Tales from a BC Code Meeting

January 21st, 2019

We’re in an action-packed January.  There’s a lot going on, on several fronts.

It now seems, for instance, that our Supreme Court appeal will be heard more quickly than expected.  Given the similarities of the Keatley case, the questioning of who owns public records (Keatley’s case) and who owns the law (PS Knight’s case), it looks like we might have our Hearing as early as March of this year. 

That’s awfully good, let’s hope it happens that way.

Making such a tight schedule entails a whirlwind of draftings, editings, filings, frettings, and so forth.

As we wait for confirmation of our Hearing date, and as we’re still limited in what we can publish, we thought it might be amusing for our readership to hear one of the more recent stories of the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA’s) muck-making muck-a-thon.

There’s a discernable pattern; every time CSA gets frustrated they turn on the muckery.  Readers will recall that CSA was awfully frustrated last year when we published an authorized reproduction of electrical law.  We called it “Knight’s Code.”  CSA called it a “copy-cat” code.  And they got angry.  And they filed papers, and they got shouty, and they threw a medley of accusations against us.

You might wonder why CSA got so cross over something that the Court was already deliberating at the time.  Why so much fuss?  Well, that’s where our story gets interesting.

Somewhere in the darkened hinterlands of British Columbia (Vancouver), in the spring of 2018, in a large(ish) conference room, with tables arranged to make a square shape, were seated the high and mighty of the electrical business.  These were the biggies; the most major of the major contractors, the biggest of the businesses, the manufacturers that other manufacturers take up smoking to hang out with -these were the people of influence in British Columbia’s electrical industry.

These biggies were attending a Code amendments meeting.  You see, when CSA releases a new iteration of electrical law it is automatically law in large parts of Canada.  But not everywhere.  In BC, the new version of law must be reviewed, local amendments must be added, and only after this process does the Legislature pass the resulting text into law.

In these amendment meetings, each new Rule or altered Rule within the Code is reviewed, one by one, and discussed, dissected at times; the whole idea being that by the end of the process the text of law will be workable for the particulars of the Province.  And that’s why the most senior representatives of the electrical trade are invited; they know more intimately than CSA ever could how any changes at law will affect electrical practices.  And that discussion, that detailed Rule-by-Rule review, is what the heavies expected as they filed into the room.

That is the appropriate term, by the way; “filing” into a room.  The appropriate term for civil servants entering a room is “skulking.”  The CSA skulked into the room, squatted into their seats, peered about and preened their tweeds, trying not to look creepy.  Ok, slight bias.

The CSA representatives ran the meeting.  That’s usual.  It’s also slightly awkward, because most of the companies around the room are paying CSA for the right to be there, and because most CSA staff would rather be staff at some other outfit and, hey, the folks ‘round the table are attractive employers.

While CSA management are generally a bit oily (a la Pierre Poilievre), the middling managers they send to glad-hand the heavies are the oiliest, friendliest, best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-room variety.  As was said once of Jaguar owners, no CSA manager is ever entirely trustworthy, but it’s in a really nice, likeable way. 

And so the meeting opened, we’re told, going something like this:  “Please,” sayeth CSA, smiling broadly, “open thy Code books.”  And they did.

Specifically, they opened Knight’s Code.  Yup, our publication.  Not CSA’s.

Apparently about a third of the participants had purchased Knight’s Code instead of CSA’s Code. 

The CSA rep went eyes-wide, involuntary pause, what to do, like he’d just seen the four horsemen of the apocalypse or something.

“Whatever art thou doing,” quizeth CSA.  This had never happened before.  The CSA’s printing of law had always been the only option.

“Um, we’re opening our Code books.  Ready to go.”

Gathering his nerves, the CSA manager firmly declared that the CSA Code was the only official copy of electrical law.  Other printings are not permitted in the room.

“What do you mean, ‘official copy,’?  It’s the law, any copy of law is a valid copy.”

“Not so,” sayeth CSA.

“Why so?”

“Because so we sayeth,” sayeth CSA.

This went down poorly.  The heavies aren’t civil servants, folks.  These are salt of the earth people, sometimes gruff, they work for a living, they work hard, and those in the room earned their seniority through a career of productivity and sound judgement.  They don’t do blind followership.

At this point, a number of others around the table who’d been lost thus far in the blow-up started asking what this “Knight’s Code” was.  About a third of their number hadn’t heard of it yet.  And so, there developed an overlay discussion, increasingly dominant, about what Knight’s Code was, that it was authorized by Alberta Queen’s Printer, that it was an exact reproduction of electrical law and, most importantly, that it was one-third the price of CSA’s version.

The CSA manager was having trouble with his nerves.  In front of him the heavies were discussing Knight’s Code, and positively, and he really couldn’t do much to stop it. 

“Pray, we can’t use yond book for official business,” sayeth CSA, trying to move things along.

“Why not?”

“It’s unreliable.”

“Based on what?”

[long pause]  “Thine is not to question,” sayeth CSA.

Well, that didn’t work.  It was pointed out that the same text cannot be both reliable and unreliable based merely on who printed it.  The CSA lost that argument. 

By this point the discussion had descended into a sort of advertorial, the massive price gap being the focal point, and CSA was on the defensive.

“Forsooth, we are not gouging people,” sayeth CSA, “we useth our revenues to pay for standards development.”

“In meetings like this?”

“Aye,” sayeth CSA.

“But you’re not paying us, we’re paying you.”

Sensing this wasn’t going well, the CSA manager tried to point out that the system itself depended on using only CSA versions of law.  That didn’t go well either.  Then he downplayed the price difference, intimating that it was a small price to pay for electrical perfection.

Said a heavy; “Why the hell would I pay three times the price for exactly the same Code?  Why would I do that?”

Right, things weren’t going well for CSA.  He went back to pricing, arguing that CSA was only charging for cost recovery, that they’re a charity really, working hard and charging just enough to get by.

“But we’re doing all the work for you, for free.  How can you charge us for copies of our own work?”

Nothing on the agenda was getting done, the amendments meeting was officially well underway and no discussion of any actual amendments had yet taken place.  Logistically, the CSA manager couldn’t insist on the exclusive use of CSA’s Code because so many heavies had Knight’s Code.  He’d also lost his various arguments against Knight’s Code.  And time was ticking.

In what must have been a teeth-gritting exercise, the CSA manager relented and proceeded to conduct Canada’s first Code amendment meeting using the text of Knight’s Code. 

If you’re wondering why CSA travelled to BC for that secret meeting with civil servants last June, or why these Provincial civil servants blacklisted PS Knight products shortly thereafter, well, now you know.

It’s a testament to CSA’s poor reputation in the market that they can’t compete fairly, they need to supress PS Knight to succeed with their own products.  It’s a testament to the electrical sector that they’re there to get things done, without regard for CSA’s little racket.