Holdouts join national unity discussions

By Jeff Buckstein

Mid-November 2013 issue


Doug Brooks, chief executive officer, CGA Ontario

They’re talking, but a long road potentially remains if full unification of the accounting profession is to happen under the new Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada banner.

With Ontario and Manitoba’s certified general accountants at the table, it remains to be seen how successful those unification talks will be — especially in Ontario, where there has been a long history of acrimonious relations between the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario and CGA Ontario. Earlier negotiations between the two bodies were broken off in June 2012.

“The accounting profession has been changing and evolving quickly, and the decision to [re-]enter merger talks transpired recently,” said Doug Brooks, chief executive officer of CGA Ontario in Toronto.

“The leaders of Ontario’s three accounting bodies have committed to resolving concerns regarding unification of the accounting profession in Ontario under the Chartered Professional Accountant designation,” Brooks added. “The bodies will re-enter discussions with the anticipated outcome being a unification agreement that protects the public interest while benefitting all members of the accounting profession and those who aspire to enter the profession in the future. “

CGA Manitoba is sitting down at the negotiating table for the first time. As recently as last spring, Grant Christensen, the association’s Winnipeg-based chief executive officer, told The Bottom Line that CGA Manitoba’s board did not believe the CPA’s unification strategy supported the best interests of its members, the public or the profession.

However, its recent member vote, in which a 54 per cent majority said they supported a CPA Canada option, was a key factor in the decision to enter into talks.

“We’re a member-driven association and so have to respect the wishes of our members,” said Christensen. “I think we did a really good job at presenting the options that are available to us in a very objective and pragmatic manner, and at the end of the day we surveyed our members and a small majority chose the CPA path as being in the best interests of our profession going forward.”

Christensen said he was optimistic about the outcome of negotiations. “I think we’ve got two partners in this that are willing to work with us to come up with a mutually acceptable agreement. I expect we can do that quite quickly,” he said.

Brooks is more cautious. No timelines have been established with respect to talks, and CGA Ontario remains committed to the principle that all members in a body representing a unified accounting profession be treated equally, with equal access to future career and professional development opportunities, he said.

A joint CPA Ontario and CMA Ontario news release announcing CGA Ontario’s participation said: “as set out in the guiding principles for unification and Article 4 of CPA Canada’s bylaws, which specifically address protection of legacy member rights, we are committed to ensuring that all members of the CPA profession are treated equally, with equal access to future career and professional development opportunities.”

Equal access and protection of minority rights have proven to be a significant stumbling point in past negotiations. Some CGA Ontario members also believe CPA Ontario is determined to have two classes of members: those who come through the CA route and others who do not.

They point, for instance, to a YouTube video put out by CPA Ontario early in 2013 called ‘Vote Yes’ in which CPAO urged members to vote in favour of a bylaw amendment to create a new class of affiliates among CPAs who transfer in from other jurisdictions but didn’t originally qualify through the CA program. That amendment passed handily, with more than 85 per cent support.

If there is a merger agreement with CPA Ontario, which currently consists of the former Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario, then the secondary designations should be done away with, contends Richard Sams, a certified general accountant with the accounting and advisory firm Sams, Morris Associates in Burlington, Ont.

“Everybody becomes a CPA and that’s it. That’s a merger of equals. Anything else — you’re creating a prejudicial second class,” said Sams.

“The bylaw amendments permit all members to use the CPA designation along with their legacy designation. There is no other differentiation between members. All CPAs, regardless of legacy designation, have the same rights and obligations,” said Rod Barr, president and chief executive officer of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario in Toronto.

He also added that “we are pleased that CGA Ontario has rejoined us in unification discussions. We believe unification of the Canadian accounting profession will benefit the public at large and our respective memberships.”

Merv Hillier, the Toronto-based president and chief executive officer of the Certified Management Accountants of Ontario, echoed those sentiments.

“We welcome the announcement made last week by CGA Ontario that they are returning to unification discussions,” he said. “We have always maintained that unification of the accounting profession under the CPA designation is in the best interest of the public and our members. We look forward to working with our CGA Ontario and CPA Ontario colleagues to complete the unification process in Ontario as soon as possible.”

Anthony Ariganello, president and chief executive officer of CGA-Canada in Vancouver, said he is pleased all CGA affiliates are now in discussions or have moved forward in terms of already completing agreements.

“This bodes well for the profession. Unification’s here to stay and I think members have seen that. Now no one is outside which, of course, was causing a concern for CGA because it was dividing the designation. It’s been a somewhat challenging environment,” he added.

Ariganello said he believed the recent CGA-Canada decision to join CPA Canada, supported by a national vote in which 77 per cent of members across Canada backed that move, was a key catalyst for CGA Manitoba and CGA Ontario entering into discussions.

But Christensen said the decision to enter unification talks in Manitoba was precipitated solely by its provincial survey. “CGA-Canada’s vote may have influenced some of our members in how [they] answered the survey, but our board’s decision was made strictly on the wishes of CGA Manitoba members,” he said.

Brooks said the CGA-Canada vote and pending loss of CGA’s national body had absolutely no bearing on CGA Ontario’s decision to re-enter discussions in that province.

CGA-Canada is prepared to assist its affiliates in Ontario and Manitoba during unification discussions should those bodies request it, whether, for example, they are encountering difficulties, require an interpretation of a bylaw, or need reference to a previously negotiated settlement in another jurisdiction, said Ariganello.

This past summer the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Manitoba and Certified Management Accountants of Manitoba teamed up in a joint venture ahead of legislation they hope might be forthcoming in 2014 to create a CPA Manitoba. The prospect of this turning into a unanimous three-way agreement pleases both partners.

“We’re very happy this has happened,” said Ron Stoesz, chief executive officer of CMA Manitoba in Winnipeg. “We’ve encouraged CGAs to come to the table for the last two years and from a CMA and a CA perspective, it’s a very good move on their part.”

Both CGA Ontario and CMA Manitoba will require two-thirds ratification from their voting membership in order to merge into a provincial CPA organization, should an agreement be reached during negotiations in either province.

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, expansion of an existing two-way joint venture between the province’s Institute of Chartered Accountants and Certified Management Accountants was signalled by the recent announcement that the Certified General Accountants Association of Saskatchewan has joined the coalition, in advance of future legislation that is expected to proclaim a brand new CPA Saskatchewan.

“We believe this is very positive, and certainly something that we’ve wanted to see happen, and CGAs in Saskatchewan are very proud to be part of this,” said Prabha Vaidyanathan, chief executive officer & executive director of CGA Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“This was another milestone in our work to achieve full unification in Saskatchewan,” Vaidyanathan added, noting that pooling resources will help the three bodies co-operate in carrying out substantial functions such as branding, recruitment, sponsorships, and community support.

Keri Ziegler, chief executive officer of the ICAS in Regina, said “we are very excited about finally having that final piece of our unification in Saskatchewan behind us. We can now move forward as a group of three fully unified.”