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Before they pulled out of a national alliance this week, the groups representing accountants in Ontario and Quebec told Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada that they wanted more provincial control and board representation in the national body, the CPA Canada head says.

On Tuesday evening, Quebec CPA Order and CPA Ontario separately announced plans to withdraw from CPA Canada, saying it would better allow them to protect the public, serve members and advance the profession.

Pamela Steer, CEO of CPA Canada, says the fracture within the organization – which began several years ago – came down to a dispute over the role of the national organization, and how much control provincial bodies would have.

“I would say it would be a path to control by two provinces of the whole nation, rather than everybody working together as a unified voice,” Ms. Steer told The Globe and Mail in an interview.

She said that the Ontario and Quebec groups “presented CPA Canada with a document they wanted us to sign with no negotiation … ‘you need to sign this and that’s it.’ We didn’t get the ‘or else,’ but now we clearly know what the ‘or else’ was.”

News of the separation came as a shock to many accountants who are members of the provincial bodies. However, Carol Wilding, CEO of CPA Ontario, said it certainly shouldn’t have been a surprise to CPA Canada after years of discussions about the framework that united Canada’s accountants in one group a decade ago. A mandated review began in 2018, and still has not been formally concluded, she said.

“Any attempt to characterize this decision as shocking or surprising is disingenuous,” she said in an interview with The Globe. “CPA Canada has misrepresented the timeline. … We have gone through multiple detailed proposals to try to talk about how do we change the way we work together and we’re just as disappointed as anybody else.”

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The 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 CPA Canada handbook used in all provinces, and advocates for the profession.

Geneviève Mottard, chief executive of Quebec CPA Order, said in an interview that board control was less important than ensuring provinces have direct oversight of the profession, which requires structural governance changes and financial transparency from CPA Canada.

As well, Ms. Mottard said Quebec’s legislative framework – which provides for more government oversight of entities than in other provinces – has significantly changed since the group joining CPA Canada.

“With that comes a unique mandate for us to solely protect the public,” she added. “CPA Canada’s mission is not to protect the public – it is to increase the influence of the profession.

“And so you have a body whose mission is not aligned with a pure protection of the public mandate as the Quebec government defines it. And so our organization could no longer fund with important amounts of money a body who does not respect our legislative framework and authority.”

Ontario’s Ms. Wilding also said her group wanted to be sure the provincial body maintains its direct oversight of the profession and nothing could “fetter its discretion.”

Both Ms. Wilding and Ms. Steer declined to provide a copy of the document Ontario and Quebec sent to CPA Canada. However, The Globe obtained that letter, and CPA Canada’s response, independently.

In the June 1 letter, the chairs of the Ontario and Quebec groups, Jean Desgagné and Mario Gariépy, said the four principal issues in the discussions included a “need for structural governance changes” in the organization and “direct oversight of the profession” by the provincial and territorial bodies, or “PTBs.”

One of their concerns, they said, was CPA Canada’s “insistence on testing our proposed governance framework with ‘key stakeholders’ ” and the PTBs’ member CPAs. To consult individual chartered professional accountants would “reject the PTBs as the voice of the profession.”

In a “term sheet” attached to the letter, Ontario and Quebec included a “preamble” that said “the PTBs are solely accountable for the profession.”

“There is no national profession and no legislative requirement for national co-ordination,” the preamble read. “Any such co-ordination is the choice of the PTBs in their judgment as to how to fulfil their mission and mandate.”

The term sheet left open the number of board members that CPA Canada should have and how many directors each PTB group would elect.

However, Ms. Steer said that in discussions with the two provincial groups, they indicated that their voting capacity and capability should be proportionate to their membership.

According to their websites, CPA Ontario represents 99,000 members and Quebec CPA Order represents 41,000 members, accounting for nearly 64 per cent of the approximately 220,000 Canadian CPAs.

Ontario’s Ms. Wilding said the issue is about provincial oversight and not board composition. “I don’t think it’s about the number of seats on a board. That’s a bit of a red herring.”

The term sheet also called for the elimination of membership for individual CPAs, making the PTBs the only members of CPA Canada.

The June 1 letter provided a “final proposal” and asked for a response by June 14. “We need CPA Canada’s clear affirmative or negative response. We are not inviting further discussion or asking for further changes at this point.”

In a June 8 response, after a special CPA Canada board meeting, the national body outlined three of its own principles, including a request for “a commitment to act nationally as a profession” and that “there can be no path to control (or veto) by one or two provinces.”

CPA Canada declined to sign the term sheet and recommended more discussion at a June 13 meeting of the chairs of the PTBs, which Ms. Steer said failed to resolve the issues.

Ontario’s Ms. Wilder says she expects harmonization of the CPA charter across all provinces to continue. “It’s in everybody’s interest to ensure that we have mobility and portability of our members both here across the country and internationally.”

Ms. Steer, however, sounded a more pessimistic note.

“Our colleagues in Ontario and Quebec described this as a back-office issue and really administrative. I can’t see it as anything less than absolutely fundamental to the fabric of the profession and the underlying economic system in Canada,” she said.

“To me, my designation as a CPA is at risk,” she said. “So I’m really disappointed in my profession.”

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