For three decades, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) has steered the country’s National Standards System (NSS) through ever-changing, sometimes turbulent seas. Over that time the passengers, the cargo, the ports of call and even the ship itself have changed substantially, but by keeping a steady hand on the helm, the Standards Council has kept its vessel afloat and on course.
In this article, we retrace that journey. We’ll look at selected highlights of the Standards Council’s history, from the Council’s launch to the present day. We’ll also study the ship’s changing cargo — issues and activities that it has carried with it since its voyage began, others that were set ashore long ago, and a few that have only just been brought on board.
Building the ship
The Standards Council first put to sea in October 1970, but as with any voyage, the preparations began long before that. Standardization as we know it today started with the establishment of Great Britain’s Engineering Standards Committee in 1901. The Committee prepared standards for some of the key fields of the day, including bridgebuilding, rail transportation and shipbuilding.
Canada followed suit in 1919 with the creation of the Canadian Engineering Standards Association (later renamed the Canadian Standards Association and today known as CSA International). Besides developing standards for Canadian industry, the Association represented Canada in the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC, founded in 1906) and later in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO, founded in 1947).
In 1934, the federal government established the Canadian Government Purchasing Standards Committee, later known as the Canadian Government Specifications Board, and still later as the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB).
By the 1950s, the two bodies had developed several thousand Canadian standards. Despite their success, however, some observers wondered whether Canada wouldn’t be better off with a single national standards body.
In 1964, the CSA asked the federal government to double the subsidy it received to take part in international standardization. The government turned down this request, and instead launched a comprehensive review of standards activity in Canada.
It soon became clear that the country needed a single body that could respond to a variety of issues that had emerged in Canada’s approach to standardization:
There was no national body responsible for coordination or long-term planning.Government and industry were not providing enough technical, financial or administrative support for standardization. Unlike most of its trading partners, Canada had no mechanism for establishing national standards.
- Groups with an interest in standardization, especially consumers, were not always represented in standards development.
- Canada didn’t participate in international standardization at an adequate level.
- Canada relied heavily on U.S., European and international standards, and needed to determine how to effectively apply them.
- Standards were becoming an essential tool for achieving economic objectives such as increased access to international markets.
It was generally agreed that most of the necessary elements to respond to these issues — standards development bodies, certification organizations, testing facilities and so on — were already in place. All that was needed was someone to get them working together.
Federal officials launched discussions with CSA, the provincial governments and industry in order to work out a framework for the proposed Standards Council of Canada. Bill C-163, the Standards Council of Canada Act, was introduced in the House of Commons in December 1969. The Act received Royal Assent the following October.
Assembling the crew
The Act provided for the appointment of a governing Council of up to 57 members: six from the federal government, ten from the provincial governments and the remainder from the private sector. These members had to represent a wide cross-section of groups with an interest in standardization, from all sectors of the economy, both official language groups and all parts of the country.
The variety of organizations invited to nominate potential Council members included standards bodies, public safety organizations, industry associations, consumer groups, the academic community and labor organizations.
A 55-member Council was appointed and held its first meeting in July 1971. Almost immediately, it set to work establishing the framework for the National Standards System (NSS).
Taking on passengers
The NSS’s first passengers were standards development organizations (SDOs). Developing accreditation criteria was sensitive work, since the Council was proposing to scrutinize and approve organizations that predated it.
Recognizing the value of the Standards Council’s work, however, the SDOs provided their cooperation and support.
The criteria for SDOs were approved in January 1973. With the accreditation of CSA, CGSB, the Canadian Gas Association (CGA) and Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada (ULC) that June, the NSS officially set sail. The Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) was accredited the following year.
A sixth standards development organization, the Electronics Industries Association of Canada (EIAC), was accredited in 1975. Not long afterward, however, EIAC became part of a larger industry organization, and its accreditation was withdrawn. The only other major change to the SDO line-up would take place in 1997, when CSA took over the standards development responsibilities of CGA.
The Standards Council also set to work coordinating the activities of the SDOs. Previously, the standards developers had worked in isolation from one another, developing the standards requested by their individual groups of clients. Working together, the Standards Council and the SDOs developed a list of approved subject areas for which each body would assume primary responsibility.
The assignment of subject areas helped to reduce duplication and ensure the effective use of limited standardization resources.
Like most passengers, the SDOs had luggage — a collection of several thousand standards that they had developed over the years. The Standards Council’s task was to develop criteria for the recognition of these and any new standards as National Standards of Canada.
Those criteria were approved in May 1972. A year later, the Standards Council approved the first two National Standards of Canada: CAN-3-001-01-73, The International System of Units (SI) and CAN-3-001-02-73, Metric Practice Guide, both submitted by CSA. The plan was for the SDOs to submit most or all of their existing standards for approval as national standards.
It proved to be a slow process. Ten years after the first approval, 382 National Standards of Canada had been reviewed and approved, out of an estimated 5000 existing standards.
The process gradually picked up speed. The backlog diminished as unapproved standards were revised, combined or withdrawn. Between 1983 and 1989, the pace of approvals doubled, and the 1000th National Standard of Canada was approved in 1989.
With the SDOs safely on board, the Standards Council turned its attention to another group of NSS passengers — the organizations responsible for verifying conformity to standards.
Work on the development of accreditation criteria for certification organizations and testing laboratories began in 1972. The Standards Council was determined to get the details right and to ensure that the criteria, the procedures and the implementation of the accreditation programs were acceptable to everyone involved — SDOs, testing and certification organizations, their clients, regulators and consumers.
That meant proceeding slowly and carefully. A final version of the criteria for certification organizations didn’t emerge until 1977, and the first certification organization — Warnock Hersey Professional Services Limited — received its accreditation in 1980.
On the testing side, the Standards Council decided in 1979 that it needed to run a pilot project. The project made one thing clear — there was significant demand for such an accreditation program. Twenty-two labs volunteered to participate, four of which were selected. Finally, in 1981, the Standards Council accredited its first two testing organizations: Northern Telecom’s Component Evaluation and Test Laboratory and the Ontario Research Foundation’s Textile, Clothing and Footwear Department.
The NSS’s growing passenger list didn’t just consist of accredited organizations. In 1977 the National Research Council (NRC) committees responsible for the national building and fire codes established a formal liaison with the NSS. The agreements were intended to ensure that the national codes recognized and incorporated the standards and conformity assessment services offered by the NSS.
The NRC was also a member of the Standards Council’s first lab accreditation partnership. In 1988, the two bodies agreed to cooperate in the establishment of a national accreditation program for calibration laboratories. That partnership set the stage for a number of joint accreditation programs that would be set up in the 1990s. These joint programs would greatly expand the scope of the laboratory accreditation program, and bring a number of industry associations and regulators on board the NSS.
Throughout the course of its voyage, the Standards Council has constantly checked its position, updated its maps and, where necessary, corrected its course. Its first long-range plan — the forerunner of today’s Strategic Plans — was developed in 1975. The plan was reviewed and updated along the way, and then followed by further long-range plans developed at regular intervals.
Relationships with the ship’s home port — the federal government — also changed over the years. Initially, the Standards Council reported to Parliament through the Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce. In 1982, responsibility shifted to Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada, prompting some concern among standards stakeholders that this signaled a more regulatory role for the Council. That proved not to be the case. In 1994, the Standards Council returned to Industry Canada.
When the Standards Council was established in 1970, it took pains to emphasize its independence in policy and operational matters from the federal government. The Standards Council of Canada Act, for example, pointed out that the organization was not an agent of the Crown, and that its employees were not part of the public service.
The Standards Council’s status changed slightly in September 1984, when it became a Crown corporation. Standards stakeholders again expressed their concern over the prospect that this move would reduce the Council’s independence. The legislation ordering the change addressed this through provisions that reinforced the Council’s autonomy in areas such as the promotion of standardization.
Another significant change of course began in the mid-1980s, when the federal government began to scale back its budget. Like other government-funded bodies, the Standards Council was forced to reassess its priorities, cancel or curtail some programs, lay off staff, and find other ways to finance its activities. One of the most visible changes was the closure of the Council’s Toronto-area office, home to the international standardization program and the standards sales service. These operations were moved to the main office in Ottawa.
The Standards Council also had to consider which of its programs were most capable of paying for themselves. Increased support from industry meant that the international standardization program could be maintained at current levels, despite cuts in Standards Council funding. The standards sales program had been essentially selfsupporting all along.
The accreditation programs, which by now were well-established and growing, had the potential to recover some or possibly all of their costs. Since that would mean higher costs for at least some accredited organizations, however, the move had to take place gradually in order to win the clients’ acceptance. Efforts began in 1985, and are only now approaching the level of full cost recovery.
The Standards Council’s most important course correction since its launch began in 1994, with a major national consultation intended to determine how the Council’s mandate and structure could be improved.
Close to 3,000 representatives of government, industry, standards organizations, consumer groups, and environmental and labor organizations took part. That was followed by a major revision of the Standards Council of Canada Act, proclaimed in November 1996. The revised Act reduced the number of hands on the bridge, slimming the Council down from 57 to 15 members.
It also broadened the Standards Council’s mandate by removing references to specific subjects and allowing the Council to move into new areas such as the environment, information technology and the services sector. The organization also received additional powers and objectives related to the role of standards in trade.
Its crew refreshed and its mission renewed, the Standards Council set out to survey the seas that lay ahead. Standards stakeholders from across the country were recruited to plot a new course, in the form of the Canadian Standards Strategy.
Officially launched in March 2000, the strategy is a national action plan developed to deal with critical national and international standards issues facing Canadians. It’s intended to strengthen the National Standards System, ensure that the views of all standards stakeholders are represented, and focus and improve Canada’s influence in regional and international standards forums.
A changing course has sometimes meant changes in cargo as well.
For example, one of the Standards Council’s chief preoccupations during its first decade was the ongoing effort to convert Canada from imperial measurements to the SI (metric) system. The Council’s task was to coordinate the conversion of thousands of existing Canadian standards to metric units. The project took about 12 years to complete, and ran its course just as the federal government began to back away from the drive to convert.
That monumental effort is commemorated, however, in the fact that most Canadian standards incorporate metric units, enabling Canada to trade with countries whose primary measurement system is metric. It’s also reflected in the criteria for National Standards of Canada, which allow standards developers to use either system but indicate that metric is preferred.
Sailing the globe
A major ongoing element of the Standards Council’s cargo has been its role as coordinator of Canada’s participation in ISO and IEC.
Despite being a longtime member of both bodies, Canada was not seen as a major contributor to either during the 1960s, as the chair of the Canadian National Committee on ISO admitted in a speech to the Twelfth British Standards Conference in 1966:
I have to report, with regret and with understandable embarrassment, that Canadian participation in ISO work has not been in keeping with Canada’s position as one of the leading trading nations of the world. In some technical fields, Canada has been able to make, I believe, useful contributions. But the overall situation is in need of great and immediate improvement.
The establishment of the Standards Council made a significant difference to Canada’s profile within ISO. Within two years, Canada was appointed to a three-year term on ISO Council. A few years later, Canada was again appointed to Council and this time held the position for several successive terms.
Individual Canadians also took on leadership roles in ISO and IEC for the first time. In 1973, John Kean was appointed to ISO’s certification policy committee. In later years, Canadians would serve as vice-presidents of both ISO and IEC.
Finally, in 1988, the title of ISO President went to Canadian Roy Phillips. The number of technical committees and subcommittees in which Canada participated, and the number of Canadians taking part in international standardization, also increased steadily following the Standards Council’s creation.
Canada held a leadership role in this technical work as well. The number of international subcommittee and working group secretariats held by Canada nearly tripled in the first two years of the Standards Council’s involvement, growing from 6 to 17. It wasn’t long before Canada took up the secretariat and the chair of a newly created technical committee (ISO/TC 155, Nickel and Nickel Alloys) as well. Another indication of Canada’s growing influence was the international adoption of its national standards.
A 1983 ISO standard on the performance of chain saw brakes, for example, was largely based on a Canadian standard. Canadian expertise and Canadian standards for humane animal traps played an important role in the work of an ISO committee on animal traps established in 1985.
Canada hosted its first meeting of an ISO technical group in 1973, beginning a regular schedule of meetings that continues to this day. The most prominent of these were the ISO general assembly that took place in Toronto in 1982 and the IEC annual general meeting in Montreal in 1985.
Sailing close to home
Like a traveller bringing home new goods and exotic foods, the Standards Council has sought to link its activities abroad with its work at home.
One example is the long-standing effort to unite standards-development work taking place at the national and international levels. This helps to ensure a steady flow of ideas, brings about compatible standards, and ensures that expertise is deployed where it is needed most.
Attempts to harmonize national and international standards development committees began in 1973 with a survey to identify technical committees working at both levels. Procedures were also developed for harmonization.
By 1980, about 25 per cent of the international standards effort under way in Canada had been harmonized with national work. The harmonization effort appeared to lose steam in the 1980s, but was renewed in the early 1990s when
CSA began encouraging its own technical committees and Canadian IEC committees to work more closely together. Cooperation became more formalized in 1997 with the development of a plan to combine CSA and IEC work so that a single committee worked at both levels.
The Standards Council also sought to encourage the adoption of international standards in Canada. In fact, the very first National Standard of Canada — the SI(metric) system — can be regarded as an adopted standard.
It took a little longer for Canadian SDOs to begin adopting international standards on a regular basis. Today, however, the majority of new National Standards of Canada are based on ISO or IEC standards, and adopted international standards account for nearly a quarter of all national standards.
The standards that were most crucial to the Canadian economy didn’t always come from ISO or IEC — many of them came from the United States. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, many Canadian standards, particularly in the automotive industry, were adopted or adapted from the U.S. The Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (later expanded to include Mexico and renamed the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA) increased the need for harmony between the two country’s standards.
In 1983, CSA and the U.S.-based American National Standards Institute (ANSI) jointly published the first Canada-U.S. standard. Other binational and eventually trinational standards followed.
Care and feeding
Passengers on a long voyage need care and attention. The expert volunteers who make up standards development committees, advisory committees, task groups and other essential parts of the NSS are no exception.
From the beginning, the Standards Council sought to ensure that its committees, and those of the SDOs, represented a careful balance of interests. Ensuring an adequate voice for consumers was a particular concern.
In fact, one of the first advisory committees established by the new Council dealt with the interests of consumers.
Apart from looking out for consumer interests, however, no special effort appears to have been taken to recruit, train or acknowledge the work of committee participants during those early years. The prevailing notion appeared to be that committees would look after themselves, as long as some support was provided for the expense of participation.
For most of its history, the Standards Council’s chief means of recognizing exceptional contributions has been the Jean P. Carrière Award. Created in 1978, the award honors the memory of the President who oversaw the establishment of the Standards Council and the development of the National Standards System.
During the 1990s, concern began to grow that the makeup of the NSS didn’t adequately reflect the needs of standards stakeholders. Small and medium-sized businesses for example, had come to be recognized as important elements in the national economy, but were often under-represented on standards development committees.
Standardization was moving into new subject areas, including the environment and societal issues such as privacy. To produce effective standards, experts in these areas had to be brought into the fold. The standards development community was aging, and with funds in short supply, long-time volunteers were often not replaced when they retired.
Issues such as these prompted the Standards Council to develop a recruitment, training and support program for standards development participants.
One of the benefits of a long voyage is that you have plenty of stories to tell when you get back. For the Standards Council, however, sharing information has been not so much a pleasant pastime as a vital obligation.
Right from the start, making Canadians more aware of standards and standardization was seen as one of its most important roles.
Looking back during the Standards Council’s 20th anniversary, Albert A. Tunis, former Director of the Education and Information Branch, described the situation in the 1970s this way:
The standards game, at that time, was a relatively private affair, with its own language, its own acronyms, significant only to a relatively small community of manufacturing companies and to a restricted group of government bureaucrats.
There was precious little information available to the novice and the material that was available, most of it, was virtually incomprehensible to the uninitiated. The Standards Council wanted to change that. Its information program geared up in 1973 with the publication of its first booklet, What is standardization?. In January 1974, it launched CONSENSUS, a newsmagazine intended to help people and organizations involved in standardization share information.
The silver screen followed, with the 1977 release of Standards Are for Living, a 14-minute 16-mm color film. A long series of short films, videotapes, and radio and television public service announcements followed — many featuring Standards Council staff in starring roles — until the budget cuts of the 1990s brought audio-visual productions to an end.
The Standards Council tried a variety of other methods to raise public awareness of standards. Not all of these were effective. Public seminars organized in conjunction with Council meetings held outside Ottawa, for example, didn’t attract a large audience. On the other hand, A Standards Guide for Young Artists, a children’s coloring book first published in 1979, was in demand for years. Exhibits, displays and trade-show booths also proved to be an effective method of getting the attention of selected audiences.
Efforts began with a booth purchased from ISO and continue today. The Standards Council’s most high-profile exhibit was probably a display that appeared at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition in 1978 and 1979.
In order to make the next generation of Canadian industry leaders aware of standards, the Standards Council reached out to colleges and universities. A variety of educational materials were developed in the 1980s.
The Standards Council also sought to increase educators’ awareness of standards with its University Research Contribution, a grant to support research that would advance knowledge of standardization. In 1984, the first grant was presented to a lecturer at Acadia University to develop a computer program supporting the use of standardized clothing sizes. While the program became a casualty of cutbacks some years later, it achieved its objective in at least one case — Linda Lusby, that first recipient, became a long-time participant in the work of the Standards Council, and in 1998 became its Chair.
In addition to promoting general awareness of standards, the Standards Council also wanted to ensure that people using standards could learn more about them. In 1977 it launched the Standards Information Service, now known as the Information and Research Service. Through its toll-free telephone number, Canadians could learn which standards applied to particular products or services, and find out where to obtain them.
Later that same year, the Standards Council published the first complete index of all Canadian standards. Two years later, the standards database that generated the directory became available online through the NRC. A similar directory of standards referenced in Canadian federal legislation was published in 1980. Today, this information is available on the Standards Council’s Web site.
The Service also began to build up a reference library, starting with a complete collection of Canadian standards and adding major foreign and international standards. By the early 1980s, the collection consisted of over 300,000 documents, m any in microfilm or microfiche format.
Today, the Council’s Technical Document Centre is Canada’s most comprehensive standards collection, with much of its material now on CD-ROM and in online databases. Many of the questions handled by the information service were about standards and regulations in foreign markets. That made the Standards Council the logical place for Canada’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Enquiry Point, launched in 1980.
In 1994, with the signing of NAFTA and GATT’s transition into the World Trade Organization (WTO), it became the WTO/NAFTA Enquiry Point. In 1998, the Enquiry Point developed Export Alert!, the world’s first e-mail alert service for WTO/NAFTA notifications.
Another effective method of spreading information about standards was through the standards themselves. At first, the Standards Council was content to let CSA handle the Canadian distribution of foreign and international standards. In 1976, however, it took over the sales service.
By 1984, the Standards Council had conceived the notion of making its sales service — so far restricted to foreign and international standards — a one-stop service by selling Canadian standards as well. Only CGSB agreed to a reciprocal sales arrangement, however.
The other SDOs didn’t come on board until the effort was renewed in 1995. In 1998, the Standards Council signed an agreement that moved its sales service (and staff) to Global Info Centre Canada.
It was clear from the very beginning of the Standards Council’s voyage that international trade would be one of its major concerns. One of the main reasons for increasing Canada’s role inISO and IEC, for example, was to ensure that foreign markets using international standards would remain open to Canadian exporters.
Even in the 1970s, it wasn’t hard to see that regional and global trade agreements were going to be the wave of the future. In 1973, the Standards Council and other standards bodies from the Pacific Rim established the Pacific Area Standards Congress. PASC was the first of many organizations in which standards bodies would come together to share information and build partnerships.
The focus on trade was intensified in the 1980s and 1990s with the development of trade agreements such as GATT/WTO, NAFTA and the European Union. These agreements called on member nations to harmonize their standards, adopt international standards, and make their conformity assessment systems accessible to domestic and foreign traders alike.
Accreditation bodies such as the Standards Council set to work developing agreements that would ensure that conformity assessment procedures performed in one country would be acceptable to clients and regulators in another. The result was a veritable alphabet soup of regional and international standards and conformity assessment organizations:
COPANT, IAF, ILAC, PAC, APLAC, NAC, IATCA, IAAC, CANENA and many more.
The federal government, meanwhile, began work on agreements of its own that required the expertise of the Standards Council.
The proliferation of organizations and agreements strained the Standards Council’s limited resources, and the requirements of some agreements meant the organization had to undergo rigorous peer evaluations by a variety of would-be partners over the years.
The work paid off, however: by the mid-1990s, an ever-increasing number of foreign regulators and accreditation bodies in a variety of fields had agreed to recognize the work of conformity assessment bodies accredited by the Standards Council, easing access to foreign markets for Canadian exporters.
While much of its voyage has been spent in familiar seas, the Standards Council has also guided the NSS into unfamiliar waters.
At the time the Council was established, most standards work focused on hard-edged technical matters — the composition of materials, the dimensions of components, the performance of assemblies. That was about to change.
In 1972, the IEC proposed setting up a quality assessment scheme for electronic components. The system was intended to ensure quality — the ability to consistently perform as specified — and to establish a system of international recognition of approvals. Though nobody seemed to realize it at the time, it was an idea that would significantly change the world of standards.
The following year, CSA published a series of standards on quality assurance for nuclear power plants. By 1975, those standards had become the basis for the Z299 series — a set of generic standards on quality assurance, intended for adoption in any industry. A special Standards Council committee, meanwhile, had recommended that Canada adopt a series of quality assurance system standards.
The idea of standards for quality was also taking flight internationally. In 1979, ISO created TC 176, its technical committee on quality management and quality assurance.
The secretariat was assigned to Canada. In recognition of its expertise in this area, the Standards Council handed management of the secretariat over to CSA.
TC 176 published its first terminology standard in 1986, and the first round of quality management systems standards, designated the ISO 9000 series, in 1987. The standards were an immediate hit. By 1990, businesses had already begun to register to the standards in an effort to convince their clients, domestic and foreign, of the reliability of their products. The standards achieved their greatest success in Europe, leading to concern about whether North American registrations would be accepted there. To ensure that they were, the Standards Council launched an accreditation program for quality management systems registrars.
The program’s first three accreditations took place in 1993. Since then, the program has expanded as other industries have developed their own extensions to ISO 9000. The Standards Council was accepted as an accreditation body for the automobile industry’s QS-9000 system in 1995, for example, and recently established an ISO 9000-based program for medical device manufacturers.
ISO 9000 set the stage for other forays by standards bodies into uncharted waters. Several years after beginning its work in the area of quality, ISO turned its attention to growing international concern about the state of the world’s environment.
The result was ISO 14000 — a series of standards for environmental management systems. Once again, the Standards Council was in the lead, taking on the committee secretariat and developing an accreditation program. Other new areas recently explored by national and international standards bodies include privacy and occupational health and safety.
On to new oceans
Thirty years is a long time — long enough for the NSS and the Standards Council to have made many more voyages together than can be adequately discussed in a few short pages. We haven’t discussed the role of standards in regulatory reform, for example — an issue that the Standards Council has been bringing to the attention of regulators since 1975. There isn’t room here to talk about the Standards Council’s work to help developing countries create their own national standards systems, or about the changes ISO and IEC have undergone in their own extensive travels.
We hope, though, that we’ve been able to give you a taste of where the Standards Council has been over these past three decades, and where its voyages are likely to take it in the future.
Sail on, Standards Council!
This article first appeared in volume 33 of CONSENSUS Magazine, 2000. The information it contains was accurate at the time of publication but has not been updated or revised since, and may not reflect the latest updates on the topic. If you have specific questions or concerns about the content, please contact the Standards Council of Canada.