By Jason Bourque

When people hear the term, Canadian Water Quality Association (CWQA), a clear vision comes to mind. The name says it all—we are the authority on water quality in the nation…right? Well, the answer to that question is not as clear as one might think. Sure, in certain areas we can be an authority—but there are plenty of aspects of water that we don’t hold the answers to (though we often know the contacts that do). Thus, sometimes our name is misleading to the public.

To clarify, we are a trade association for the point of use/point of entry (POU/POE) industry in Canada. Our daily trials as an association office can be as complex as the water our members treat. Commonly, the challenges we encounter can be categorized into two areas: issues that affect our membership and issues that affect the public. Allow me to explain what I mean: I’ll begin with the public.

Public perceptions
Spoiled by our natural resources, those who live amongst Canada’s natural wonders take a lot for granted, including water. The quality of our environment has traditionally been very good in comparison with other countries. With respect to water, history reveals we have rarely had either the drought, or the consequent conservation efforts that are common in the American Southwest, for example. Boil orders are rare within our borders. And here, the population base remains small enough that few areas are short on supply. But despite all that, water is becoming a growing concern in this nation.

A changing world
As with all industrialized countries, we are affected by manufacturing. The Great Lakes are polluted by our own metropolitan areas, such as Toronto, and Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toledo as well. We all share the same water—and pollution—that Canadians are exposed to daily. Increases in building development and the use of gas and oil burning vehicles and furnaces are not helping the situation.

In addition to pollution, our glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates. Alarmed scientists are scrambling to understand the long-term effects of climate change on what most Canadians likely believe is an endless supply of fresh water in the form of snow and ice.

But beyond pollution and climate change, there have been problems in recent years in two Canadian communities with respect to municipal treatment plants. Both resulted in nationally publicized deaths. This is perhaps the largest single factor that has resulted in our increased attention to water issues.
So, what happens when a Canadian who has never given much thought to water begins to ponder this emerging topical issue? They contact CWQA. And given our name, who can blame them?

As I sift through the morning emails, hidden between the discount mortgage rates and the offers for cheap Viagra, I routinely find valid questions from concerned Canadians. Often, their inquiries can be classified as one of the following five questions:

  1. What can a water treatment system do that my municipal system cannot?
  2. How do I get my water tested to find out what is in it?
  3. What kinds of water treatment devices exist?
  4. How do I know if I am getting a competitive quote on the system that is being installed?
  5. What does your office do?

As dealers, you deal with the first four questions everyday as well. But it is the answer to the final one that perhaps shocks people the most. From our name, they really don’t envision that we are an industry association. Fair enough. But it‘s an important question to answer. This is where the table turns and we begin to talk about issues that affect our membership. It is also what we spend the majority of our day doing. For those American dealers who are doing business in Canada, or considering expanding into your friendly neighborhood to the north, CWQA’s support and insight can be critical.

What we do
The one-line answer is that we provide credibility to the industry. The more detailed answer is that CWQA developed because those that manufacture and distribute POU/POE systems in Canada needed centralized services.
These services include:

  • Certification training to ensure our members’ staff are proficient;
  • Professional development opportunities to discuss and learn about emerging issues, trends and solutions that exist in the market;
  • Representation on codes and standards committees that are designing the future of the industry;
  • Information sharing of water issues and events across Canada (and internationally) through our newsletter, Communiqué;
  • Networking opportunities for our members;
  • Marketing the importance of what our industry does for the public;
  • Government lobbying to protect the best interests of the industry and the public health;
  • Vigilant action to remove fraudulent product from the marketplace.

What else we do
For those in the U.S. thinking about expanding their business into Canada, CWQA can help by providing networking opportunities, background and updates on national and provincial issues/government regulations. CWQA is also closely linked to the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating (we share offices and I actually work for both associations) which gives our members direct access to the happenings of decision-making bodies such as the Plumbing Industry Advisory Council. In other words, if PIAC is making a decision that I know affects our CWQA members, I alert our members so they can have input into the process.

CWQA members gather twice a year at our spring and fall seminars. These usually take place in major centers such as Calgary, Alberta or Toronto, Ontario. Our seminars consist of certification exams, a board meeting and guest speakers on hot topics affecting our industry (both technical and non-technical). Our next Seminar is October 20 & 21 in Toronto.

Different organizations, different memberships, common goals
WQA members, while welcome, do not automatically have access to CWQA resources and events. WQA and CWQA are completely separate entities. That said, we are close to the point where most of our print resources are actually WQA’s (we’re too small to try to reinvent the wheel).

Also, you will notice that WQA came to Canada this September for their Mid-Year Leadership meetings. That was a result of an invitation from us to do so. The main differences between us are a) WQA does not do any lobbying with the Canadian government and b) CWQA isn’t big enough to have the variety of programs available that WQA has (like their Gold Seal Certification of products). As you can see, there is benefit for U.S. manufactures and dealers being CWQA members (as well as WQA members) if they have product coming into our country.

The biggest challenges
Market share is a growing concern as more and more become involved in the industry. Government regulations are always a challenge to the industry (which includes plumbing regulations as well as health regulations). Both POU and POE face the same challenges.

Conclusion
There is a lot more to CWQA than meets the public eye. It is difficult to conceive what the water industry would look like without our organization both educating the public on water issues and working behind the scenes to shape the future of this industry in our country. With this many key elements being managed, it makes for anything but a routine day at the office. Thankfully there’s a key to our success: we stay well hydrated!

About the author
Jason Bourque joined as manager of the Canadian Water Quality Association in January 2005. Thirteen years prior, Bourque began his career by building a presence for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada in the province of New Brunswick. His love of non-profit capacity building led to work with national and international organizations such the Canadian Abilities Foundation and Habitat for Humanity. Bourque’s new role provides him with the opportunity to contribute to various Canadian councils and standards committees including the Plumbing Industry Advisory Council and CSA B483 (Drinking Water Treatment Units). Bourque can be reached at CWQA, 295 The West Mall, Suite 330, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M9C 4Z4; telephone (416) 695-3068, or via email jbourque@cwqa.com.

 

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