The organization representing chartered professional accountants across Canada said it was blindsided by news that two of its provincial counterparts have decided to part ways with the national body amid disagreements over how best to govern the profession.

But CPA Ontario says the move was a long time coming after a multi-year governance review has left the organization at odds with its national counterpart.

“This should not be a surprise to (CPA) Canada,” said CPA Ontario president and CEO Carol Wilding, adding, “we’re as disappointed as anybody else.”

CPA Canada announced Tuesday evening that the provincial bodies representing members in Quebec and Ontario had decided to sever ties with the national governing body. The two provincial organizations, CPA Ontario and the Quebec CPA Order, announced their decisions in separate press releases.

The provincial bodies made the move over ongoing discussions about the governance structure of the national organization, according to CPA Canada president and CEO Pamela Steer, who said she found out the provincial organizations were severing ties at what appeared to be around the same time as provincial members learned about the move, while she was in a town hall Tuesday afternoon. 

While she had considered this might happen amid recently intensifying conversations about governance, Steer said it was the worst-case scenario and "an alarming step to take." 

In a letter to its members Wednesday, CPA Nova Scotia said the development is disappointing, but "not entirely surprising." 

The letter shared with The Canadian Press, signed by president and CEO Patricia Towler and board chair Michael Hurley, said leaders have been attempting to negotiate a renewed agreement — known as the Collaboration Accord — for several years and have yet to create a model that all parties can agree on.  

The organization has been undergoing a governance review for the past five years, both CPA Ontario and CPA Canada said. But Wilding said that after years of discussions, proposals and working groups, CPA Ontario is “too far apart with Canada on some fundamentals, and it got to a point where the status quo was not sustainable.” 

Steer said the two provincial organizations are seeking stronger representation at the national board, while Wilding said CPA Ontario must maintain direct oversight over the profession.

“Really, the profession begins and ends with the provincial body,” she said, including the rights to grant and remove CPA designations. 

CPA Canada was created in 2013 to unify the various professional accounting organizations across the country. Steer said the provincial organizations are regulators and enforcers of the profession, while the national organization is responsible for standards and co-ordinates education and the common exam written by all would-be CPAs, among other roles. 

When asked for comment, the Quebec CPA Order directed The Canadian Press to its Tuesday press release. 

That release said this change will help the organization conduct operations "more efficiently within a governance framework better suited to its organization.”

It said it will work to minimize disruption for members amid the transition, and “continue to cooperate with other provincial and territorial bodies, as well as with CPA Canada, when doing so would be judicious.”

CPA Ontario said in its press release Tuesday that this change will better enable it to “protect the public, serve members and students, and advance the profession by being more nimble and innovative.”

In its press release Tuesday, CPA Canada said it believes that any resolution must involve all provincial, territorial and Bermudian CPA bodies and not only focus on the wishes of one or two provinces.

It is calling upon the provincial organizations to re-engage and work with a conciliator, as well as to establish a clear timeline. 

The break triggers an 18-month withdrawal period under the groups' current agreement, CPA Canada said.

Steer said the step by Ontario and Quebec is "irresponsible" and could tarnish the organization's reputation at a time when the CPA profession is facing so many significant global issues and needs a unified approach. 

Wilding agreed that CPAs are facing challenges and opportunities such as sustainability and artificial intelligence, but said CPA Ontario is committed to finding a new way for the organization to work with its provincial, territorial and national counterparts.

“Our focus is on the future of the profession,” she said. 

“We’re not going to return to the way it was before.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2023.