Marc Frappier, Department of Computer Science, Université de Sherbrooke Distinguished Service Award
As a professor of Software Engineering in the Department of Computer Science at the Université de Sherbrooke, Marc Frappier normally spends his time teaching, working with his graduate students and researching and publishing. But, when the provincial government in Quebec introduced Bill n° 29 (PL-29) in June 2019, Frappier soon added advocacy and working with government officials to his daily routine.
Bill n° 29 proposed to amend the Engineers Act, including defining reserved activities for engineers in software engineering. The Bill posed major concerns for IT business, professionals, and academics in the province. Frappier took a lead role in the formation of the Coalition for the Future of Informatics (Coalition pour l’avenir de l’informatique).
“The Bill would limit anyone who did not have an engineering degree,” explains Frappier. “Lots of our graduates would have been severely impacted by the new proposal. We were not invited into the public hearings (before the Bill was introduced). We had to move quickly to mobilize both in academia and industry.”
Working with CS-Can|Info-Can and other professional associations, Frappier brought together representatives from the academic world and industry to oppose sections related to software engineering and artificial intelligence.
“It’s been an interesting learning experience for me. I had lots of support. Simon-Pierre Diamond from Element AI had been an MNA in the National Assembly of Quebec and was able to guide us in opposing the Bill. Caroline De Guire played a key role in mobilizing the industrial associations. Adele Newton and Doina Precup of CS-Can|Info-Can helped us in building and guiding the coalition, and provided support with government relations by hiring a company that helped us build our campaign.”
While Marc received a great deal of assistance and support, he dedicated much of his time to the lobbying efforts.
“Most of my non-teaching time in fall semester was involved in building the coalition. It involved a great deal of consultations. We brought together representatives from 13 computer science departments. We had regular meetings with our coalition members and with government officials. We built a campaign to reach all the associations and individuals who had an interest in the Bill. There were countless discussions. We created a very diverse and rich coalition of professionals.”
The movement has led to many productive conversations within the coalition, with the government of Quebec, and with engineering associations in the province. The Bill is waiting to be reviewed section by section. The process was supposed to be completed by the end of March, but with the COVID 19 pandemic, movement on the legislation was stalled. Frappier and the Coalition are waiting for the final decisions to be made.
“We believe there is a high probability that we’ll see changes to the Bill. In principle, the government has accepted that software engineering should be removed, but discussions are still ongoing. We are waiting with cautious optimism.”
The work put in by Frappier and the Coalition could have broader implications across Canada as similar legislation begins to appear across the country.
“There’s been discussion in Canada and the US with a push to define activities that would be reserved for engineers. If we can stop it from happening in Quebec, we can also stop it in other provinces.”
Regardless of the outcome, Frappier is proud of the work to build this large coalition and their efforts to come together to defend the interests of both industry and academia.
“This is the first time we’ve pulled together this kind of group in Quebec – and maybe even in Canada. When academia and industry work together, we have a strong voice.”
The Coalition is now looking for other opportunities to work together for their common interests.
“We can now activate whenever there is an issue that needs a common voice. We plan to remain flexible as an organization and continue to work together. Our plan right now is to meet once a year to share concerns and look for ways to promote common interests.”
Frappier is grateful for the support he’s received along the way from his colleagues and from CS-Can|Info-Can.
“I’m very honoured to be recognized with this award. I wasn’t expecting this recognition for the work, and I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”