‘Pawns in this chess game’: Questions remain about CPA Canada split

CPA accountant

Chartered Professional Accountants in Quebec and Ontario are still looking for answers about how the decision for their provincial oversight bodies to split from CPA Canada was made and what it means for the future of their profession.

“It makes me feel that there’s politics involved, and we’re just … pawns in this chess game,” said Ryan Lazanis, founder of Future Firm and a member of the Quebec CPA Order.

The two departing organizations say the unification of the accounting profession will not be undone, and that they’re doing what’s best for their members, but CPA Canada says the decision puts the profession at risk.

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CPA Canada was created in 2013 to unify the various professional accounting organizations and designations. The national organization, which is not a regulatory body, is responsible for standards and coordinates education and exams. Its counterparts are the provincial, territorial and Bermudian bodies, known collectively as the PTBs, which regulate and enforce the profession as well as administer exams.

In June, CPA Ontario and the Quebec CPA Order announced they would be exiting their agreement with CPA Canada, triggering an 18-month countdown to a split for which there’s no precedent.

Lazanis said he’s cautiously optimistic. He agreed with some of the concerns raised by the provincial bodies, particularly the talk of helping the profession be more competitive and nimble. But he still has questions.

“I still think it’s incredibly vague,” he said.

Stefanie Ricchio, a member of CPA Ontario, called the news a “bombshell.”

“We were all blindsided,” she said.

CPA Canada has also said the decision came as a surprise, but the provincial bodies say it shouldn’t have. The entire organization has been undergoing a governance review for the past five years, but the Quebec CPA Order and CPA Ontario have been deadlocked with CPA Canada over certain key issues.

CPA Canada and CPA Ontario recently held information sessions to take questions from members. The Canadian Press attended the CPA Canada session and obtained a recording of the CPA Ontario session.

In these sessions, members questioned why they weren’t consulted on the decisions to leave; expressed concern about the reputation of the profession; asked whether the decision to split could be undone; and asked what led to the split and what comes next.

During the 18-month withdrawal period, the mechanics of the split need to be hammered out, said Carol Wilding, president and CEO of CPA Ontario.

All three organizations say talks on this have begun.

“We have been heartened by the intent expressed by everyone in the profession to find a path forward. As the clock ticks down, we need all parties, the provincial bodies and CPA Canada, to do the hard work to arrive at a future that best serves all Canadian CPAs and the public interest,” said CPA Canada president and CEO Pamela Steer in a statement.

CPA Ontario and the Quebec CPA Order say the key issues that led to the split were related to governance.

“Our differences are not trivial matters. They are fundamental differences on fundamental issues,” said Wilding in an interview.

One key issue cited by CPA Ontario and the Quebec CPA Order are concerns about CPA Canada’s financial transparency regarding education programs, which CPA Canada has refuted. CPA Ontario also cited concerns over the review after a 2019 technological failure disrupted the common final exams, and said CPA Canada had challenged their legislative role. CPA Canada did not directly comment on the first claim, and rejected the second.

CPA Canada has said the two provincial organizations were seeking stronger representation at the national board.

Genevieve Mottard, president and CEO of the Quebec CPA Order, said in an interview that the organization’s demands included a governance structure that “reflects where the authority for the profession lies,” and governance changes to allow the PTBs to be directly represented at the CPA Canada board.

Ricchio and Lazanis questioned why Ontario and Quebec members weren’t consulted before the provincial organizations decided to leave CPA Canada.

“I would have loved to have been able to vote,” Ricchio said.

It’s been just ten years since the accountant designations were streamlined into one. With this change, Ricchio said she feels a bit like a ping pong ball.

“It’s really hard. It’s frustrating. It is disappointing.”

Wilding and Mottard both said it wouldn’t have been “appropriate” to consult members over the decision to split. However, Wilding said since the announcement, CPA Ontario has been consulting members and will continue to do so.

Both organizations stressed that the unification of the CPA profession is not at risk.

They said they will continue to administer exams and work on the new certification program being developed. Wilding said CPA Ontario’s provincial counterparts have a shared interest in working together on things like continuing to have a common entry into the profession.

However, Steer said there’s currently no agreement on how the exams and educational programs will work after the split — the materials for both are the intellectual property of CPA Canada.

Mottard said while the details need to be worked out, it’s in everyone’s interest to find a way for Quebec and Ontario to continue administering the same exam as the other PTBs.

Gevorg Grigoryan, a CPA examination coach based in Vancouver and member of CPA BC, said beyond the nuts and bolts of how exams and education will work, he’s worried about the damage this could have on the CPA profession’s reputation.

The sector has had trouble attracting people for years, he said. Now, he’s hearing from students who say they’re going to defer the training and exam process until the mess is sorted out.

The split could also have implications for members of other PTBs if CPA Canada loses a large chunk of its funding, said Grigoryan.

“There’s a lot of frustration, confusion and disbelief by the members and by prospective members,” he said.

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