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A proposed merger of Canada's three major accounting bodies is unravelling in a number of provinces, and received a major blow Monday with the announcement that the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada has withdrawn from talks with the other two national bodies.

The decision was made after several provincial CGA associations decided to end talks over merging the three accounting designations in their respective provinces. CGA bodies in B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia all withdrew this month from discussions with their counterparts.

Accounting is provincially regulated, so the final decisions on mergers must be made by the provincial bodies.

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CGA-Canada chief executive officer Anthony Ariganello said Monday the provincial groups had concerns about legal structure, member ratification, member protection and minority rights.

"The fact that two of our largest CGA bodies [Ontario and B.C.]have taken the decision to terminate talks at this time necessitates us to do the same," he said in a statement.

The most recent withdrawals leave Canada's accountants facing a far more confusing industry than before the talks began.

Chartered Accountants (CAs), Certified Management Accountants (CMAs) and Certified General Accountants (CGAs) have been in discussions for more than a year to merge under a combined new Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) banner.

Those in support of a single designation argue the traditional differences between accounting groups are eroding, and it no longer makes sense to compete aggressively against each other. Opponents, however, fear losing professional distinctions and being swamped by the size and clout of CA associations – about 46 per cent of Canada's professional accountants are CAs, compared to 29 per cent for CGAs and 25 per cent for CMAs.

A year into the discussion, the three bodies have already merged in Quebec, where legislation enshrining the new CPA designation was passed this month. But since two or three of the groups are still in talks in some other provinces, it's possible that different combinations of the groups will emerge in different provinces.

CA associations in most provinces are still talking, for example, but CA Alberta has rejected all merger plans. Most CMA provincial bodies are still willing to consider mergers, but CMA Ontario has withdrawn from talks, potentially leaving the largest province out of the merger plan. And while most CGA groups have withdrawn from talks, CGA Alberta remains committed to unification.

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Kevin Dancey, chief executive officer of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, said Monday his group always knew the merger talks among 40 national and provincial accounting bodies would be messy. He said the talks will continue among all interested bodies, and he remains hopeful more provincial groups will eventually opt to join as well.

"Where you are at any particular point in time is not necessarily where you're going to end up," Mr. Dancey said in an interview.

Joy Thomas, chief executive officer of CMA Canada, said the groups are still further ahead than they were a year ago, and the merger has been completed in Quebec. She said the door will remain open for more groups to rejoin the talks.

"We knew it was going to be really messy and complex, and it is really messy and complex," she said.

Those in favour of the merger say traditional accounting roles are changing and it makes little sense to spend money on advertising to try to explain the distinctions to the public. While CAs traditionally focused on auditing, for example, only a minority of CAs now work as auditors. And CMAs, who traditionally were more likely to work in-house at corporations, can now qualify to do audit work.

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Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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