Reflections on the APB Vision and Beyond

Mark Thompson, MSc, MEd, RPBio.
President, Association of Professional Biology

 

“That the value and credibility engaging the services and expertise of an Applied Biology Professional are recognized”

This is the new vision that I would like the APB to consider. Many of us who are registered with the College of Applied Biology (CAB) have lost sight of the APB and its purpose. There are fundamental differences between the CAB and APB; differences that the APB must do a better job of communicating to our members and the Biology Professionals who have yet to join us. This difference is more relevant than ever as we transition into a new era of professional reliance in BC, including Right-to-Practice. The APB can play a vital role in this process through protecting the interests of professional biologists, but in order to do so we need to keep our organization resilient and strong.

The government of BC created the CAB in 2003 to oversee credentials, discipline, audits, and practice review of its members. Basically the job of the CAB is to protect the public interest by providing oversight of Applied Biology Professionals practicing in BC. By contrast, the APB is here to represent the interests of the professionals themselves. The APB is your independent voice. We advocate on the issues that matter to our profession and the people who practice it in BC, something the CAB cannot do.

The first principle in our Code of Ethics states that we must provide objective and science-based opinions, advice, and reports. In 2018 the APB prepared a briefing and press-release on the province’s professional reliance review. One of main concerns that we brought forward was that the all-important conversation about science was missing. My understanding of the right-to-practice for engineers is that their professional seal is “a mark of reliance”. The standards that are set in their designs, the materials, and guidance on constructability must withstand the stress, bearing, and conditions needed to ensure that a bridge or building doesn’t collapse and jeopardize the safety of others. Physics is used in their formulations of thresholds that other engineers can agree upon. Resilience is built into their designs. When I think about the right-to-practice for us as biologists I wonder about ecological science.

Resilience is a big part of ecological science, but are we going to ensure that the documents and reports we stamp with our professional seal under the right-to-practice will give assurance of safety for others? Clearly, we are not safe from the continued and persistent decline of species, fragmenting of landscapes, and homogenization of planet earth that threatens all of us. While government is a great resource for information on natural resources, it does not have a good track record when it comes to the big and pressing conservation issues of our time and this is not what is driving current plans for our right-to-practice.

Climate change puts all of us at risk, so I find it a bit of a paradox that we are tasked with evaluating and providing risk categories to other species. The risk of today is much greater than it was 50 or even 20 years ago, but the categories remain the same. What do we do as professionals when we are instructed to follow government standards that do not agree with peer-reviewed, published science? I’m familiar with the concepts of defining critical habitat for wildlife, or measuring declines in populations, but what about cumulative effects? Do we sign off on BMPs or Resource Inventory Standards Committee documents that are 20 years behind the latest peer-reviewed science? How will this fit within our responsibility to be accountable when we do not agree that our work as directed under the standards does not meet modern standards? Can we address the big issues (e.g., climate change, mass extinction, cumulative effects, etc.) that are threatening the existence of the natural resources we are tasked to manage and protect under the framework of professional reliance?

These are serious questions that we must address. Biology Professionals are on the frontline of decision making while navigating through the lens of scrutiny, audits, and the spectre of disciplinary action from the CAB. We work for government, industry, and educational institutions that are framing the norm of practice. The APB is an independent collective body of biologists that is positioned to advise government on these issues, and we should be recognized as the organization that is capable of providing an objective evaluation of standards of practice as these are being drafted by regulators.

The current engagement process that the government has taken to discuss professional reliance has been disjointed. The APB put its member’s collective voice forward. We entered the engagement process in good faith, but found the recognition of that voice lacking. It left us questioning if the process was truly meaningful.

So, how does the APB move forward? This past year we have been working on restructuring to take on these big challenges. The board of directors has developed a new set of membership categories. We are preparing to communicate on the approach we have taken and why we moved in this direction and will discuss this in more detail at our AGM.

Our new website is up and running, we heard from members that the online ‘scaffolding’ of the APB needed attention! The platform behind our new website includes an all in one package for running our finances, organizing conferences, adding discussions groups, and marketing the APB. This system is new to us and we are going through the early stages of growing pains, but it promises to make registration easier for our members and organization of APB initiatives more cost effective. Our handbook of policies and procedures is going through a massive overhaul. There will also be a list of proposed changes to our constitution and bylaws that will be introduced to members in advance of our 2019 AGM. And we have a new manager for our mentorship program that is running strong!

Attending to the core operations of the APB has been my aim as president. It is my hope that you will talk about the APB to your colleagues, encourage them to join us or renew their membership. We look forward to seeing you at our 2019 AGM where we can learn, discuss, and communicate on the salient issues that matter to our profession!