a transmission line and prioritized electricity from Genesee (pre-CPC split) over that from Sundance and Keephills. There seems to be something about these cases that makes us think that its not fair. In the last case I believe it would actually be illegal (if I remember right given Alberta’s electricity rules). I seem to remember a case somewhat like the other hypothetical one described where a company was favouring a subsidiary or another company they had an economic interest in, and were told (by someone with the proper jurisdiction, like the Competition Board or the courts) to stop it (I could be wrong though).

Whatever the legal ramifications, the union by definition has become corrupt. I have said that a model where a union controls where people go is stupid (which I say because I tend to lean towards a capitalistic point of view economically), but I do not think it would be either illegal or unconstitutional. It is conceivable that the purpose would be to protect worker interest and dignity (hours and worker conditions and stuff), and while I don’t think that such measures as union control of labour is necessary to protect that it is a plausible model. Now come the corruption. If the idea is to protect workers, then having an economic interest in a contractor takes away their ability to objectively do just that; in a word their very purpose has been corrupted. When they have an economic interest, then they are now interested in profit, not workers.

And you don’t have to be part of any party to understand that corruption is wrong.

A Leap of Faith

Posted December 14, 2012 by Kayle
Categories: Thoughts

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What exactly does it mean to take a leap of faith?

Faith is something that is outright ridiculed by certain parts of the population. They say that they will never understand what faith is, or that they could never do it. Wouldn’t it be ironic if they already did though? Faith is something that everyone does; it’s essential for human socialization and for communities to form. The problem that seems to have happened is that faith has been conflated into the realms of religion, even though that it totally untrue.

Here’s the thing. All you really need to do to understand areas of faith in your own life is take Epistemology. Let’s start with Descartes. Descartes (in his 1st Meditation) wondered if we were in fact dreaming right now. It seems like a silly and trivial question, but the more you think about it the more it becomes appairent that it’s a problem. How do you distinguish dreaming from not-dreaming (I will probably revert to using !dreaming as “not”, in the style of c++ because it’s easier)? There’s often ideas of a certain test that could be used. But, to be able to use this test you first have to know you’re awake to make sure the test works in order to know whether it will works in the dream, and so the test becomes useless because you don’t know whether you got it when your were awake or dreaming.

So, the question is how many of you got out of bed this morning? I’m assuming everyone who’s reading this did (at some point). Why did you do that though? Don’t you have to first lie down (if you are in fact lying down) and contemplate whether or not there is a point to getting up? Personally, I’ve dreamt that I’ve been lying in bed trying to make the same decision. So why do we get out of bed when we don’t even know that we’re in bed? Only by a leap of faith. We just do. There is no rational process that goes on deciding whether or not we are currently in the real world where we have to get up for work, you just get up. It turnes out that when you’ve only been up for minutes, you’re already making a leap of faith.

Since that is what we do, we should ponder the question of “is that what we ought to do?” This seems like another stupid question, but it’s really important. Should we make that leap of faith in the morning? Well, if you want to not die of hunger it’s probably a good idea. If you want to be a strict Cartesian, then you really shouldn’t be getting out of bed until you have deductively proved that you are in fact awake.

There is one thing that people might appeal to: uniformity. I woke up yesterday and got out of bed and went to work and went to bed, so it’s probably a safe bet that it’s all the same today. But that is another unjustified leap of logic. This one comes from David Hume, a Scottish philosopher. We can’t just accept uniformity. Any time we take what happened “before” and say that something similar will happen “after”, we are making an inductive (or in coloquial speak, inferential) leap of logic. Strictly speaking from a logic point of view, inductive leaps are by their very nature fallible; that is that by their very nature they can be wrong. They are not guaranteed to produce results that are true 100% of the time. When you induce uniformity in the future, you could very well be wrong about it. And yet, we do it anyways. What we do is we trust that the future experiences will be like past similar experience. We take another leap of faith, because otherwise we just wouldn’t be able to do anything.

These are just 2 things we easily take for granted in life, that we are not dreaming and that the world (including the laws of physics) are uniform. And yet, if you want to say that you are strictly rational you should reject both of these. Maybe someone will just say that they are rational. That seems unfair though, because you’re just redefining rational to avoid the issue altogether  and you don’t even possess a rational reason to do that.

So, let’s stop pretending that faith is something that only exists in religion. If you are reading this, then you are exercising your faith right this very second. If you don’t like these answers, then go and solve these problems that Descartes and Hume have brought up, and all of philosophy will thank you trying. Of course, until you do so you’ll just have to assume that you are not sleeping and that the world is uniform; you just need to have a little faith to get you going.

Consolidating Environmental Reviews

Posted April 17, 2012 by Kayle
Categories: Politics

Tags: ,

Well, there’s a fairly regulatory-intensive announcement by the federal government, and tragically news articles are peppered with terms, phrases, and nuances that frankly will go over the ordinary persons head. Most people don’t understand our environmental regulatory system and lobby groups take advantage of that by making accusations that are so lacking in facts or logic that they’d make baby seals cry.

Anyways, luckily I have knowledge of the environmental regulatory system and can break down some of the terms and phrases to make them more understandable (with the help of my notes from ENV E 302 on Environmental Impact Assessments, from the last year it was taught as a joint ENVE-MINE class. Credit to Dr. Zaher Hashisho for the notes.). For reference, here’s an article from Postmedia News (listed on the Montreal Gazette).

The first thing that people need to understand is that not all projects need a Federal environmental assessment (FEA), and that is due to the Constitutional separation of powers. For the FEA, the PEAT model is followed:

Project
Exclusion List
Authority
Trigger

Project is “an undertaking related to a physical work” according to my notes, and including construction, operation, decommissioning, modification, or something is listed on the Schedule to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEA Act). Exclusion List refers to the Exclusion List Regulation, a regulation under the CEA Act. Anything listed under the ELR is not a project and therefore does not need an FEA.

Authority means it has to involve a federal Minister of the Crown, an agency or body of the federal government, a department or departmental corporation (schedules A&B of the FAA). Finally is the trigger. A trigger means the federal government is giving money (eg- tax break on that project), the company needs a permit (Fisheries, Navigable Waters, ect), the project is taking place on Federal Crown Land, or the federal government is the proponent of the project (this does not mean promoting, proponent has a very specific meaning referring to the organization, usually a corporation, who is financially backing the project and who will directly benefit).

Ok, now to the article. First thing, the federal government will allow a provincial assessment to substitute for a FEA if it meets the CEA Act. Most people probably don’t know that right now Federal-Provincial joint assessment are currently possible and are already done. This just takes the next logical step by saying that if a provincial assessment meets the CEA Act there doesn’t need to be a duplicate, nor should there be. Doing an identical assessment should give an identical result, so there’s no point (except to unnecessarily delay a proceeding).

Secondly, provincial regulations will be equivalent to the Fisheries Act. People know that I am not a fan of DFO, but legally this is not on good ground. Fisheries are a Federal head of power under the Constitution, and the Federal government cannot unilaterally transfer that to the provinces (they’d have to amend the Constitution as was done with the Natural Resources Transfer Act back when Westminster had to amend our Constitution). However, the ability to give the NEB and the CNSC the ability to grant approvals under the Fisheries Act is legitimate as the government can just designate them Fisheries Officers under the Fisheries Act.

The other big one is consolidating reviews. This will be contentious, but the reason is because nobody listens to reason anymore: we don’t need 40 different departments with 40 different FEA review processes. FEA’s are done to ensure that we are achieving the 3-fold balance between economics, social issues (including employment poverty, issues with “boom towns”, etc), and the environment. Yes, people probably don’t actually know that an EIA is suppose to be looking at all 3 of those, not just the environment. And this is an upgrade from the cost-benefit analysis that was done before that (which looked mostly at economics, as it’s hard to put costs and benefits in dollar amounts on social issues and the environment).

The reason we don’t need 40 is that there is no need. Once we have done a FEA, there doesn’t need to be another one. we live in a society that seems to think that we have the right to do “it” (replace it with whatever you feel like) as many times as we like until we get the result we like. That’s not how real life works or should work. The legal system has a court of last resort (the Supreme Court) so that there’s a resolution that can’t be appealed so that it’s resolved.

The people who are interested in the multiple processes don’t seem to be so interested in making sure of the 3-fold balance as dragging out processes to make them impossible for proponents to proceed. That’s not the point of the FEA process. The point is to make sure that any significant impacts are mitigated to reasonable and acceptable levels. Now for something people probably already know: FEA’s are almost never rejected. It’s bad press for a company. The other reason is that all the major issues are commonly worked out between the company and the regulators before the formal process even starts. When you’re doing a formal FEA, you already know the major impacts and you’ve already mitigated to regulatory standards or best practice.

Unfortunately, mob mentality can take over, as in the case of the Keystone XL Pipeline (that aquifer in Nebraska? There’s already pipelines going through it, including the older Keystone Pipeline).

So, those are some of the facts that people could probably use in understanding the issue. But of course, facts aren’t as fun and accusing the other side of being environmental pariah’s/extreme tree huggers, so as usual they’ll get buried.


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