By Jason Bourque

he challenge of operating in the water treatment industry is not becoming any easier. No one reading this article would argue with that. Water sources continue to evolve at rapid rates; manufacturing costs are rising due to the cost of oil increases; customer demands are escalating; attracting qualified staff with the strong knowledge of and passion for water treatment is tough. On top of all of this, competition continues to grow.

Water treatment businesses with a solid, long-term vision are working hard to address these issues. Many are managing this successfully because they understand these three elements and the inter-relationships between them. After all, these factors have not changed over the years—they have simply become more complex.

Yet we need one more vital thing, an understanding of a fourth key element: our regulators.

Who?
Canadian society has most of its basic needs (health care, social services, etc.) funded and/or managed on a federal level. As water is considered to be a basic staple of life, many assume it is managed federally in Canada. In reality, this is not the case. Water is a provincial/territorial resource and, aside from federal guidelines on drinking water, Canada is currently void of federal regulation when it comes to this industry. This could, of course, change next year with the new Drinking Water Treatment System standard under development (see WC&P’s May article, Canadian Regulations in Motion for more details).

Regulator is a broad term that applies to those who make direct decisions on policy or enforceable sets of laws. In Canada, regulators involved in the point of use/point of entry (POU/POE) industry can take on a few distinct forms. Federally, Health Canada is the body that develops the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality, but there are other bodies that have non-direct influences. The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes is one example. It sets national model regulations (i.e., plumbing codes or building codes) that may affect drinking water treatment units (DWTUs) if the provinces and territories adopt the regulations.
Provincially/territorially, regulators may consist of:

  • Ministers responsible for housing, plumbing or the environment
  • Public health inspectors
  • Building inspectors
  • Municipal councilors involved with by-law changes
  • Academic personnel who sit on advisory committees

Given the type of business you operate and the communities within Canada with which you do business, the number of regulators your business will be in contact with varies. For instance, if you are a small dealer in a remote part of the Yukon, you may only be affected by as few as 20 regulators on an annual basis. On the other hand, if you are a manufacturer that supplies across the nation, you would be affected by (arguably) thousands of individuals who make decisions that determine what standards your products must meet, how these products are inspected in the home and what products can or can not be made available to consumers in the area of jurisdiction.

The reality is, regardless of the type of regulator being dealt with, it is rare for most water treatment businesses in Canada to have an intimate understanding of more than one (or possibly two) of the different categories listed. That means that many water treatment companies are not in direct contact with many of the key individuals who affect their business.

Why?
Regulators are an integral part of our industry. The decisions they make have ripple effects that can have powerful impacts. For example, energy supplies are a growing concern for many jurisdictions in Canada. This fall, when the new Harper government finally announces what its energy directives will be, the Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) will be contacted at Natural Resources Canada. There is the potential for these directives—or the actions the OEE sets to deliver on the directives—to affect the amount of energy used by appliances and systems in Canada, including DWTUs. As an example, let’s assume that the goal is to reduce energy use by 10 percent over the next three years. That may leave the OEE in the position to come up with incentive programs for appliances/systems that conserve energy. Since the EnergyStar labeling program already exists in Canada for large household appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners, it could easily be perceived by the OEE that this program could be extended to DWTUs that have electrical components.

Expanding on this example, let’s assume the rating system by which DWTUs are measured against needs to be developed. In this case, the OEE may decide to pull together a panel of experts (composed of regulators, among others) to review and decide on what rating system is practical. With this task complete, it is now up to the manufacturers to rate their product and ensure they continuously invest in research and development to upgrade their technology to improve upon the current benchmarks. Over the next few years they could spend sizeable amounts of money to comply with or stay ahead of such changes.

In contrast to the manufacturers who have a hefty price tag associated with this hypothetical OEE fallout, dealers across Canada may see energy efficiency requirements as a way in which they can promote products that come with a higher price tag and arguably a higher profit margin.

This example shows that there are pros and cons to the decisions Canadian regulators make. Not to mention that each decision can have complex ramifications for one or more aspects of the water treatment industry. Clearly, it is to our advantage as industry professionals to have positive relations with regulators. By doing so, we can influence key decisions along the critical path that can make it easier and more profitable for compliance (regardless of whether the issue stems from energy efficiency as in the example above or water conservation, allowable contaminant concentrations or any other matter that affects our industry).

Which regulators are most important to interact with? All of them! The regulatory decision-making process in Canada is only as strong as its weakest link. It is not only key ministers who need to know about us and our businesses. What about building inspectors, academics and others who sit on various levels of advisory councils? Which one do you want to not understand how their decision affects us?

Despite the importance regulators pose to us all, what do we really know about them? Arguably, not much.

How many of you have the staff—or time—to stay in constant communication with regulators to remain proactive on issues? How many of you can say that you have the ability to educate regulators to help them deal with the emerging issues and pressures they face?

Let’s be realistic. Most dealers and manufacturers in this industry do not have the ability to maintain relationships with all the regulators they need to. And do we really expect that regulators are going to come directly to individual companies with their challenges and questions? No, we don’t. That’s why we have industry associations such as the Canadian Water Quality Association (CWQA). CWQA has the respect of regulators across Canada and the ability to do what individual companies cannot do for themselves: educate and advocate.

Current regulatory pressures
The regulatory community in Canada is evolving—and rapidly. The deaths related to Walkerton and the tainted waters of North Battleford have had noticeable impacts on our industry despite those events being related to source water and municipal treatment. Essentially, provincial/territorial governments are feeling pressure to ensure that similar water-related incidents do not occur in the future. The easiest way to accomplish that is to review and expand existing regulations. This is the reason for the development of the new Drinking Water Treatment Systems standard (better known as CSA B483).

Beyond those widely known events, Health Canada is focusing attention on what it calls Health Protection Legislative Renewal. From the agency’s website, we learn that the department is: conducting a comprehensive review of its health protection legislation with a view to replacing outdated statutes with a new health protection legislative regime that is better adapted to modern technology and society. In layman’s terms this means that current legislation to protect the health and safety of Canadians has gaps. The General Safety Regulations currently being drafted by Health Canada will, no doubt, affect the water treatment industry. Because they are not yet drafted, no one knows for certain what the legislation will encompass, but skeptics (including Canada’s Safe Drinking Water Coalition, comprised of several associations dealing with water) are worried that the proposed legislation may propose a ban on all components that come into contact with drinking water, if they are not certified.

We also see developments with respect to the Canadian Building Code and the Canadian Plumbing Code. Both model codes are designed with the intent that the provinces/territories will adopt them carte blanche. However, many regulators will review and make alterations to them before supporting adoption by their province or territory. One example involves provinces inserting special provisions that ban water treatment dealers from installing POE/POU products unless they are a licensed plumber.

How?
But perhaps the single biggest threat to our industry with respect to regulators is simply the lack of education most of them have regarding our industry. Who can blame them? Their role, unlike ours, is not specific to water treatment. Instead, they also have to consider dozens—or even hundreds—of other situations, technologies, industries and public opinions when completing their complex mandates. It should come as no surprise that without our guidance, they are making decisions that may not be of the best value to our industry, or even to Canadians in general.

How are these foregoing issues being managed by our industry? Our relationship with regulators doesn’t have to be adversarial. The CWQA has acknowledged the need to proactively interact with regulators so that they have the tools and information they need in order to make the best decisions possible. Here are some of the steps being taken:

  • Voting seats on two key councils with a significant impact on our industry have been awarded to CWQA. The Plumbing Industry Advisory Council (PIAC) is a council within the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating. PIAC’s role is to ensure uniformity in regulations and to be an expert panel that regulators seek when needing guidance on regulatory matters. The second council CWQA participates in is the Canadian Advisory Council on Plumbing (CACP), which orchestrates an annual meeting of the Provincial/Territorial Chief Plumbing Inspectors as well as codes and standards development organizations (such as NSF, UL and CSA), the Standards Council of Canada and other industry stakeholders. The work done with these two councils helps provide the guidance regulators need.
  • Given the important role provincial health inspectors play, CWQA is currently surveying the public health units in Ontario to offer a course to better educate officials on water treatment equipment and its capabilities. If successful, CWQA will offer similar courses across Canada.
  • The creation of provincial/territorial industry reps to liaise with key stakeholders on issues is under development. This will expand CWQA’s reach beyond the association’s head office and allow for a faster relay of information from regulators to members and vice-versa.
  • CWQA is proactively researching which other advisory committees it should be participating on.

Summary
Just as water treatment professionals face an increasingly complex state of affairs for their businesses, regulators, too, are facing challenges in the pressures they feel and the decisions they make. Without our direct involvement with regulators, we would be foolish to expect them to have the tools or knowledge to lead our industry to a prosperous future. No single water treatment business in North America has the ability to successfully manage Canadian regulatory evolution. CWQA is uniquely designed to aid its membership in connecting with and influencing the array of regulators that affect us all. Member support of CWQA is the key to the future success (or failure) of the Canadian marketplace. Membership in CWQA should be considered the cost of doing business in Canada. It’s a small price to pay for a secure and prosperous future for our livelihoods.

About the author
Jason Bourque is the Manager of the Canadian Water Quality Association. His non-profit management career has helped produce visibility and growth for leading organizations such as the Atlantic Division of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and Habitat for Humanity. Serving CWQA members across North America from his base office in Toronto, Bourque can be reached by email at jbourque@cwqa.com.

 

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