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The President's Prose - Looking Back on January

The first month of 2019 has now entered the history books.

I hope that all were able to find time to spend with friends and family over the holiday season. In our case, our daughters returned from Ontario for ten days and we were able to cram a bunch of things into that short time - including traipsing out to the Big Horn on December 22nd to cut down our tree! A family tradition indeed, but we “cut” it a little close this year, pun intended.One of the other things we snuck in after Christmas before the girls headed off, was a trip to the newly re-opened Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton. And what a gem of a museum it is! With the Children’s Gallery, Bug room and Human history sprawled across the first floor, the second is dedicated to natural history- it’s the second floor that holds the dinosaurs, the gems and minerals and the updated animal dioramas from the old museum. The First Nations displays and stories are particularly well done. And in the main gallery of the Human History Hall - along with two canoes!- there is a display on surveying and the establishment of the Alberta Township System. The museum is too big to make in in one visit; a better deal is getting a season’s pass and coming back a few times to let it all sink in. I am headed back shortly to take in the “Remembering the First World War” exhibit.

After a well-earned break at the end of 2018, staff and committees roared back to life. And the first order of business was the long-planned salary survey. If it feels like we’ve been doing nothing but conducting opinion polls and membership surveys since last May… you are right! Council has gone to great lengths to capture information from the membership to make choices to improve service delivery and governance. I hope you all took a few minutes to share information about your remuneration in 2018. This is part of a larger initiative to capture an accurate snapshot of compensation levels within the entire geomatics profession across Canada.

Traditionally January is budget month for the ALSA, but this year that process started well in advance of the New Year. Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Drake and Executive Director Brian Munday have worked since September to pare away at projected expenses for next year in light of the lack of post sale revenue. Adding to revenue woes has been the recent dip in financial markets. The ALSA has been fortunate to gain a significant amount of income from investments over the last number of years thanks to shrewd activity on our behalf by Logan Wealth Management - so significant that the steady reduction in post sale revenue since 2006 has largely been countered.

Following careful analysis of all line items, Council was presented with a comprehensive set of decisions to make at our January Meeting; I am pleased to report that the budget was approved after much discussion. I’d like to highlight a few specific items. A number of budget items were reduced: administrative expenses were reduced by almost $34,000; committee expenses were reduced by $10,000; and CCR expenses were reduced by over $8,000.

The Boundary Panel budget has been reduced significantly following a suggestion from Scott Westlund “…that we use the cancellation of the MO as an opportunity to completely retool the boundary panel to better benefit the public and the membership.” A nominal budget has been assigned to the Boundary Panel while it reviews its mandate and undertakes a complete review of the process and re-write of the panel handbook. The membership has identified the value of this important service; the intention of this exercise is to ensure delivery for the benefit of better protecting the public and using the available funds more efficiently.

An increase was made to the Discipline Revolving Fund. Discipline costs and cost recovery was the subject of much discussion at Council. We hope to have a broader discussion on this topic amongst all members at the AGM as part of a wider discussion on costs to the Association. Effective May 1st a surcharge will be placed on all purchases made by members using credit cards.

The biggest change that members will feel is a substantial increase in Alberta Land Surveyor fees. The annual fee has been approved at $2,000. While any increases of this magnitude is hard to accept, it is worth noting that this new fee is only slightly more than that which Newfoundland Land Surveyors pay and significantly less than that paid by Land Surveyors in Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec. Secretary-Treasurer Drake and I look forward to a lively discussion at the upcoming Regional Group meetings in March and in Banff in April.

The Alternate Funding Ad Hoc Committee has also been hard at work crafting a recommendation for approval by the membership at the AGM. They are recommending that a digital stamp be affixed to survey products and revenue from sale of stamps go to fund various specific initiatives such as CCR and Boundary Panel. The details are not yet set, but the expectation is that stamp purchase will be accomplished through the MyMember portion of ALSA website with minimal time required of the practitioner and little or no staff time involved in ordering and purchase; the intent is to have a system that does not increase staff workload. Details and specific product fees are yet to be determined. At the AGM the membership will be asked by Alternate Funding Ad Hoc Committee for the approval of the concept in principle.

The Pathways to Foreign Credentials Recognition program issued its final report in December. The Stakeholders Team determined that CBEPS will set up a totally independent and parallel process to assess Foreign Trained Land Surveyors (FTLS). This process will add no cost to ALSA- using CBEPS for the assessment will be funded by fees paid by FTLS. Once the assessment has been completed, surveyors from each jurisdiction will be required to participate in the interview process to verify the competencies and knowledge and determine any gaps between the FTLS and jurisdictional requirements. It is expected that two ALSs will be required for this interview process.

The Joint Task Force of ALSA/GOA that I outlined last month has begun meeting to address the role of professional regulator, the responsibilities of the Director of Surveys office and government oversight of land survey governance for the future. Though early in the process, I am hopeful of reaching the goal of a memorandum of understanding between the ALSA and Government of Alberta before the AGM.

Professional Surveyors Canada has waged a long concerted effort to improve the proposed energy regulation legislation Bill C-69 to enhance the management of underground infrastructure. The amendments proposed by PSC are aimed at simplifying the definition of “ground disturbance” and expanding the notification area of lands affected by underground infrastructure. Michael Thompson, ALS arranged a meeting with Senator Patti Laboucane-Benson and I was pleased to join Michael discussing the proposed amendments. Senator Laboucane-Benson was a most attentive listener and agreed that the amendments made sense. She would be willing to support them in Senate committee meetings upcoming.

January also saw resumption of presidential travel with the first trip of the New Year being to Fredericton for the 66th Annual General Meeting of the Association of New Brunswick Land Surveyors. The weather was wild! Landing in a blizzard Wednesday, we learned that schools had been closed since Monday and that travel was not recommended on any roads in the province including the Trans-Canada Highway! A day later, the temperature had risen 15 degrees and it was pouring rain.

Amongst the highlights of the meeting was a presentation from the Registrar General of Land Titles. The Land Tiles system has only been operating in New Brunswick since 2000 with only 54% of parcels converted from registry to Land Titles to date. Plans are now accepted for registration in either system electronically; rather than submit completely digitally however, most plans are simply printed signed and scanned as PDF. A seminar on the common law principle of easements was extremely good, generating many questions and much discussion afterwards. The report of the Quality Assurance Advisory Committee identified that most issues derive from lack of good field notes related to GPS surveys- sound familiar? They are working towards updating their QA standards to incorporate digital field notes, and digital data. An increase in complaints is a common theme across Canada. The report outlined that most complaints from the public could have been resolved by “talking to the owners and neighbours in the field.” Does that also sound familiar? Interestingly, with Mandatory Continuing Education in force, four complaints were received for lack of MCE reporting.

The report from ANBLS President Jaret Guimond explained why the new Land Surveys Act had not yet gone forward: with a sharply divided house within the NB Legislature, the ANBLS does not want to be the sponsor of the first private members bill to come to first reading. During open forum, various bylaw amendments were discussed and approved, including a number aimed at revising membership categories. Under the current Surveys Act all members, including retired members, are counted for quorum; retired members are also included in count for PSC dues. Three new NBLS’ were sworn in; there are currently 56 active members- only 15 of whom are under 50 years of age.

So there you have it- my January in a nutshell. And, as I was reminded last week, only 3 more months left in my term…

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The Alberta Land Surveyors' Association (ALSA) is a self-governing professional association legislated under the Land Surveyors Act. The Association regulates the practice of land surveying for the protection of the public and administration of the profession.