A new court ruling has fanned the flames of an age-old turf war between architects and engineers.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Deborah McCawley ruled last month that the services of an engineer are inadequate for large (more than 400 square metres) development projects' plans and drawings, and in such cases, an architect's services are required.
That ruling has the engineering industry up in arms.
Carmine Militano, president of the Consulting Engineers of Manitoba, contends there is no reason to change current methods of operation.
"If someone is competent in a sphere of human action, that person should be authorized to operate in that sphere if they meet the requirements of their profession," he says, noting an appeal of the ruling is being considered.
Militano claims the decision is not in the public's interest for several reasons.
He says local construction projects have already been delayed, since the City of Winnipeg has advised it won't issue occupancy permits for some projects that are not yet complete, unless they have been planned by architects.
Militano also says some planned projects have been put on hold until their managers can determine how much the new requirement will add to the total costs.
"Having to hire architects could cause undue delays because it adds a level of complexity to the construction process," Militano says. "This is not about turf protection, but rather about how professionals deal with each other.
"With the new ruling, a certain ambiguity surrounds even the replacement of a boiler, which would normally be attended to by an engineer. Now, it may be a safety consideration under the building code, calling for an architect's services."
But the spokesman for the province's architects disagrees.
"Architects aren't taking work away from anyone; we're just taking our work back," says Dean Syverson, president of the Manitoba Association of Architects. "Local construction hasn't been slowed down by the new ruling.
"Only about 25 small projects, which were in the pipeline to apply for building permits, have been slightly delayed."
Syverson claims engineers have merely been caught in a battle against the City of Winnipeg.
"We have self-regulated bodies in this province deciding who can practise each profession, and with what qualifications," notes Syverson. "The law clearly states when an architect's stamp is required, though the City of Winnipeg has been accepting engineers' stamps illegally for decades.
"That is why architects, deciding enough was enough, took the city to court, and the engineers' associations were drawn into the proceedings."
Militano says he also worries for the future of the booming Manitoba construction industry.
When a project is put on hold, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other tradespeople don't get paid until the project starts again, he says.
Competing for the already short number of tradespeople is difficult, Militano adds, and if numerous projects are stalled, people with those skills will migrate to other parts of the country where they can get work more quickly.
Luring them back to Manitoba might be tough, he says.
Militano also contends complicated business constructions entail highly technical engineering work, such as the water-treatment plants done by his company CH2M Hill, and such work is best left to engineers.
Ruling overwhelmingly in the architects' favour, the court instructed the city to stop issuing building permits to engineers.
Engineers, claiming that system has worked effectively for years, are now trying to have the legislation changed. "It's like claiming a witch doctor has been practising medicine a long time," says Syverson.
Engineering isn't licence-specific by discipline, he points out. There are about 3,750 engineers in Manitoba, including mechanical, electrical, electronic, computer, civil, chemical and others. Less than 10 per cent operate in the building industry, and less than 10 per cent of that group are structural engineers or engineers trained for building.
Yet all these engineers' seals read "professional engineer," so engineers who may not be associated with the building industry have been stamping drawings with their approval, though the law is consistently clear in Canada and the U.S., maintains Syverson.
Militano says the dispute between the two professions is nothing new, and the two sides have been negotiating for 17 years.
He says a memorandum of understanding was unanimously accepted by a joint board in 2003, but later, the architects refused to accept it.
Militano claims that the fight between the two professions takes energy and resources away from much worthier issues such as the integration of immigrant professionals into the workforce.
One solution he suggests is creating an exclusion clause in architectural legislation, similar to what exists in the Engineers Act, that would allow engineers to provide some architects' services.
Syverson says there has been little public criticism of the court ruling. "It's futile to challenge it, so engineers' only alternative is to try to have the law changed. Since architects don't practise engineering, the exemption in the Engineers' Act means nothing to us. We neither need nor want it."
Syverson says project costs won't increase as engineers claim, but merely be reallocated to architects, or shared by practitioners of both professions.
He also suggests architects will be quick to do more work in rural areas, refuting the engineering profession's claim that rural development would slow with the new ruling.
Manitoba Labour Minister Nancy Allan is monitoring the dispute and has said she's prepared to review and possibly amend the legislation, says Militano, adding that both sides met earlier this month with provincial authorities to seek solutions.
(Ashoke Dasgupta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)