The Inspector’s Debate

June 28th, 2015

“Blessed are those who are wired right, for they won’t blow a fuse.”  These words greeted visitors to P.S. Knight’s office, they were printed on a small sign and sometimes served to lighten some tense moments.  The Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) staff and acolytes have seen quite a few tense moments since the launch of RestoreCSA.  About a year ago we heard from a senior electrical inspector who’d clearly blown a fuse over our campaign. 

“Your suit against CSA? The C22.2 standard is just that, a Standard and not LAW [emphasis in original].”  He’s referring to the Canadian Electrical Code, or “CEC”.  And that was the opening line, by the way, no “hello” or “dear Sir”, this guy went straight to his point.

“In BC the SSA SS regulation and the electrical regulation are law that gives the Part 1 code book authority. […] Provincial governments own the law and CSA has the copyrights to the standard. CSA does not lobby rule changes but only hosts the process. Rule changes are lobbied by the members of the committees, by interested parties, by regulators, by industry.”

His email was well written and his closer had all the appropriate gusto.  Seriously, this guy could run for office.  Here’s how he ended;

“Most of what I have read in your get-back-the-code is so full of self serving comments that I trust the courts will see right through. On a personal note the fact that CSA has left you alone all these years probably would bear more fruit than this very self serving protest.  Good luck but you have not earned any support based on what I understand of the law and the fact that you appear to have benefitted greatly on the work of CSA and the Part 1 committee.”

We receive a lot of mail, so much that it’s awfully hard to properly respond to it, but we rarely receive critical mail such as this.  So, in this case, a careful, diplomatic response was in order.

Remember, this guy, let’s call him Craig, is a senior inspector, and he’s on CSA committees, including the CEC Committee that he mentioned in his first line.  For Craig, the RestoreCSA campaign isn’t so much a campaign to recover CSA as it’s a threat to his personal influence, authority and his position in the electrical trade.  We’re assailing his clubhouse.

And it’s exclusive, this clubhouse.  As one electrician publicly noted, “CSA doesn’t allow anyone but those chosen, as you know, to take part in developing Code.”  Craig, of course, is one of the chosen.  And again; “not all stakeholders are asked to participate.  Only the chosen.”  This electrician also had a good closer, noting that the exclusivity of CSA participation is heavily politicized and subject to corruption isn’t something that Committee members want broadcast but, he said, “I challenge anyone to refute it.”  And no-one did.

Still, we had to respond to Craig’s email.  Here’s what we said;

“I don’t want to argue with you or disrespect you and I surely hope that this email doesn’t come across poorly in that regard.  Rather, I sense that you might be working with incomplete information, and perhaps I can fill in some gaps.
 
“You mentioned that the CEC is a standard rather than a law.  Your views in this regard are shared by the Minister of Industry who recently declared that all CSA generated material remains merely a standard regardless of inclusion within a legal statute.  But as you know, a standard is voluntary whereas a law is compulsory.  If the CEC is not the law, then there is no basis for enforcement.  To clarify the matter, we recently sent letters to the Provincial Governments asking whether the CEC, which is included within laws that they passed, is a voluntary standard or a compulsory law.  We don’t have the responses yet or I’d share them with you.  [btw, we have all the governments’ responses now, the particulars are here.]
 
“You also mentioned that the CSA doesn’t lobby govts for changes in law.  With respect Craig, the CSA is actually one of Canada’s more aggressive lobbyists.  Did you know that forty-three CSA managers are registered as federal lobbyists?  Among these are CSA staff known for their heavy involvement in electrical, such as Bonnie Rose, Mary Cianchetti and Karim Nazarali, the Director, Electrical Sector.  Even all-around-good-guy Ark Tsissarev is registered to lobby for the CSA. Did you know that CSA lobbyists routinely meet with Members of the Industry Committee?  In the last year, there were twelve meetings between CSA and Industry Canada alone.
 
“Your note also mentioned that we have benefited greatly from the work of the CSA.  You’re right about that, I’m just not convinced that that’s really the point.  You see Craig, the CSA receives millions in taxpayer dollars every year and, by powers afforded them by Industry Canada, they receive millions more from taxpayers in compulsory payments of various kinds.  Like any federal entity, we all contribute to the CSA and we all have a right to expect that such entities will operate within the rule of law and, when they don’t, we have the right to demand that they be returned to the law.  
 
“Lastly, you comment that the CSA has left us alone all these years.  It sounds like you’re not aware of this Craig, but we worked closely with the CSA for about thirty years.  We didn’t change our practices or business lines and we didn’t target the CSA, it was the CSA that changed and came after us.  While for legal reasons I can’t give specifics, I can tell you that the CSA demanded that we pay them money and if we didn’t pay them what they wanted they would harm us.  For obvious reasons, we don’t give in to that sort of thing.
 
“For all this, you and I may still be on different sides of the fence, CSA-wise, but hopefully we can agree on where the fence is and what it looks like.”

Our decidedly civil response was probably unexpected.  The fact is though, that Craig knows what the law is and what it isn’t, his job is enforcing electrical law.  He enforces the CEC every workday.  It’s that daily experience of the CEC being law that generates so much support for RestoreCSA from the electrical inspection community.

Well, Craig’s response to our diplomacy was to point out that the CEC itself isn’t law until the government passes it into law.  He was running out of arguments as he was essentially quoting our argument, as we pointed out in our response to him;
 
“I agree with you.  The CEC is not the law until the […] govt adopts it and makes it law, usually by Order in Council.  Its the same for most laws, in that they start out as a document or memorandum or proposal of some sort, generated by an interest group or other entity.  And like the CEC, these entities own the content of their proposals, they are private property until the govt adopts it and makes it law.  But once their proposals become law the interest groups that made them cease to own them.  Public law cannot be privately owned.  And as you likely know, my company can’t release any new editions of our books until the CEC becomes law, to ensure that we’re quoting law rather than a CSA proposal to govt.
 
“The big problem here Craig, is that the CSA is claiming to own their proposals after they have been made into law.”  
 
The facts weren’t really with him and it showed, so he shifted tactics.  Now Craig’s argument wasn’t whether the CEC was the law, it was whether the CSA could afford to operate without controlling it.  In his words;

“Interesting perspective and to some degree I see your point as most statutes are public domain documents.[…]
 
“All that said how would CSA function if once a standard is adopted it becomes public domain?  How would Standards developers pay for their activities if their output (standards) cannot generate revenue?  This is a simple economics question?  […]
 
“It seems however that you have gotten the attention of the provincial regulators.”

In response, we pointed out that CSA isn’t really short of money, “right now the CSA has >$150MM in the bank, no debt, and at least $500MM in subsidiary assets unrelated to their domestic regulatory functions.”

And CSA isn’t short of expensive, taxpayer purchased assets either.  We noted that “CSA has been buying foreign companies at quite a clip, four in 2013 already, the actual non-regulatory asset base is likely closer to $700MM.”

Then we outlined the solution, that a “divestiture value of these [CSA] assets, even at discounted prices, would still leave at least $600MM in cash.  Ongoing CSA actual regulatory activity costs about $6MM / yr.  With the more than a half billion dollars from divestiture invested and held in trust, there would be sufficient dividend revenue to fund all of CSA ongoing regulatory activities.”

“All that to say that the CSA doesn’t need to sell standards to pay for their operations.  They don’t have a revenue problem; they have an expenditures problem.  Returning the CSA to their mandate dramatically reduces their revenue requirements.”
 
So, our assailed inspector found himself flummoxed.  His big argument, that electrical laws aren’t really laws, was weak, its standing in court slim to nonexistent, and his fallback position, that CSA was too poor to operate without owning public laws, had likewise failed in the presence of well documented argument. 

If truth is on your side it’s easy to articulate in a clear, calm manner, facts out front and fully demonstrated. 

In the end, Craig wasn’t ready to concede the argument but he did drop all the points on which his position rested.  For him to join our side would be to lose his privileged position in the clubhouse, and all the benefits that go with it.  But, in his last email he seems to acknowledge the value of P.S. Knight relative to the Code of the Club.
 
“Good luck” he said, “[your book] probably is better read than the code book and I think might have saved us a few fires over the decades.  I would hate to see it gone.”
 
We have had quite a few conversations like this and they usually arrive in the same place.  The more people learn about the workings of CSA, even among the CSA’s biggest supporters, the less sympathy they have for CSA.

P.S. Knight Co used to have its own darkroom, these used to be really important in publishing.  On P.S. Knight’s darkroom door was a small sign, applicable alike to darkrooms and to CSA operations.  It read;  “Please keep door closed otherwise darkness leaks out”.