September 26, 2012

Public interest IQ / Self-quiz answers

Administrative Law
Professional Regulation

In our last blog release we published “Checking in on your knowledge of the public interest” where we set out a short self-test for readers to assess their “public interest IQ”. The quiz consists of a list of activities, and asks if these activities fall within the public interest mandate of a regulatory body, if they would be more appropriate for a professional association serving its members’ interests, or if they might be conducted by either body. The original article can be found here.

Although there is no precise formula for determining what is and what is not in the public interest, in this article we provide our views on the answers to our self test. Again, for each activity the question is whether it’s in the profession’s interest, the public interest, or both.

(1) Providing discounted rates for home and life insurance.

The profession’s interest

Providing benefits to the members of a profession is clearly in the profession’s interest and not in the public interest. It is common for a professional association serving the profession’s interests or a trade union to provide members with such benefits as discounted insurance rates, since it is the role of such organizations to act on the behalf of their members. There is no role for a professional regulatory body to play in securing low cost benefits for members of that profession, however.

(2) Setting requirements for minimum professional insurance coverage.

The public interest

It is one of the fundamental roles of a professional regulatory body to set requirements for the practice of a profession in keeping with the public interest. Mandatory minimum practice insurance is one way to protect the public, since it gives the consumers of professional services resources to claim against in the event of injury or harm resulting from professional services. A professional association serving the profession’s interest or a trade union could have a role in obtaining insurance coverage for their members or negotiating lower premiums, but they would not have the jurisdiction to set a coverage requirement as a condition of professional practice.

(3) Advocating for the provincial government to expand the profession’s scope of practice.

The profession’s interest or the public interest

Trade unions and professional associations that serve the professions’ interests will often engage in lobbying activities to advocate for the interests, views and concerns of their members, and such advocacy activity can encompass making submissions to government on the need for an expanded scope of practice. On the other hand, as part of serving the public interest, professional regulatory bodies may need to look to government for changes to their enabling legislation or regulations, including the statutory provisions setting out their scope of practice. While serving the profession’s interest will allow professional associations wide latitude to lobby for a particular outcome on various grounds, including self-interested grounds such as increasing economic opportunities for professionals or raising the profile of the profession, a professional regulatory body’s role may be more limited, e.g., providing information to government supporting the need for statutory amendment that best serves the public interest. The legitimate activities of a professional regulatory body in increasing a scope of practice will depend on the particular circumstances, but must always be based on serving the public interest.

We know we are going to get a lot of emails about this answer so in our next blog newsletter we will discuss the different interests in more depth.

(4) Providing an employment listing service for members.

The profession’s interest

An employment listing service that provides members of a profession with information on available job postings is another type of benefit in the profession’s interest that is commonly provided by a professional association serving the profession’s interests or a trade union. A professional regulatory body again has no role in providing these sorts of benefits to its members.

(5) Providing courses for members on significant issues of dealing with diversity in the practice of the profession.

The profession’s interest or the public interest

It is in both the profession’s interest and the public interest for professionals to be equipped to deal with diversity in the practice of their profession. Trade unions and professional associations with a mandate to serve the profession’s interest often provide coursework opportunities to their members for the purpose of professional development, and in order to fulfill any requirements that the regulatory body might set for such coursework. A professional regulatory body, in turn, has the authority to set requirements for certain coursework to be completed as a condition of registration, such as continuing professional development requirements. However, it is also possible that a professional regulatory body may wish to provide its own workshops and courses for the purpose of addressing issues that are of significant concern to the proper regulation of the profession, particularly where they wish to have close involvement in the development of such curriculum. This activity is not strictly limited to either type of body.

(6) Setting requirements for courses to be completed by members.

The public interest

As addressed above, it is a fundamental role for professional regulatory bodies to set the requirements for registration and practice of the profession over which government has ceded them the jurisdiction to regulate. A typical requirement for registration is the completion of education requirements in advance of initial registration, as well as continuing professional development requirements as a condition on continuing registration. A trade union or professional association with a professional interest mandate could offer coursework to fulfill these requirements, but would lack jurisdiction to set the requirements for practice of a given profession.

(7) Providing standard forms for the collection of patient/client information for members.

The profession’s interest or the public interest

Providing standard forms for the collection of patient/client information can be both in the public interest, by ensuring that appropriate practices are followed by members of the profession, and in the profession’s interest, by making it easier and more convenient for members to collect necessary information. For this reason, either a professional regulatory body or an organization with a professional interest mandate could provide such standard forms.

(8) Creating a mentorship program to pair new members with experienced practitioners.

The profession’s interest or the public interest

It is in both the public interest and a profession’s interest that members of a profession have access to all necessary resources to ensure they deliver quality professional services to their patients or clients. Such resources could  include practice support from senior practitioners, such as what might be available through a mentorship program. A professional regulatory body may place a requirement on new members to undergo a form of mentorship, such as the articling period for aspiring accountants and lawyers, or the residency program for fledgling physicians and surgeons. Where, however, a mentorship program is made available to provide assistance to new members in the form of peer support and career counseling, this function may be more appropriate for a trade union or professional association with a professional interest mandate.

(9) Providing information to the provincial government with respect to the availability of the profession’s services in rural areas of the province.

The profession’s interest or the public interest

Once more, there is both a public interest and a professional interest in ensuring that the services  provided by a particular profession are available throughout the province, including in rural regions. Many professional services are critically necessary for the public and it would be well within a professional regulatory body’s mandate to provide information to the government in support of ensuring appropriate access to professional services for all members of the public. On the other hand, the profession also has an interest in providing its members with information on the options available for practice of the profession within the province, and they may wish to provide information to government in advocating for incentives to encourage their members to practice in under-served areas.

If you would like to read more about the public interest, keep an eye out for an article Lisa and Ben have written for the up-coming edition of the College of Massage Therapists of BC’s Newsletter, Touchstone.

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