Professional Accountability Policy
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has implemented a new policy to demonstrate its commitment to professional accountability. This policy is an interim measure while government develops further policy and regulations for mandatory declarations under the new Professional Governance Act (November 2018). It is anticipated the new act will be brought into force in phases starting in spring 2019.
Under the B.C. professional reliance model, the government relies on qualified professionals (QPs) to provide sound and impartial advice, recommendations and in some cases, to make decisions in relation to resource management and environmental protection in the province. Building and maintaining public confidence in the professional reliance model requires increased transparency about the QPs doing this important work.
To achieve this, the government will be asking QPs to declare their qualifications and objectivity in relation to specific work they are hired to do under legislation.
Qualified Professionals Declarations
To increase transparency and accountability, QPs who do work on behalf of regulated persons under the Environmental Management Act, the Integrated Pest Management Act, or the Park Act will be asked to sign a declaration of their competency and a conflict of interest disclosure statement (the declarations).
Declaration of Competency
The Declaration of Competency asks QPs to consider their expertise, training and experience in relation to specific work they are being hired to do. Declarations of competency will provide a measure of assurance for government officials to feel confident in the information provided by QPs.
For example, is the QP an engineer with relevant training and experience designing waste water treatment facilities? Or a biologist with specific expertise in composting facility odour and leachate collection and treatment systems? Both are specific requirements under Environmental Management Act regulations and this declaration will confirm the QP meets those requirements.
Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement
The Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement requires QPs to consider whether they are free from real or perceived bias in the work they’ve been hired to do.
For example, do they, their company, or any of their family members stand to benefit from a specific outcome of a project? Such a benefit could call into question the objectivity of their advice. Disclosing real or potential conflicts will allow government officials to make informed decisions about statutory matters to protect the environment and public interest.
How will the declarations be used?
The declarations will be submitted with the regulatory documents they pertain to. For example, with an application for an authorization or with an environmental impact assessment required by a compliance order. Where appropriate, these documents will be considered by statutory decision makers in the formal judgement of the legal requirement(s) they support. Declarations will also be available to the public to provide transparency about the QPs operating in their communities.
Who does this affect?
Those who are obligated to use a qualified professional to meet policy or legal requirements will now be required to ask the QPs they employ to sign declarations that will be submitted with the regulatory or contractual documents they pertain to.
This policy supports regulated persons by ensuring that they are hiring professionals with the knowledge, skills, experience and objectivity to fulfill their legal obligations.
What if a signed declaration isn't included with an application package when it was requested?
Government officials will consider this when they make their decision on your application. If the inclusion of declarations is considered by ministry officials to be important, for example, because a project is very technical or has very high community interest, the absence of the declarations may affect approval of your application.
This should concern you, as the declarations only require the QP to confirm they are qualified to do the work you are hiring them to do and are free from conflicts of interest (or able to mitigate any perceived conflicts).
Because the absence of declarations could affect the processing of your application or assessment of whether you’ve met your legal obligations, you may wish to consider hiring a different QP.
Requesting QPs to make declarations of their qualifications and objectivity reinforces professional accountability but does not place obligations on them beyond what is already required as registered members of professional associations subject to a code of ethics and practice standards.
The purpose of the declarations is only to require an intentional acknowledgement from professionals that they have considered the scope of their professional practice and their objectivity in the context of specific work they’ve been hired to do.
Thresholds for when declarations are required are the subject of on-going policy development and stakeholder engagement through spring 2019.
Considering the purpose of the declarations, they could be requested in relation to any new project, application or compliance obligation depending on the risks to the environment or the public interest. When you are preparing or certifying reports on an ongoing basis (e.g. monitoring reports), one declaration can be submitted with the understanding that the ministry may require an update at some time in the future. Ministry decision-makers may consider exceptions under specific circumstances.
If you are a registered member of a professional association, you are obligated to abide by your code of ethics and practice standards regardless of your employer. In this circumstance, you should declare the association with your employer.
Be aware however, that in situations of high risk, or with very high public interest, a neutral third party may be required to serve as QP to avoid even the perception of bias. This is something that can be discussed as needed.
What if no conflict exists when the conflict of interest disclosure statement is signed, but a real or perceived conflict emerges during my work?
Self-Regulating Professional Associations
Legislated professional associations in B.C. play an important regulatory oversight role which includes a duty to set and enforce ethical and competency standards for their membership.
This role does not change, and these declarations can assist professional associations in fulfilling their responsibility by providing a tool for auditing professional qualifications and conduct.