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The Engineering Profession

Updated for 2010 Changes to the Professional Engineers Act

These web pages have been updated to include both enacted and pending changes due to the Open for Business Act, 2010. Note that some changes will not be in force until proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor; for example, the putting into force the end of the industrial exemption has been delayed numerous times.


All information on this website is provided without any warranty to its correctness. The material on these pages reflects Douglas Wilhelm Harder's best judgment in light of the information available to him at the time of its preparation. Any use which a third party makes of these pages, on any reliance on or decision to be made based on it, are the responsibility of such third parties. Douglas W. Harder accepts no responsibility for damages, if any, suffered by any third party as a result of decisions made or actions based on these pages.

A set of PowerPoint slides are available at Profession.pptx, but the reader is advised that the discussion related to the presentation is just as important as the slides themselves.

A summary of the relevant statutes and regulations: Association.pdf.

In 1968 during the opening address to the debate on the Professional Engineers Act, the Honourable H.A. MacKenzie opened with the following definition of a profession:

A self-selected self-disciplined group of individuals who hold themselves out to the public as possessing a special skill derived from training and education and are prepared to exercise that skill in the interests of the public.

This is a reasonable summary of a profession. Historically, there were three professions which existed in almost all civilized societies: law, medicine, and theology. Civil engineering arose and differentiated itself from from military engineering, and established itself as a professional society in 1818 with the Institute of Civil Engineers in London, England. The Society of Mechanical Engineers was formed in 1847 and the first society in the field of electrical engineering was the Society of Telegraph Engineers founded in 1871.

Professional Engineers Act

The Professional Engineers Act was first passed in 1922. This act defined engineering as a profession and gave its practitioners certain rights to associate and to regulate themselves. The act laid down the founding guidelines and regulations for the association today known as Professional Engineers Ontario.

The act is broken into 49 sections and may be summarized as follows:

  • 1-11. The Association, Regulations, and the By-Laws.
  • 12-22. Licensing and Certification.
  • 23-26. The Complaints Committee.
  • 27-31. The Discipline Committee.
  • 32. The Fee Mediation Committee.
  • 33. Registrar's Investigations.
  • 34-35. Liability Insurance.
  • 36-45. Discipline and Enforcement.
  • 47-49. Joint Practice Board, Annual Reports, and the Corporation Act.

This is covered in greater detail in the left link to the Professional Engineers Act.

The first section of the Act provides a number of definitions:

A professional engineer means a person who holds a licence or a temporary licence.

Thus, ignoring the second term for now, we must consider the definition of a licence:

A licence means a licence to engage in the practice of professional engineering issued under this Act.

Finally, we consider the definition of this last phrase, practice of professional engineering:

The practice of professional engineering means any act of planning, designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising that requires the application of engineering principles and concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare, or the environment, or the managing of any such act.

Therefore, one could summarize this as

A professional engineer means a person who holds a licence to engage in any act of designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising that requires the application of engineering principles and concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare, or the environment or the managing of any such act

There is one other definition given in Section 1 of the Act which is more significant than the rest:

A Certificate of Authorization means a certificate of authorization issued under this Act to engage in the business of providing services that are within the practice of professional engineering.

The Act gives only a very high-level set of guidelines on licensing and Certificates of Authorization. For example, paragraph 12(1) restricts the practice of professional engineering to those who hold a licence or a temporary, provisional, or limited licence. The Act places the burden of regulating these on the Association of Professional Engineers Ontario, or PEO. Paragraph 2(4) of the Act states the principal object of the Association:

The principal object of the Association is to regulate the practice of professional engineering and to govern its members and holders of certificates of authorization and other licences in accordance with this Act, the regulations and the by-laws in order that the public interest may be served and protected.

This paragraph stipulates that the Association govern in accordance with the Act, the regulations and the by-laws; however, Section 7 places the burden of making the regulations on the Council of the Association (the governing body and board of directors) and gives only a general overview of what should be regulated; this is in accordance with understanding that a profession that is self-regulating. The result is Ontario Regulation 941 which is almost as long as the Act is itself. The Act also requires the Council of the Association to pass by-laws regarding the administration and domestic affairs of the Association.

The act also lists five additional objects of the Association (recall that the constitution of a corporation can state and therefore limit the objects of the corporation) to:

  • Establish, maintain and develop standards of
    • knowledge and skill among its members,
    • qualification and practice for the practice of professional engineering, and
    • professional ethics among its members;
  • Promote public awareness of the role of the Association; and
  • Perform such other duties and exercise such other powers as are imposed or conferred on the Association by or under any Act.


A person who holds a licence is a Member of the Association; this does not include holders of temporary, provisional, or limited licences. Thus, to say a person has a licence and to say that person is a Member is equivalent.

Licences and Certificates of Authorization

Recall the principal object of the Association: to regulate the practice of professional engineering and to govern its members and holders of certificates of authorization and other licences. It is therefore reasonable that we now differentiate licensing from the issuing of certificates of authorization.

  • The Association issues a licence to an individual licensing that person to practice professional engineering.
  • The Association issues a Certificate of Authorization to either a professional engineer or a business organization to authorize that entity to offer engineering services to the public.

Therefore, Members simply holding a licence does not qualify them to immediately offer their services to the public—the licence is only a statement of qualification. A licensee may, however, be employed (through an Employment Contract) to provide engineering services directly to the employer. To provide engineering services directly to clients from the public through the principal-agent model, the individual or business entity offering the engineering service is the agent, and the client is the principal, and this requires a greater standard of care.

The justification for this is liability: When a professional engineer is employed by a business entity, that entity takes on the risks and usually all benefits of the engineer. The business entity vicariously takes on liability for the actions of the professional engineer. When an engineering service is provided to the public, there is, however, a possibility of either a breach in contract, a breach in tort, or both and to protect the principal (the public), the entity providing the engineering service must have liability insurance.

Thus, there are two essential requirements for a Certificate of Authorization: the services must be supervised by a professional engineer who takes responsibility for those services and there must be either appropriate insurance or explicit notification that the holder does not have insurance.

The Act does not go into details: again, this is a matter of self-regulation. Section 14 provides five requirements for granting licences: three are citizenship or permanent residency, at least 18-years old, and of good character; while the other two state compliance with academic and experience requirements as specified in the regulations.

Consulting Engineers

To recognize those professional engineers who have significant experience in independent practice providing services directly to the public, the Act allows for the designation of such an engineer as a consulting engineer. This title does not confer any further rights but it allows that practitioner to identify him or herself as one specialized in providing such services to the public.


The federal Competition Act has numerous provisions preventing false misrepresentation in advertising, but O.Reg. 941 Section 75 has five further restrictions which are all enforceable under the Act.