IDC Bulletin: Can We Avoid the Race to the Bottom?

March 27, 2009
Canada’s designers are facing an uphill battle, and professional standards stand to suffer, if new legislation goes unopposed.

Friday, January 16th was a historic day for all regulated professions in Canada. On this day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canada’s Premiers and Territorial Leaders signed a new Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT).

The aim of the new agreement is to facilitate full labour mobility across Canada (effective April 1, 2009). The revised Labour Mobility Chapter of the AIT will stipulate that any worker certified for an occupation by a regulatory authority of one province or territory is to be certified for that occupation by all others.

This sounds, in principle, like a good idea. One that rational Canadians could get behind. Why would anyone, including interior design regulatory boards, object?

Unfortunately, like many ideas rushed to implementation without sufficient consultation, this agreement—as written—is deeply flawed. Will it allow more fluid movement of “professionals” from one province to another or does it actually eliminate professional qualification standards?

In its simplest form, someone qualified to be an accountant, lawyer, architect, or interior designer in one province would automatically qualify in every jurisdiction regardless of whether they meet the educational, examination or experience requirements of the profession. The AIT has been widely described by those who monitor professions both in and outside of Canada as “the race to the bottom.”

For interior designers in Canada, there is not yet one common standard for the three components of interior design professional standards (education, experience and examination). This puts our profession in a very dangerous position. Once AIT is implemented (in less than three months), the province with the lowest standard in Canada will hold the bar for the profession. Its standard will have to be accepted across the rest of the nation. Furthermore, future efforts to raise the bar are restricted as no new higher standards will be allowed to conflict through AIT.

It has become painfully clear that we need to agree on baseline interior design requirements which support the work that we do and our common goal of protecting the life, health, safety, and welfare of the public. We have a call to action. There is a very small window of time within which all the provinces can come together to try to agree on a standard for the interior design profession in Canada. If we miss this deadline then setting standards for the interior design profession will be out of our reach.

There is also much concern that AIT will create permanent legal barriers for new practice acts and title acts, as nothing that is above the standards of the lowest common denominator (province) would be allowed.

In the very short time since this issue has come to light, the provincial interior design associations have begun discussions around creating a common standard for interior design education, examination and experience requirements. There are provinces that will have to drop their bar of professionalism and others that will have to raise it if we are to meet the challenge of AIT.

The area of greatest disparity is in our education standards (with some provinces still accepting two-year programs, and others not mandating CIDA accredited programs). Almost all are in agreement on an experience standard of six years, (with some having to drop from seven years) and all are in agreement on the NCIDQ Examination.

Interior design associations across Canada have sent letters to our provincial governments supporting the AIT in principle, but expressing our concerns … particularly about the speed of implementation. We have requested more time to ensure that safe, effective interior design will not be compromised for cross country mobility.

Thus far, our requests have fallen on deaf ears and we have only the next two months to establish any common standards. We have engaged our national association—Interior Designers of Canada (IDC)—to seek legal counsel and facilitate the provinces in their discussions. The associations have met several times and will continue to meet to try and establish a consensus on appropriate standards for the interior design profession. Will we as interior designers be able to avoid the race to the bottom? I hope so.

Kara MacGregor is a member of the Association of Interior Designers of Nova Scotia. She is also the NS delegate to NCIDQ and a member of the AIT Labour Mobility Advisory Committee of Nova Scotia. Additionally, MacGregor is principal of MAC Interior Design Inc., specializing in hospitality, corporate and retail design.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!