Professional Governance and Free Speech: A Closer Look at Key Mandate Initiatives


On July 21, 2023, Premier Danielle Smith issued a Mandate Letter to Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Advanced Education, setting out various initiatives for Ms. Sawhney to work towards. The Mandate Letter contains two initiatives that will have an impact on professional regulators in Alberta.

Among other things, Premier Smith directed Ms. Sawhney to:

  1. Implement the Professional Governance Act; and
  2. Review Alberta’s professional governing bodies and post-secondary institutions, for the purpose of making recommendations to protect the free speech rights of Alberta professionals.

This blog post examines each of these directions in turn.

Professional Governance Act

Our firm has previously written a blog post about the implications of the Professional Governance Act (the “PGA”), which can be found here.

As a brief refresher, the PGA acts as umbrella legislation for non-health related Professional Regulatory Organizations (“PROs”). The following PROs will be governed by the PGA:

  • Alberta Assessors Association
  • Alberta Association of Architects
  • Alberta Association of Landscape Architects
  • Alberta Human Ecology and Home Economics Association
  • Alberta Institute of Agrologists
  • Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association
  • Alberta Professional Planners’ Institute
  • Alberta Shorthand Reporters’ Association
  • Alberta Society of Professional Biologists
  • Alberta Veterinary Medical Association
  • Association of Alberta Forest Management Professionals
  • Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta
  • Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta
  • Association of School of Business Officials
  • Association of the Chemical Profession of Alberta
  • Canadian Information Processing Society of Alberta
  • Chartered Professional Accountants of Alberta
  • Consulting Engineers of Alberta
  • Electrical Contractors Association of Alberta
  • Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Alberta
  • Society of Local Government Managers of Alberta
  • Supply Chain Management Association of Alberta

The PGA endeavours to provide:

  • A greater level of consistency in the regulation, governance, structure, and operations of PROs;
  • A framework where new self-regulating professions can be established by applying to the Minister for approval, as well as a process for two or more PROs to amalgamate, again by making an application to the Minister.
  • A common governance framework that requires PROs to establish a governing body with public members, as well as a Registration Committee and a Complaints Inquiry Committee. PROs may decide to establish a Competence Committee and a Practice Review Committee in their discretion.
  • A professional discipline process, including the establishment of disciplinary tribunals and appeal tribunals for complaints referred by the Complaints Inquiry Committee.
  • A process for registering new and temporary members, which requires the PRO to consider applications for registration within 30 days of receipt. The PGA also contains provisions which align with the objectives in the Fair Registration Practices Act and the Labour Mobility Act for registering applicants from other jurisdictions.
  • A wide regulation-making authority granted to the Minister. This means that the Minister can make additional changes in processes, procedures, and operations in the regulations to the PGA that will affect PROs even after the PGA is proclaimed into law.
  • An increased scope of bylaw making authority granted to the PROs. This means that the PROs will have autonomy to set their own procedures and processes, subject to the Minister’s general oversight power.

On October 26, 2022, the government prorogued the legislative session. This meant that all legislative activities termined until the next legislative session commenced on November 29, 2022. The PGA (also known as Bill 23), was not re-introduced to the legislature at that time, but Premier Smith’s Mandate Letter to the former Minister of Skilled Trades and Professions, Kaycee Madu, instructed Mr. Madu to implement the PGA. At that time, we speculated that this meant that the PGA initiative would continue going forward.

We now have another mandate letter directing the implementation of the PGA and will monitor the bills (re)introduced by the Legislative Assembly for further updates to the status of the PGA.

Second, and notably, the mandate letter to Ms. Sawhney also contains a related direction that was not included in the mandate letter to Mr. Madu, described below.

Protecting freedom of expression of Alberta professionals

It is difficult to determine the precise impetus for this direction, or the form that such an initiative will take. In past years, the Government of Alberta required public post-secondary institutions to issue “statements on free expression” which were consistent with a set of American guidelines called the “Chicago Principles” originally issued by the University of Chicago. This was done through direction from the Minister rather than legislative or regulatory change. The Government’s focus was to protect free expression on public post-secondary campuses so that controversial topics and speakers would not be prevented from speaking. The statements on free expression were designed to ensure that campuses were spaces for the exchange of ideas—even difficult or controversial ones.

The application of free expression principles to regulated professionals is less clear. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, various controversies arose with respect to the medical efficacy of certain preventive measures or treatments, and regulated professionals were sometimes criticized (and perhaps sanctioned) for espousing controversial views on such topics. It is possible that the Mandate Letter is meant to direct the Minister to require that professional regulators allow their members a greater degree of freedom to espouse controversial or unpopular views without fear of disciplinary proceedings. How such a change would accord with the regulation of health professions in particular—given the focus on evidence-based, scientifically-verifiable positions—remains to be seen. It is also unclear whether this direction will result in legislative or regulatory change.

Our firm has experience with professional regulation, post-secondary education, and free expression issues. Please contact our Professional Regulatory group for any related inquiries. You can also sign up for our Eye on Regulation newsletter for brief, actionable insights for regulators.

This post is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this post to be outdated.


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