The proclamation of the CPA Act was the culmination of nearly four years of hard work and collaboration but, in reality, it was 125 years in the making. Professional accountants have played an important role in shaping BC’s economy and society, and the profession’s origins can be traced back to the late 19th century.
The story begins with the first professional accountant to settle in British Columbia, Walter J. Walker, who was a member of the Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants and set up his practice in New Westminster in 1885. He was followed by William Thomas Stein, a member of the Society of Accountants in Edinburgh who came to New Westminster in 1893.
As BC ushered in the 20th century, business matters had grown in complexity and the number of people engaged in auditing and accountancy in this province had expanded. There was also an amendment to the British Companies Act in 1900 that made it mandatory to audit the balance sheet of companies incorporated under the Act. These factors led many resident accountants to recognize the need for a local association that would train and qualify accountants in BC.
In 1902, the Dominion Association of Chartered Accountants was formed by a group of practicing accountants to establish uniform standards of training and experience across Canada and entitle members to use the designation "Chartered Accountant" anywhere in the country. Then, in 1903, a group of accountants formed the Institute of Accountants of British Columbia.
The story of the Certified General Accountants Association actually begins in Montreal in 1908 when John Leslie, then assistant comptroller of Canadian Pacific Railway, was asked to lend his name to the formation of an association that would promote the development of their accounting skills. Official recognition of the new Association occurred in 1913.
The early years were a struggle both in terms of organizing the profession and in terms of the economy. The process of training students also posed a challenge as little academic support was available to students.
The fortunes of early accountants in BC were closely tied to the conditions of the province's resource-based economy. When the economy boomed between 1911 and 1913, accountants flooded into the marketplace. By contrast, after the First World War, there was an exodus to the United States and Great Britain.
The release of the Income Tax Act in 1917 spurred demand for accounting services, but otherwise the profession struggled with a depressed economy due to the First World War. Because the war reduced the number of men available to enter the profession, consideration was given to opening the door to women.
The Canadian Society of Cost Accountants, which would later become CMA Canada, was founded in 1920. During the 1920s, the BC CAs registered its first woman member, Mercy Ellen Crehan. It would take more than 20 years for another woman to join the profession in BC.
Recession hit hard in the 1930s and the sagging economy did not allow for many training positions. These factors slowed the growth of designated accountants.
The early 1940s were dominated by the Second World War but the Certified Management Accountants of British Columbia was incorporated in 1945. Six years later, the Certified General Accountants Association of British Columbia was founded.
The 1950s and 60s would see many ‘firsts’ for the profession in BC. For instance, Peter Stanley, became the province's first forensic accountant after being appointed by the Attorney General of BC to investigate a scandal involving the Minister of Lands and Forests. The establishment of a practice review program and the first professional development offering also trace their origins to the post-war era.
By the 1970s, automated technology was driving change in accounting and all across business. Few could imagine how the profession—and the education and training of future accountants—would be transformed during the next three decades.
Computer-based learning was introduced in the late 1980s and online course delivery would become an integral component of education and training within a decade. The 1980s also saw real growth in the number of female members and students, a trend that continues today.
Finally, the past two and a half decades were really marked by tremendous growth in membership, advances in education, and a greater consideration of global forces and standards on the profession.
In 2012, leaders of the three professional accounting bodies began to discuss the merits of unification under the CPA designation. The principals involved in this effort understood very early in the process that the accounting profession in BC—and around the world—had evolved greatly. There was a common belief that unification was not only possible but necessary.
The defining question was: What’s in the best interests of both our members and the public? It’s a question that forced everyone to delineate their strengths and weaknesses in order to assess where each designation stood in the competitive landscape—the global landscape. Perhaps more importantly, this was an opportunity to take the strengths of CA, CGA, and CMA, and collectively build an even stronger designation under the new CPA. To move unification forward took vision, patience, a bit of compromise, and a realization that everyone shared common goals and interests.
The early chapters of the CPABC story are now well-chronicled. It was barely two years ago that ICABC, CGA-BC and CMABC signed an agreement to merge. And what began with an agreement to merge back in May 2013 has led to CPA legislation in 2015. Chartered Professional Accountants Act was proclaimed into law on June 24, 2015.