A plan by the governing accounting bodies in Ontario and Quebec to break away from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada is facing growing opposition from those who want the profession to remain unified across the country.
A group of past chairs of CPA Canada, the national industry organization, are calling on CPA Ontario and Quebec CPA Order to reconsider their decision to withdraw from the group. And as the two provincial groups are explaining themselves to their members, they’ve also faced sharp questions about why the decision was made and why it was not put to a vote.
On June 20, the Quebec and Ontario groups separately announced their intentions to end their formal relationship with CPA Canada, starting an 18-month withdrawal process. The move would break up a national organization formed more than a decade ago by a collaboration accord that unified three groups of accountants who did different kinds of work.
Six past CPA Canada chairs, led by Amanda Whitewood, who headed the board from 2019 to 2021, recently published a joint letter arguing that the departure of the two provinces could be the “undoing of unification of the profession” under the CPA designation.
“We believe this announcement, the way it was issued, and the process that we understand will be followed is unacceptable and has embarrassed the Canadian accountancy profession domestically and internationally,” the group wrote in a letter sent to all provincial and territorial chairs and chief executive officers and obtained by The Globe and Mail.
“No details have emerged to clarify why this course of action was necessitated, nor why any alternative approaches will be better,” they wrote in the letter, dated July 17.
The chairs said they are offering their assistance to facilitate a rapprochement “that allows the profession to focus on the relevant emerging issues of the day such as sustainability, and not on internal squabbles, personality differences and power grabs.”
Provincial accounting groups using the CPA banner are responsible for protecting the public through regulation and discipline of accountants. (In Quebec, the provincial government does this.) CPA Canada creates the exam for chartered accountants, publishes the standards for the organization’s handbook used in all provinces, and advocates for the profession.
News that Ontario and Quebec planned to withdraw from the national body came as a shock to many accountants who are members of the two provincial groups. They were not consulted prior to the decision to end the relationship.
In June, Pamela Steer, CEO of CPA Canada, told The Globe that the news was “unexpected” even though there had been a dispute over the role of the national organization and how much control provincial bodies would have.
However, Carol Wilding, CEO of CPA Ontario, said her group had gone through multiple detailed proposals with CPA Canada over several years to try to talk about how they could continue to work together, but no resolution had been found. Ms. Wilding said it’s a “business decision” driven by a desire for more accountability.
Both Ms. Wilding and Geneviève Mottard, chief executive of Quebec CPA Order, said the departures are about ensuring the provinces have direct oversight of the profession. They say CPA Canada requires structural governance changes.
Since the pullout announcement, CPA Ontario has held two sessions with members in the province to explain the board’s decision to withdraw. Ms. Wilding and Jean Desgagné, chair of CPA Ontario Council, faced members concerned over whether a split would jeopardize their ability to work in provinces outside Ontario.
Mr. Desgagné told members in a Sept. 5 information session that accountants are Canadian CPAs because each provincial body has agreed to recognize each other’s members and allow them to practice anywhere in Canada. “It is this, and not the collaboration accord, that enables us to be and to call ourselves Canadian CPAs,” he said. (The Globe obtained a recording of the session.)
At the information session, Ms. Wilding added: “Let me say very clearly the designation is not at risk. There is no way that we would ever allow this to happen.”
In a separate letter dated last month, past chairs of the Board of Examiners also expressed “deep concern” for the future of the accounting profession across Canada after the announcements by Ontario and Quebec. The board is an independent committee of CPAs who are responsible for the evaluation process for the common final examination for accountants.
The group – which includes past chairs Jonathan Vandal, Jordan Oakley, Paul Van Bakel and Terry Booth – said they “believe that all CPAs within Canada should continue to be held to the same standards” and that the final examination is a “critical component of these unified standards.”
“One of the pillars of the CPA profession in Canada is the fact that the provincial bodies have worked together to ensure that all CPAs, regardless of where they live and/or practice, have met the same entry standard to the profession,” the group said.
CPA Ontario and Quebec CPA Order declined to comment on most of the contents of the two letters.
However, each group sent a prepared statement, with CPA Ontario spokesperson Kathryn Hanley saying “we agree with the Board of Examiners that one of the pillars of the CPA profession in Canada is the fact that provincial bodies work together to ensure CPAs, regardless of where they live or practice, meet the same high entry standard to the profession.”
Both CPA Ontario and Quebec CPA Order said they are continuing discussions with the other provincial affiliates of CPA Canada.
The CPA Ontario leaders have also faced multiple questions from individual members during the information sessions about why they didn’t consult their members or take a vote before announcing they were pulling out.
The former chairs of CPA Canada are demanding that all Canadian CPAs be consulted on the matter in order to judge the “merits” of any new arrangement.
Faced with a member question in the information session about why there was no vote, Mr. Desgagné said CPA Ontario’s exit “does not impact the bylaws or governing structures of CPA Ontario, or indeed of any other [provincial bodies]. So it’s not the type of decision that typically is put to members.”
Ms. Wilding also said that while she has been asked about what specifically wasn’t working with CPA Canada, the discussions on those issues are “confidential.”
During the session, Ms. Wilding rejected a member’s suggestion that the breach looked like a “turf war.”
While individual accountants are speaking up, other accounting organizations are laying low. Canada’s big four accounting firms – which employ thousands of accountants across the country – are largely staying silent on the abrupt departure of Ontario and Quebec.
A spokesperson for Deloitte Canada said in an e-mail to The Globe that the company “supports a strong and growing chartered professional accounting profession in a cohesive regulatory environment, which is critical to protecting the public interest and trust in our capital markets.”
Ernst & Young and KPMG declined to comment, while PricewaterhouseCoopers did not respond to The Globe’s request for comment.
CPA Nova Scotia, in a communication to its members, used the strongest language, called the exit “disappointing.” Spokesperson Jessica Gillis declined to comment further to The Globe.
Other provincial CPA groups provided statements nearly identical to each other’s, saying they are “committed to the national collaboration,” with the British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick groups saying they are “not directly involved in this issue” and they “remain neutral.”
Globe reporters did not receive a response to their queries from CPA Alberta.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that CPA Alberta did not respond to The Globe's queries. This version has been updated to clarify that Globe reporters did not receive a response from CPA Alberta.