Alberta plans to allow technology companies and workers to use the title "software engineer" without a licence from APEGA, the provincial regulator for professional engineers.
Tabled in the legislature Monday, Bill 7 would make an exception in Alberta's Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act.
The province's rules currently say someone who isn't a professional engineer or permit holder can't use the term "engineer" in combination with any other name or title.
Tech companies have advocated to change that, saying it's hurting the growth of Alberta's industry.
But the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) issued a statement last year warning that, "any exception to the use of the title engineer will set a dangerous precedent and put the lives of Albertans at risk."
After the proposed legislation was unveiled Monday, APEGA registrar and CEO Jay Nagendran said the change is "not something we had asked for, but it is what it is."
Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney said the new legislation will be "the first of its kind in the country" to allow broader use of the software engineer title or related variations.
If the bill becomes law, companies would be able to advertise software engineer positions, and employees would be able to publicly use the title.
Different rules for Alberta
Last summer, the leaders of all provincial and territorial engineering regulators signed an open letter to "voice the alignment" of restrictions across the country on the use of software engineer or related titles without a licence.
The letter issued by the national body Engineers Canada notes people who "improperly hold themselves out as engineers" have faced enforcement.
That included an injunction approved in an Alberta court against a person using the title "software engineer" in online profiles, despite not being registered with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta.
Nagendran noted Alberta's proposed change will set the province apart from the regulations across the rest of the country.
Sawhney said the work software engineers do usually doesn't fall within the practice of a professional engineer with a P.Eng designation, and any software engineers "applying engineering principles" in their position will still be regulated by APEGA.
But she didn't give specifics about how exactly that will work, saying the government continues to work with employers and the regulator.
"Our tech sector is booming and we're listening to our stakeholders, and this is what they need to be able to recruit talent and retain talent in this province," Sawhney said.
Tech sector push
APEGA's position has been that software engineering should continue to be regulated amid the increasing use of artificial intelligence.
Technology and Innovation Minister Nate Glubish said Monday that the province is working on an artificial intelligence framework.
Benjamin Bergen is president of the Council of Canadian Innovators. (Submitted by Benjamin Bergen)
"At the end of the day, responsible use of AI is not APEGA's jurisdiction. That's the government of Alberta's jurisdiction."
Last year, representatives from tech companies wrote an open letter to Premier Danielle Smith, asking that the provincial government intervene in the issue. The letter now has more than 100 signatories.
The tech workers said APEGA was hampering the growth of Alberta's tech sector with what they called an "aggressive" position that software engineers must be regulated and subject to certification requirements.
"This is a classic case of regulator overreach — tech companies shouldn't need the blessing of a regulatory body to build an app," the letter says.
The group argued that software engineer is a "globally accepted standard job title" that's common in cities with a strong tech sector, and being blocked from using it means Alberta can't compete for employees.
Benjamin Bergen, president of the Council of Canadian Innovators, told CBC News that Alberta specifically needs a software engineer exception on the books because APEGA has been more active with enforcement.
"Regulators haven't gone after firms to the same level or degree as they have in Alberta," he said.
APEGA recently took Edmonton-based tech company Jobber to court over the firm's use of the title software engineer in job ads.
Nagendran said a judge has heard arguments in the case, but he's not sure how the new provincial legislation might affect the outcome.