Self-Regulation of Professions

Like most sensible people living in the Lower Mainland I have a dream of owning a house. A dream that I know is probably an impossibility. It is no secret that the real estate market in the Lower Mainland is out of control. People across the province have been calling on the Government to do something about it. Even Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson told the Government that if they don’t start taxing vacant homes, he will.

And so the Government came up with a brilliant response. I say that dripping with sarcasm. Their idea: end self-regulation of realtors.

Self-regulation of professions is an important part of the fabric of society. No one understands the ethical and professional issues that face members of a profession better than the members of those professions. And sure, there have been some extreme examples of realtors who are behaving unethically and even criminally. But that isn’t an issue of self-regulation failing the system. There are more than 22,000 realtors and brokerages in British Columbia. The majority are ethical, hard-working and reasonable. I have used a realtor. I even used the Assignment Clause. Everything was above-board.

A handful of unethical morons shouldn’t spoil self-regulation for the bunch.

To my mind, this is nothing more than the Government capitalizing on a public crisis. The Government can say it’s doing something about the problem when it really is just setting itself up to line its own coffers. If you don’t believe me, think about what this means: licensing fees are paid to the Government. From 22,000 realtors. Even at $100 per year, that’s $2,200,000. Currently the fees are around $2000 per year. Which would be about twenty eight million in the Government’s pocket if the same prices are followed. That’s a lot of money. Never mind the fact that their tribunal to resolve complaints will, likely, be fee-based. Just like the RoadSafetyBC tribunal for Immediate Roadside Prohibitions.

But my greatest concern here is how this will impact other self-regulating professions in British Columbia. As a lawyer, I’m a member of a self-regulating profession. We are governed by the Law Society of British Columbia. And yes, there are some unethical lawyers. I can only see that this is a stepping stone for Government to remove self-regulation from other professions. And that will impact me as a lawyer, and it will impact my profession.

Based on my own recent experiences with how the Government understands the ethical obligations of defence counsel, as opposed to other types of lawyers, I have no confidence that Government regulation of lawyers would be effective. How do you resolve a complaint, as a lawyer, when you may have to divulge privileged information to the Government who is also the entity prosecuting your client? The Law Society of BC’s self-regulation process allows privilege to be maintained while information is divulged to the Law Society. You can’t have that with a government regulation system. And yet I foresee that this will be the Government’s plan.

I believe that as a lawyer, I have an obligation to stick up for the right of other professions to self-regulate. Realtors are best positioned to understand issues that impact realtors. Lawyers best understand what lawyers do. Government is an entity in constant conflict with many professions and we cannot let ourselves be swallowed up. I’m standing with the Real Estate Council’s ability to self-regulate, because I do not want our legal profession to lose its ability to regulate itself.

If we as lawyers do not speak up for the right of other professions to self-regulate, then there might come a day when there are no self-regulating professions to speak up for our right to self-regulate. And that will be a cold day.

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