PEO Investigation Underway

June 10th, 2019

In March 2019, we submitted an abbreviated issue document, summarizing the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA’s) influence peddling activities, to a number of authorities, both within Canada and internationally. 

We noted in our May 20th article that, about these submissions; “Right now, the CSA only knows about two of them.  We sent more of them.”

We can now report that one of the two submissions CSA knew about was our filing a request for investigation with the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO).  We thought PEO should know about their members paying money to CSA to influence legislation.  It happens every year; PEO members pay money to CSA in trade for the right to amend legislation.

We thought it would be interesting to see what PEO would do, or not do, about it.  True, they’re not doing anything about it would be the norm, but we plan to up the temperature on the issue later in the year, and PEO already suspects what’s coming.

If you should ever need to file with PEO, know that the process is pretty much just window dressing.  They need to say they have an ethics and policy enforcement process, but actually doing anything about breaches thereof would entail action against their own members.  Their members pay the bills.  Action against PEO members is biting the hand that feeds.

That hand feeds quite a bit, actually.  At any given time, there are about 79,000 PEO members.  A typical, non-student member pays $299.45 in PEO fees each year.  That nets PEO at least $23,656,550.00 annually. 

At a glance, keeping members happy is more profitable than firing them, fining them, or wagging a finger at them.  That’s why PEO’s self-regulation is oriented to window dressing instead of enforcement.

Part of ducking enforcement is making the investigation submissions process as difficult as possible.  For instance, let’s say that you’re involved in a large engineering project and you’ve discovered that a clump of engineers has been naughty.  Well, say you, we’ll fix that.

You decide to submit a formal complaint to PEO about the conduct of their members.  Easy, you say.  But it isn’t.  You can’t write PEO a letter explaining what happened.  No, you’ll need to use their online form.  Fair enough, but each form is unique to each PEO member that you’re filing about, you’ll need a unique form for each subject member.  Submitting a list of offending members is a non-starter at PEO.  So, if you project involves, say, ten PEO members, PEO demands that you fill out the same form ten times, one each for each PEO member involved, even if all the details are identical for each of them.  You’ll also need the member’s phone number, email address, apartment number (if they live in one), etc.  This isn’t information you’re likely to get from the members voluntarily. 

Having sorted the biographical details, somehow, you’d next have to submit all of your evidences.  Separately.  For each PEO member.  In our example, you’d have to submit ten duplicate forms for the ten PEO members, plus ten identical bundles of evidence files, one for each member. 

This all makes it rather difficult to file your complaint, and that seems to be the whole point.

Regardless, we filed.  Specifically, we filed against the PEO members that had paid, or had their employer pay, to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) in trade for influence over Canada’s electrical law.  Our filing, in all its annoying Byzantine redundancy, totaled just over three-thousand pages.  We ended up shipping a full filing box crammed with nearly thirty pounds of duplicated, mostly redundant, PEO paperwork.

As of May 15th, and as a result, PEO has initiated professional conduct investigations into 38 of their members for potential payment of money in trade for influence over legislation.  If you want the full dirty on what our filing looked like, it’s here.

Most of these PEO members didn’t pay CSA directly, their employers paid on their behalf.  Not that that’s better, but it’s different.  The fact is that most of these engineers couldn’t care less about the legal basis for the drafting of electrical laws.  They’re just doing as they’re paid to, by their own employers.  But if it’s legal to pay bribes to public officials, as the Courts have Ruled, then PEO is in an awkward position.

Really, they’ve only got two places to land on this, and they’re both nasty.

First, PEO could rest in the Ruling of the Court, that bribe payments are acceptable.  In this, the PEO members’ pay-to-play conduct is not unprofessional.  There’s nothing to get upset over.  Of course, that would mean that professional engineers could bribe government officials to, say, look the other way in matters of shoddy engineering or public safety.  Conversely, professional engineers could take bribes from companies contracting their services in order to, perhaps, cut a few corners to save a few dollars, in a few unsavory or unsafe ways.  Resting in the Court Ruling would make either of these options acceptable, professional conduct.  Bribery by engineers would be acceptable to the profession.

On the other hand, PEO could conclude that notwithstanding the Rulings of the Court, their own codes of professional conduct are incompatible with payment or receipt of bribes.  Of course, that would mean big trouble for any PEO members caught paying, or having their employers pay, CSA or anyone else for influence over the law.

Either bribing public officials is ok with PEO, or it’s not; either these members did nothing wrong, or they’re in big trouble.  Right?

You see, PEO knows that whichever choice they make, we’ll broadcast it.  After all, the engineers of Ontario have a right to know what conduct is acceptable in their profession.

If they’re allowed to gain advantage by paying or accepting bribes, they have the right to know it.  If they’re not allowed to, those who do should be meaningfully penalized.  And either way, yes, we’ll broadcast the PEO decision, and not just on RestoreCSA. 

So what will PEO do?  Why, nothing, of course.

We believe that PEO will go through the motions of investigation, as slowly as possible, with the intent of whitewashing the whole thing in a meaningless mush of a report to be delivered years down the road, if ever, hopefully well after these engineers have retired, moved or quit on their own terms, so that whatever enforcement is decided, if any, is never felt by any of their well-paying members.  They’ve done this before.  They’ll maintain the image of substance, just without any pesky substance.

Still, we filed.  We’re on the record.  And so are they.