The History of the Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors

In the previous Northern Lights article, "The Surveying Business in Canada," the author mentioned that land surveying in Canada falls under 11 different jurisdictions (provinces and Canada Lands), and each has a legislated, self-regulated land surveyors' association that regulates cadastral surveying. The associations take care of the full range of responsibilities, including entrance requirements and examinations.

However, most surveying associations delegate part of their entrance responsibilities to two regional boards:

  1. the Atlantic Provinces Board of Examiners for Land Surveyors (APBELS) for the provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick and,
  2. the Western Canadian Board of Examiners for Land Surveyors (WCBELS) for the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia (up to May 8, 2006).

These regional boards certify that candidates have the level of knowledge and training equivalent to the two Canadian- accredited survey engineering programs (University of New Brunswick and the University of Calgary). Candidates having a Certificate of Completion from one of these boards are ready to write the association professional exams and article in one of those eight provinces.

To perform this certification, the regional boards assess candidates' academic backgrounds and have candidates write exams. This is comparable to the activities of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying in the United States.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two regional boards, the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors and the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors (ACLS), has been in place for over 20 years. In that MOU, all parties agreed to a common core syllabus of subjects to be covered by candidates in their training and to cooperation on the management candidate exams; the ACLS was designated to manage all the pre-professional exams across the country.

Up to the year 2001, the University of Calgary provided the services of a registrar to manage the WCBELS activities. The ACLS took over from the university during the summer of 2001.

In 2001, after a year of negotiations between all surveying associations, facilitated by the Canadian Council of Land Surveyors (CCLS), a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) was signed (one association only signed in 2005) to bring down barriers to labor mobility between jurisdictions. A section of the MRA requires that all parties work towards harmonizing their entry requirements for candidates. It was felt that the best way to accelerate this process would be to have a national body to manage the entry process, so in 2003, a valiant attempt was made by CCLS to create a truly national board of examiners. Unfortunately it failed because some surveying associations did not buy in to the idea.

Since all four western provinces and the ACLS were strongly in favor of a national board, they went ahead with plan "B." The ACLS drafted a proposed business plan that was presented to all western surveying presidents at the 2004 Association of Manitoba Land Surveyors annual general meeting. A negotiation team was then formed of representatives from all four western provinces and the ACLS. A final business case was circulated to the governing bodies of all parties in February 2005. Final approval was obtained in May.

After a summer and fall of working on proposed bylaws and letters of incorporation, the new board of examiners was finally officially incorporated in December 2005 with the name Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS). This new federally incorporated entity would take over all activities of the WCBELS and the administration of the national common core (pre-professional) examinations for surveyors. Initially, the new board would be located in Ottawa to facilitate the transition process and, later, development into its ultimate goal, a true national board. Because of its many years of experience in running common core syllabus exams, the ACLS is providing registrar services, administrative support, and the use of its office space for CBEPS operations.

The five CBEPS members are:

  1. the Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors,
  2. the Alberta Land Surveyors' Association,
  3. the Saskatchewan Land Surveyors' Association,
  4. the Association of Manitoba Lands Surveyors, and
  5. the ACLS.

CBEPS officially began its operations on May 8th, 2006. After that, surveyors were required to have the CBEPS Certificate of Completion before going forward with their professional exams in order to become Canada Lands Surveyors (CLS) or provincial surveyors within the four Western Provinces.

Some may wonder why the word "Land" is not in the new entity name instead of "Professional." The reason is that the members' associations don't want CBEPS to be restricted to only "land surveyors." This new tool may be of service to the whole surveying industry in the near future as surveying associations strive to open the profession to the non-land surveying disciplines. The ACLS is already truly multidisciplinary; it has candidates and members who are hydrographers, photogrammetrists, GIS managers, and others.

CBEPS runs an elaborate examination system. There are two exam sittings per year (March and October) in 17 centers across Canada. Because of the MOU, CBEPS also manages most of the APBELS exams, and because ACLS candidates are located in all corners of the country it has delegated the management of its professional exams to CBEPS as well.

In the last exam cycle held in October 2007, a total of 165 candidates wrote 274 exams in October, which represents an increase of 10 percent in the number of candidates writing and five percent in the number of exams since 2006. We went from 260 active candidates in the spring of 2006 to 333 now, an increase of 28 percent. Since its beginnings in May 2006, CBEPS awarded 118 Certificates of Completion, which represents an average of 79 a year. This is encouraging for the surveying industry; however, it's not enough—more needs to be done to attract students to the profession.

What next? CBEPS is working towards achieving its goal of becoming truly national. Invitation letters were sent to all maritime provincial surveying associations as well to the AOLS to join CBEPS. Presentations were made to the members at the annual general meetings of the Association of Newfoundland Land Surveyors and the Association of Nova Scotia Land Surveyors. A presentation was made to the Ordre des Arpenteurs-géometres du Québec board of directors and one is planned for the members of the Association of New Brunswick Land Surveyors in January 2008. The presentations were very well received everywhere, and serious discussions are under way for the AOLS to join, which should happen soon in 2008. There seems to more and more support gathering in the Maritimes; we anticipate interesting developments during the coming year.

In the meantime, CBEPS is very concerned about providing more support to candidates going through the examination process. To pass the exams, candidates have to study from a list of reference material and learning outcomes provided by CBEPS. It is quite a difficult task, added to the fact that most candidates have a day job. So CBEPS decided to invest funds in putting together course notes and updating reference material. Some notes should be available in 2008. Eventually, it hopes to have courses provided in a distance-learning format.

All CBEPS members are very excited about this initiative. This marks a very positive and historic event for the surveying industry. For more information on CBEPS, please visit our website at

About the Author

Jean-Claude Tétreault, CLS, a-g, PE, MBA is the executive director, registrar, and secretary treasurer for the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors and registrar for the Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors. He is registered as a professional civil engineer since 1979, an arpenteur-géometre (Québec) since 1982, and a Canada Lands Surveyor since 1994. He was in private practice for 16 years and was hired as the ACLS executive director in 1999. He obtained his Master's Degree in Business Administration in 2002.

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