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Protection or Protectionism?

In January 2013, three experts took part in a panel discussion about the critical line between protecting the public interest and protecting the interests of members of the professions.

Debbie Douglas
Executive Director,
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Gervan Fearon
Dean, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto
Lorne Sossin
Dean, Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto

Debbie Douglas

  • I think if you are going to have an honest conversation in terms of shifting the culture … that there is a particular racial discrimination that exists in our systems. We see the use of Canadian experience as a condition, as a euphemism for ‘We don’t really trust the experience that you have had elsewhere.’ When we talk about the mutual recognition agreements, there is a reason why regulatory bodies are far more comfortable having those agreements with English-speaking western countries than they are with countries in the global south. So what are the kinds of policies we need to be putting in place so that we are moving away from this very polite conversation about public protection?
  • The whole concept of Canadian experience was a huge debate here in Canada in the late 70s and 80s, and we thought we had dealt with the issue, that it was recognized that it really was a euphemism for ‘You are not welcome.’  So it was very surprising in that last 15 to 20 years we have just seen a real conversation about it. I think that it is not only the regulatory bodies but I think that civil society non-governmental organizations have absolutely played into that, that we have created a whole industry around creating programs gives internationally trained professionals Canadian experience, right? And so we have been complicit, I think, in allowing this whole notion to continue and in fact we have legitimized it. 

Gervan Fearon

  • There is an attitude of residual labour pool -- the idea that the internationally educated professional is actually a residual labour pool that you tap into after you have already tapped into the domestically educated labour pool. That has an impact on this generation of educated professionals. But it also has intergenerational impact because it then sets up a context of residual opportunities and residual wages.
  • If we were talking about running the a major Canadian corporation, a major Canadian agency, going out looking for the best researchers at a university, running some of our elite programs in Canada, not for a second would be ask, ‘Where is that person from?’ We would ask ‘Can this person make the best contribution to the organization, to the society?’ And, in some sense, that should be the same language that we apply to our internationally educated professionals in Canada. The answer is ‘yes.’
  • On one level regulatory bodies have the responsibility of protection. That is clear. On the other side, though, they also have an obligation of protecting the interests of their members, and that interest includes employment and income. If I think as an economist that sets up a scenario effectively managing the supply, and managing the supply means that you wish to maintain a certain number of individuals coming in the labour pool and in the labour market. That combined context of protecting the interest of your members and protecting the public and would be for anyone a difficult balance to actually have.  

Lorne Sossin

  • I think there is a clear tipping point that we are at or near on the regulatory culture. It is moving from ‘We all know what the norm is, and if you are different, we will simply mark you as different and try to shoe horn you in somehow.’ I think that is what’s giving way. I see it. I hear it in conversations with multiple regulatory professionals.
  • I think the rhetoric is all protection. We’ve got a long history of protectionism, pernicious protectionism, I mean head-tax kind of protectionism, in this country, so we are not on any high horses of virtue when it comes to this issue.  [But] I think unless you have that conversation through a perspective of public safety, it’s not going to be compelling. I don’t think public protection ever really is a barrier, but to the extent protectionism is still alive and well, I think it is coming at us through the rhetoric of protecting the public, protecting consumers or patients, or clients. We have to be wary of simply taking that at face value.
  • We all ran law schools, which for years had a huge amount of autonomy from law societies, and there were huge battles to gain in that autonomy. We can’t really say that in an era of fairness and transparency ‘Trust us it’s all good, we know it when we see it.’ And so we as the Canadian common law programs in existing schools have had to embark on a very rocky, very difficult, very challenging process with our regulators. I think is a necessary part of modernizing to a morefair, more transparent, more globally competitive and ultimately more just system of regulatory licencing. 
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