Elevated more than 1,200 metres above sea level – with a vista spanning from the Rocky Mountains across the sprawling city and out towards the Prairies – the historic Calgary Tower was a fitting landmark to welcome and inspire those who came together at the second National Standards System (NSS) Conference to expand their horizons and to continue charting the course for standardization in Canada.
Hosted by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), the conference was held from November 15 to 17, 2004 at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel. It attracted a broad range of individuals from different levels and areas of government, various industries and market sectors, academia and others who share a common interest in standardization.
Before making their way up to the Calgary Tower's observation terrace for the welcome reception on November 15, delegates gathered in the nearby hotel's ballroom for the opening ceremony. Standards Council of Canada Chairman Hugh Krentz enthusiastically welcomed conference participants and made a point of remarking upon the presence of some familiar faces. At the same time, he emphasized his satisfaction at the number of new individuals in the audience. Of the 175 delegates in attendance, 65 had also attended the inaugural NSS Conference held in Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec in 2002, while more than 100 of the participants in Calgary were new to the event and, in many cases to the National Standards System.
Among the newcomers was the opening keynote speaker, Captain Kelly Williams, Director of Maritime Strategy for the Department of National Defence and recipient of the Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal. Drawing on both a passion for his job and a keen sense of humour, Captain Williams captivated the audience with his story of overcoming adversity while at the helm of HMCS Winnipeg, which was on extended duty in the Persian Gulf in the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The message he emphasized – that people are the most valuable resource in any organization – was one that would resonate over the days to come.
Similar themes were expressed by two other local guest speakers: Canadian Paralympic women's wheelchair basketball team member Lori Radke, who spoke at the SCC Awards Dinner on day two and Alpine Canada President and former Crazy Canuck Ken Read, who delivered the breakfast address on day three. Their personal stories illustrated how focus, perseverance, teamwork and planning were pivotal in surmounting challenges on the road to athletic excellence, and how these factors parallel the attributes necessary to achieve success in standardization work.
Among the NSS success stories that were shared: during lunch on November 17, Pat Keindel, President of Standards at the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), delivered a presentation entitled “Towards a Healthier Planet”. She provided specific examples of how the System is successfully adapting to various global challenges and outlined how standards development work in Canada is leading the way on some of the most significant issues shaping society including: sustainable development, alternative energies and healthcare.
In addition to the official program, a number of complimentary training workshops were offered to attendees prior to the Opening and, several groups and committees with ties to the NSS also held meetings in conjunction with the Conference.
Much of the Conference agenda was devoted to structured discussion and debate, however, the SCC Awards Dinner and Ceremony on November 16 was a well-earned opportunity for participants to relax and mingle. The evening began with a reception hosted by the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) in the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavillion, a magnificent glass rotunda adjacent to the hotel that houses two beautifully restored vintage train cars. From the pavillion, guests were led back to the hotel's Crystal Ballroom for the dinner and awards presentation.
Following a word of welcome from SCC Executive Director Peter Clark, long-time NSS member and former SCC Award recipient Margaret Soper took the helm for the remainder of the evening as the Master of Ceremonies. In between dinner courses, seven awards were presented to individuals, organizations and committees nominated by their peers and selected by the SCC Awards Committee in recognition of their outstanding contributions to standardization efforts in Canada and internationally.
The evening included a special presentation to formally mark the renaming of the award given to an SCC staff member as the McMahon Dedicated Service Award. Shannon O'Neill accepted a plaque commemorating the renaming in honour of her late husband Joe McMahon (1966-2004), a Senior Program Officer with the SCC, who passed away on March 12, 2004.
Although the awards highlighted just a few of the exemplary individuals and organizations within the NSS, the evening was an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the work of all NSS participants. The dinner is just one example of ongoing efforts by the SCC to support and recognize the voluntary contributions that make all of Canada's standardization achievements possible.
The six concurrent sessions, held during the day on November 16 and 17, were developed to provide a forum for discussion on standardization and its role in the many issues that touch Canadian life. The program was built around the broad themes of: fuelling the system, public policy, emerging industries and sector applications, partnerships and strategic alliances, and health and safety. Among the accomplished experts invited to take part:
- Dr. Ulrich Blum, a professor from the Dresden University of Technology, presented some of this groundbreaking research on the economic value of standardization;
- Alberta Ethics Commissioner Don Hamilton spoke on the topic of ethics, values and integrity;
- Dr. André Downs, Senior Project Director at the Policy Research Institute (PRI), contributed to the session on Smart Regulation; D
- David Runnalls, President and CEO of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, discussed the role for standards in sustainable development practices;
- Allan Amey, President and CEO of Climate Change Central, was part of the alternative energies panel; and
- Dr. Barry Loescher, Chair of the Canadian Council of Independent Laboratories, together with Dr. John Lynch, Director, Laboratory Services Branch, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, outlined the role of voluntary standards in helping to ensure a safe drinking water supply for Ontarians.
Based on feedback from participants (44 per cent of delegates submitted an evaluation of the Conference), there was a high level of satisfaction with the range of topics and speakers as well as the quality of their presentations. The “overall experience” of the 2004 NSS Conference received a mean score rating of 4.3 (out of five), with 97 per cent of respondents indicating an interest in attending future conferences. Delegates commented on the excellent organization of the Conference, noting that the sessions and other events were well planned and ran smoothly. They also appreciated opportunities to take a more interactive approach to certain topics.
Track four, the health and safety session, was an example of efforts by organizers to vary the format of the sessions. It began with a plenary address by Elma Heidemann, the former Executive Director of the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation. She discussed the important role of standards in protecting quality of life. Following her address, participants split into groups to participate in facilitated breakout sessions focused on three sub-topics related to health and safety: food safety, product certification and personal safety, and personnel certification.
The much anticipated Canadian Standards Strategy (CSS) track was the final working session for delegates and, also the element of the Conference that had most inspired its theme: “Charting the Course”. Following a brief presentation highlighting work to-date on the CSS renewal process and outlining some of the key elements of the draft proposal, participants were asked to work in small groups on a series of questions aimed at stimulating suggestions for improvement and implementation of the strategy as it goes forward. Comments were then shared with the entire group.
Participants made a number of observations and suggestions for implementing the renewal strategy. One in particular – the need to continue to find new ways to communicate and promote the value of participation in the National Standards System –was identified as an essential element in plotting the path forward for standardization in Canada.
Looking back on the outcomes and accomplishments of the Conference, during the closing session SCC Chairman Hugh Krentz told delegates he was excited about the important sharing of ideas and the many new professional and personal relationships that were forged over the course of the three days. He expressed optimism about the road ahead for the NSS and called on delegates to not only continue on the path being set out before them, but also to do their part to highlight to others where the National Standards System is going and to invite colleagues, clients and counterparts to embark on the journey.