30 June 2014

A history of Canadian accounting - the CA version

When anyone watches The Agenda weeknights on TV Ontario, it's nice to know that CPA Ontario is one of its main supporters. However, when they state that they've been leaders since 1879, the claim needs some explaining. In reality, accountants in Canada started to organize themselves only in November 1879, with the ones in Montreal beating those in Toronto by two weeks! The Montreal group then proceeded to procure an Act of the Quebec Legislature to form themselves into a professional body and to be conferred with the designation of "Chartered Accountant."

The Toronto group got off to a rockier start. Their original name was the Institute of Accountants and Adjusters of Ontario, and their campaign to receive similar sanction was rebuffed by the Ontario Legislature, which did not want to confer any type of exclusive professional status. They decided to deal with this in a political fashion by recruiting Samuel Bickerton Harman, a former Mayor of Toronto, to become its President, and it reorganized itself to become the Institute of Accountants of Ontario. Their inaugural meeting in May 1882 was a superb example of publicity. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography summarizes what happened next:

"In the space of a year he revamped the council to make it politically important, enlarged and to some extent inflated the membership, stage-managed a public meeting of Toronto’s business élite that demanded incorporation, lobbied Toronto’s MPPs and the appropriate cabinet ministers, and retained the best legal talent."

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario was officially recognized by statute in 1883.

The history becomes somewhat colourful for the rest of the 19th Century.In 1902, the Parliament of Canada passed a private Act incorporating the Dominion Association of Chartered Accountants, the predecessor of today's Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. It appears that a fair number of Ontario CAs jumped over from the ICAO to join in with what was originally an AAM initiative, as noted in a letter from 1905:

 "The Institute of Accountants in Ontario headquarters at Toronto has made the mistake in allowing bookkeepers and in fact clerks of almost any description enter their association. The consequence is the standing of their association is not what it should be. Their president, I believe is a secretary of a brewing company, and it was for these reasons that their best accountants left their association and were instrumental in the organization of the Dominion Association of Chartered Accountants, which like our Montreal association is composed solely of bona fide practicing accountants." 
 The ICAO did not take this lying down. It attempted to stack DACA elections through a proxy fight, but that was overruled. In 1908, it pushed through legislation in Ontario to reserve the CA title for its own members, but that was disallowed—twice—by Ottawa as being contrary to DACA's Federal Act. The showdown was called off after mediation had taken place, and the CA designation was reserved in 1911, with effect from December 1909.

That, in a nutshell, is how it began. I have not mentioned what happened in the other provinces, but the whole history is much more colourful than what has been admitted in the recent past!

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