All the Information

The first page of the Commercial and Industrial edition of Electrical Code Simplified (“ECS”) reads in part; “The Electrical Code is the product of literally thousands of men and women from all across Canada.”  And it is.  What follows is some background on how the Code process has historically worked and how, theoretically, its supposed to be working now. 

New editions of the Code have been published on three-year cycles since CSA launched its version of ECS’ Commercial & Industrial in the 1990-94 cycle.  Between Code editions, in every inspection office in Canada there’s a universe of debate and discussion (1) (2) (3) about what changes should be made in the next edition.  Though there is some variance between provinces, usually these discussions are formalized in various committees in each provincial electrical district (4), then at province-wide meetings, then there’s some cross-pollination between provincial jurisdictions as these folks settle on what the next Code should look like.  Yes, it sounds bureaucratic, but the system has actually worked very well for decades.  And all of these people are democratically legitimate –that is, they are all employees of the provinces and are therefore democratically accountable for their decisions through their provincial governments. 

CSA then receives the new Code content from the provinces and runs the agreed changes through a series of its own committees.  These are industry committees, they’re like a Parliamentary Committee in that they solicit the views of parties with a vested interest in particular changes with the understanding that these parties will be lobbying in committee for acceptance of their preferred changes to the Code.  This is the extra bit of Code development -its nice to have and its been historically acceptable- but because neither CSA nor the vested interests in committee are democratically accountable to anyone, and because the Code is the rule of law in Canada, any changes beyond the purely cosmetic are very difficult to legally justify.

Once the new Code has been finalized it can be published as the Canadian Electrical Code.  It is then passed to provincial legislatures where CSA lobbies for its approval into law, which is usually handled through an Order in Council.

This process was badly compromised in 1990 when CSA published its own version of ECS’ Commercial & Industrial.  For the first time, the entity responsible for the regulatory process was trying to profit commercially from its position of regulatory authority.  It released its version of Commercial & Industrial at the same time as the new Code.  Any commentary on the new Code is necessarily based upon that new Code, so the new Code must necessarily come first, the commentary coming later.  If both are released by CSA concurrently, then it follows that the Code itself was ready for release well before both books were officially released.  The Code was held back so that CSA could get their Handbook ready.  Commercial interests had taken precedence over regulatory responsibilities.

Historically, as soon as the Code was ready for print it was releasable to a wide variety of parties.  This was normal.  In CSA’s words, “the Code is public domain anyway,” so there’s no basis to withhold it.  Again historically, there was a gap of six to eight months between finalization of the new Code and the actual publication of that new Code.  For its part, P.S. Knight Co. received these pre-print Codes in order to complete the ECS books for the new Code edition.  In 2005 however, CSA decided to release the pre-print Code as usual to a wide variety of parties but this time they specifically excluded P.S. Knight Co.  Peter Knight would have to wait for both of CSA’s books to release before seeing the new Code.  This meant that the new ECS releases would be delayed by several months.  And that meant that CSA’s books would have several months of monopoly sales in Canada until P.S. Knight Co. could catch up.  It also meant that trade schools couldn’t use ECS in that semester, only the CSA version of Commercial & Industrial would be available.  Over time, CSA’s behaviour in this regard would push ECS out of academic use. 

Peter Knight found a commercial lawyer.  He had to find one mind you, because he’d never required one previously.  The lawyer had some discussion with CSA, pointed out the realities of the situation, how obvious these realities were, and the relative defensibility of CSA’s newfound position.  In response, CSA determined that it was probably in their legal interest to back down.  P.S. Knight Co. would indeed receive a pre-print Code just like all the other receiving parties.

When the pre-print Code arrived however, the document was surprisingly small.  Apparently very few changes were being made to the Code that year.  Peter Knight made a number of calls to CSA’s Code leaders to verify that he had received the whole pre-print copy and, in each instance, he was advised that he had all of it.  On their assurances, ECS updates were completed and the books were sent to print.  A few days later, Peter’s copy of CSA’s newly printed Electrical Code arrived by mail.  The contents were stunning.  Wholesale changes in several Code sections, hugely important both in scale and material importance, were found therein.  These changes had been entirely absent in the pre-print that CSA had grudgingly provided.  In fact, the pre-print that CSA provided had omitted a full majority of Code changes.  The ECS currently at the printer therefore was deeply flawed with false information and missing information.

A frantic call was made to the printer in Manitoba to halt production on the new ECS.  Thankfully, the new CSA Code had arrived at P.S. Knight Co. only a few days after the ECS files had been sent, so ECS printing hadn’t actually begun.  Relief then gave way to indignation.  For P.S. Knight Co. to have received the new, printed Code –by mail- such a short time after sending ECS to print, and given that the new ECS was a quick redraft due to the apparently small number of revisions, it was clear that CSA had provided a false pre-print to P.S. Knight Co. after their real Code book was already at the printer. 

Had they succeeded, CSA’s provision of false information would have badly damaged P.S. Knight Co.’s reputation and, with a wasted print run, its financial wellbeing.  Their action would also have resulted in another long delay until a revised ECS could be printed, during which time CSA would again hold a monopoly across Canada.

(1) (2) (3) Samples of typical Code amendment discussions at various levels of provincial government.
(4) Sample of a typical pre Code meeting memo.