An Interview with John Walter, CEO of the Standards Council of Canada
SCC leader John Walter discusses the strategic value of standardization, his organization’s priorities and harmonizing Canadian and U.S. standards.
How is the Standards Council of Canada approaching the upcoming revision to the Canadian Standards Strategy?
The Standards Council of Canada is currently seeking feedback from stakeholders on the overall concept of developing a new standardization strategy.
The first iteration of the Canadian Standards Strategy was in 2000. It addressed strengthening the system from an all-inclusive viewpoint. In advance of a possible upcoming revision to the strategy, SCC is educating governments and industries in Canada about the considerable value standardization brings to the economy and to the health and safety of its citizens. Another consideration is to continue to bring the strategy into the fold of SCC’s current corporate plan — which is updated each year and then tabled in Parliament — because engaging stakeholders is what we are doing now.
But whatever revisions we do make, as a Crown corporation, our first priority is always to connect with the federal government — our shareholder.
Through the Assistant Deputy Minister Committee on Standardization, SCC is connecting with individual federal departments, such as environment, health and transport, which typically use standards more. We’re also reaching out to our 13 provincial and territorial governments. Through this outreach we are generating an unprecedented awareness of the benefits of standardization.
In many cases, governments and industries have been unaware of the value of standards. When we meet with them, no matter which standards we talk about, they immediately ask how we can help them address their public policy or business challenges through standardization. We find this in every situation, whether we’re talking about ASTM International standards or other standards from within Canada.
We’re also connecting with industry sectors, such as oil and gas, information technology, energy, health and the environment — sectors that could really deliver for Canada as their level of productivity and competitiveness increases. We’re ensuring that CEOs know they should be using standards and standardization to the benefit of their industry.
If the federal government, the provinces and industry understand how standards can help support government, the economy or the competitiveness of a particular industry, we will have the basis of what I would call a very viable and energetic standardization strategy for Canada.
How have you gone about raising awareness of the strategic value of standardization in Canadian government circles?
When I was first appointed as CEO of SCC in 2009, through the direction of the federal minister of industry and SCC’s governing council, I was asked to raise awareness of standards within Canadian governments and industries so that they would know what standards can do for them and so they would have greater choice.
First, we did some research to determine which standards were referenced in regulations, which of those standards may require updating, and to identify options or alternatives that could be considered. Our colleagues in the federal government welcomed the additional support, realizing that standardization could do so much more in terms of addressing their challenges and priorities, and they were pleased for us to help them navigate the system.
The eight government departments we worked with are making standards a priority; they’re making sure they have the right standards in place, whether traditional standards from Canada, or standards from ASTM International, ISO, CEN or CENELEC.1 The departments then asked SCC what they needed to do to stay on top of that situation and asked us to monitor them on a regular basis.
Ultimately, we hope that through this process standardization will become embedded in the operational plans of each department, so that annually they will look at what standards they have, what standards they think they need and how they’re going to get there. We have had similar interactions with the 10 Canadian provinces and three territories.
This outreach has created an awareness of standards within our federal government, and within our provinces and territories, so that we can begin to look at harmonizing the adoption and referencing of standards across the country.
If there is a new standard for elevators, for example, to improve efficiency, it would make better sense if all the provinces could adopt it on the same date, with as few revisions as possible. The value for regulators and industry would be significant. That’s where this effort can lead. If standardization is a top priority for our government, we can avoid duplication and confusion across the country. It must be extremely challenging to maintain an elevator in one province to a code or a standard that’s different in another. You’ve got to make sure that your staff is trained in both; you’ve got to make sure you know which one you’re using, and in which province. Canada can look to the European Union as a model to follow.
The Standards Council of Canada has been working closely with the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council. What have been the goals and outcomes of this involvement?
The Regulatory Cooperation Council process, initiated by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in 2011, is meant to eliminate trade barriers, reduce red tape between our countries, and eliminate the duplication of standards and certification requirements in certain industry sectors. It’s a way in which we can enhance cross-border trade. It’s a way to save time and money.
For example, if, in the United States, there is a standard for a water heater, one would assume that the same standard would apply for a water heater, whether we’re talking about Buffalo, New York, or Niagara Falls, Ontario. But this is not always the case, and that’s the problem. We should be able to address this issue — after all, it is just a river that separates us.
The essence of the Regulatory Cooperation Council is to reduce duplicative requirements, and the best way to do that is to have one standard that is accepted in both countries, that can be tested by organizations in both countries and that allows the product to move freely across the border.
An example of this cooperation comes from the Canadian plumbing industry, which proposed that they work with SCC to find a product that would be enhanced by the development of a new standard. They chose a balloon-type ball backwater valve, which does not have a standard in either country. SCC will be funding the development of that standard through a standards development organization that is able to develop both a National Standard of Canada and a U.S. standard.
With the Regulatory Cooperation Council agreement in place, it’s certainly easier to create one standard for both countries when no current standard exists. We’re not taking away the intellectual property of any organization.
The challenge is in aligning standards with the hundreds of standards already in existence. Who will voluntarily say that we’ll accept the standard from the other country? The real challenge is to find ways for SDOs to collaborate and work together to make it the best standard in North America and perhaps in the world.
If we can find ways in which SDOs could develop one standard for both countries, we’ve been advised by some industries that they believe that the development time could be reduced by as much as 50 percent.
This is a long-term goal; one that I think is consistent with what SDOs need to do globally, but particularly here in North America. Canada and the United States have such a strong relationship that there should be no need for us to have different standards. We have the same kinds of systems, we have the same kinds of standards and there’s a lot of respect for the technical expertise in both countries. With Canadian citizens sitting on ASTM International committees, ASTM International is an example of the ability to derive subject matter expertise from both sides of the border.
How does the Standards Council of Canada view the accreditation of additional standards development organizations to develop standards for Canada? What successes or progress have you seen with this initiative?
Canada is a fairly small country of some 35 million people and doesn’t have the volume of standardization expertise that there is in the United States. In some cases, ASTM International, for example, already has standards that Canada could use. If U.S. regulators and industries are interested in using standards, they can bring standards in from many groups. But if they want a standard that is recognized as an NSC, or that has gone through more of a Canadian process, they now have that option.
The benefit for SCC is that we are now able to provide government regulators, industries and consumers with more choice. It also fits with the goals of the Regulatory Cooperation Council in reducing trade barriers and compliance costs.
People who work in standardization know how to cooperate and collaborate better than any other group that I’ve worked with. They understand that you’re trying to create the best standard possible that will help the product do what it’s supposed to do. Having additional SDOs accredited means that Canadian experts are able to participate more fully with our U.S. counterparts, to increase trade opportunities. So it’s ultimately very valuable for us to have more choice.
What are the Standards Council of Canada’s strategic priorities for the next few years and how is the organization addressing these?
Overall, as a country, we should be working with industry and governments to ensure that we are competitive internationally and regionally, and that our industries are able to use standards, wherever they’re created, to bring the greatest advantage to Canada.
There are some countries in the world that do that extremely well, where government and industry work together to create new products, and they create new standards to go along with those new products. They’re a leg up on the rest of the world. In Canada, we can move in that direction and build on our outreach to government and industry sectors, so that we’re developing and using standards that bring the best economic benefit to Canada.
1. ISO, CEN and CENELEC are the International Organization for Standardization, the European Committee for Standardization and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization, respectively.Based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, John Walter is CEO of the Standards Council of Canada, a position in which he is responsible for setting and implementing the organization’s strategic priorities. He was first appointed to this role in 2009. Walter’s previous positions in standardization include roles as vice president, standards development, for the Canadian Standards Association; president and CEO of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority; and assistant deputy minister, Technical Standards Division, for the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations. Currently, Walter is also vice president (policy) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for the 2014-2015 term.