Engineering A Better Future
ECA Wants Changes to Quebec’s Engineering Act
Engineers must always be thinking about the future, but according to Antonin Picou and Jonathan Ladouceur from Concordia’s Engineering and Computer Science Association, that is doubly true for engineering students.
“For an engineer of any stripe, their first mission is actually to make sure [what they build] is good for society and it is safe for society, above cost and profit,” said Ladouceur, ECA VP External.
A recent proposal to update engineering laws in Quebec is pushing engineering students to think not just about the fate of what they’ll build, but also of their industry, according to Ladouceur and Picou.
Bill 49 was first tabled in Quebec’s National Assembly on June 12 by Minister of Justice Bertrand St-Arnaud. It outlined changes to the Engineers Act, which was adopted nearly 50 years ago, in 1964.
Picou and Ladouceur say ECA Concordia is working with its umbrella organization, the Quebec Confederation for Engineering Student Outreach, to offer their opinions on the proposed changes to the National Assembly.
Their report to QCESO was due Oct. 7. The QCESO will next pass the report on to the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec, the professional body of all engineers in the province, to be presented along with the OIQ’s report to the National Assembly later this fall, according to Ladouceur.
“As engineering students, [giving our input is] important because it’s part of our future,” said Picou, ECA president. “If you’re going to go work in the engineering field then [Bill 49] will affect you later; it’ll affect every one of us.”
Not only is ECA Concordia preparing their own opinion, but Ladouceur says a survey was also distributed to engineering students and student societies so that their views on Bill 49 could also be included in the association’s report to QCESO.
According to Picou, less than 10 completed surveys have been returned, but he and Ladouceur say that a lot of the opinions they are receiving from students are coming through informal emails and in-person conversation, which will all be annexed into their report to QCESO.
A Vague Job Description
According to Ladouceur, the proposed changes to the Engineers Act in Bill 49 include some troubling changes.
“If you read the law, you’ll see that it goes from a very clear definition [of an engineering field] to a very vague one,” he said.
“One of the major changes is the generalization of the description of what an engineer does, and so that can have positive and negative impacts.
“It could leave people out, or make someone’s position more vague as to whether they are or are not [engineers],” he continued.
As for Picou, he says he doesn’t see any upside to defining engineering—both in terms of its responsibilities, and the repercussions for not meeting them—more generally.
“I don’t think the vague terminology is a benefit to anyone, to be honest,” he said.
“When it comes down to it, you’re an engineer; you have social responsibility in your hand, you have a lot of input into the way things get done and whatnot, and having those repercussions set up clearly for one type of engineering is pretty important in my opinion.”
According to Picou, some kinds of engineering are also better outlined by the law than others.
“The more classic disciplines—like mechanical, civil, electrical—are covered by the law better than [newer disciplines],” he said.
Biomedical engineering, for example, is not well defined, but the major area where the law needs updating is in computer and software engineering, Picou says.
Ladouceur says engineering and computer science students are voicing similar concerns.
“There is a push from some of our students towards including software engineering and computer engineering, just making it certain that aspects which are really engineering [are] legitimately a part of the law,” he said.
While it hasn’t been said openly, Picou says he thinks a major reason for updating the Engineers Act now, nearly 50 years later, is because of the Charbonneau commission.
The commission, which began in October 2011, is a public inquiry into allegations of corruption in the managing and awarding of public construction contracts.
In a 2012 poll by QCESO, 70 per cent of student engineers surveyed believed the corruption allegations seriously harmed the reputation of Quebec engineers, regardless of discipline.
Of the 1,136 surveyed, 27 were from Concordia. According to Engineers Canada, the national order encompassing all provincial engineering organizations including the OIQ, there were 16,601 engineering students attending a Quebec educational institution in 2012.
According to Ladouceur, the ethical problems facing engineers in Quebec may be addressed by changes to the Engineers Act, but can also be tackled sooner at the university level.
“At Concordia, our ethics course is taken in the first or second year, and it’s one class,” he said. “It’s a very good class with lots of information and we’re taught these engineering laws and everything, but it’s in the first year of study and you need the continuity throughout your studies, so there’s stuff we could improve [on] for sure.”
Currently, the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board, which accredits all engineering programs in Canada, is altering its pedagogy to an attribute-based system. The system includes ethical and societal impact requirements that must be adhered to, according to the 2012 CEAB policy report.
Another ethics-based survey is also being prepared by QCESO, which they plan to deliver to the Charbonneau commission in the spring, according to Ladouceur.
But with the National Assembly looking to amend the Engineers Act so soon—negotiations to review Bill 49 for ratification are scheduled to begin sometime in the fall term, according to the National Assembly’s website—Ladouceur says the priority for ECA Concordia and QCESO was to prepare for that first.
“It’s literally the laws that affect our future employment […] and we have 17,000 students in [ QCESO] so we have weight to throw around.”