The Canadian Institute of Planners may go out of existence by the end of this year. The CIP currently has about 7,800 members and was founded in 1919, making it one of the largest and oldest professional planning institutes in the world. However, the institute's Council has unanimously voted to wind down the organisation. Shortly before the AGM in Saskatoon at the end of June, members received an announcement from the outgoing CIP Council advising of their resolution to commence the closing down of CIP. The AGM rejected this proposition. The following motion was carried:
"That the membership inform Council that they reject the outgoing Council's position in their last-minute communiqué, and direct Council to work with the members and affiliates to reinvigorate CIP as a national organization."
Why has this crisis arisen?
In part the issues are particular to Canada, but in other respects they indicate the stresses and strains that professional planning institutes now face.
Canada is a federal country, and the Provinces have their own bodies that represent planners. Thus the Ontario Professional Planners Institute has over 4,000 members and describes itself as "the recognized voice of the planning profession in Ontario". It has its own Professional Code of Practice and regulates the actions of its member through a Discipline Committee in the public interest. This means there is a structural tension and potential duplication between these province-based institutes and the CIP which has the national role. Given the sheer size of Canada and the very limited role that the Federal government plays in planning and urban issues, it is easy to see that for many planners the first professional loyalty will be to their provincial organisation.
Like all member institutes, CIP depends heavily on subscriptions. Similarly, in seeking to operate nationally and internationally, it faces significant financial demands. While large by the standards of many other countries, the CIP is nowhere near the size of the RTPI or the American Planning Association, or of some of the sister professions in the built environment field. One reason for its Council's proposal to run down the institute is an inability to agree on a sustainable funding model.
The path to reallignment
In 2011 the CIP initiated a project called Planning for the Future. This resulted in a proposal, which was supported by CIP members, to shift responsibility for the professional certification of members and the accreditation of planning schools from the CIP itself to the provincial institutes and the new national Professional Standards Board. In effect, this amounted to a hollowing out of core CIP functions.
Changes in federal legislation governing not-for-profit organisations influenced the path that CIP took, including a proposed change of name from Canadian Institute of Planners to Canadian Institute of Planning, to emphasise its public interest role.
Proposed constitutional changes were put to members in a ballot in the first half of 2014. Essentially the proposition was that CIP become an "organisation of organisations". Only 11% of the membership voted, but most supported the changes. However, a wider consultation that began in September 2014 revealed a different picture. Members did not like the idea that they would no longer be able to vote for who would become President; instead the President would be chosen by a Board representing the constituent provincial organisations. Students would no longer have a place on the Board. Some feared that international activity would be jeopardised by the new arrangements.
The provincial institutes support the continuance of CIP as a national body, but they have difficulties with the proposal that they would be compelled to make their individual members become members of CIP. At the AGM at the end of June, it was confirmed that CIP could not legally impose such a requirement. This directly threatens the financial viability of CIP: it is easy to see that some planners will opt to pay subscriptions to their provicial professional body, but not to pay an additional subscription to also be a CIP member.
Thus the AGM also heard of the CIP's latest financial risk assessment in relation to the responsibilities of CIP Council members as trustees. It was the inability to resolve these issues that led to the proposal to run down the institute, with the Council members feeling that legally and procedurally there was no other course of action open to them
Since the AGM rejected the proposal for closure, a task force has been set up to try to resolve the problems and save the CIP. It met on 17 and 18 August, and is actively working to try to shape a new governance model. Even if this can be achieved, and CIP survives, there must be a fear that it will be financially diminished and a less effective voice for planning in Canada and abroad.
While the crisis has been brought about by some specifically Canadian factors, it should send a shiver down the backs of other professional planning institutes. The CIP has reciprocal links with the RTPI; if it disappears then such links would presumably need to be built afresh with each of the provincial associations across Canada. Australia, another large, federal country, with an overarching national institute, the Planning Institute of Australia, but a strong state and local basis for planning, might also ponder what lies ahead. The Commonwealth Association of Planners, which itself operates as an "organisation of organisations", risks losing one of its largest members, and with it a significant part of its subscription income. CIP has also played an active part in supporting the planning profession in the Caribbean.
More fundamentally, there are questions about what level of organisation is best for promoting the planning profession. In this respect, the RTPI seems to have been smart in devolving some capacity to its Regions and Nations, though the asymmetrical demography of the UK means that an English perspective is still likely to dominate.
I have argued before that planning institutes are too parochial and that their commitment to an international voice for the profession is too weak and marginalised. I believe that this is a direct consequence of the local/provincial basis of much planning practice and even legislation. When you are involved in international level advocacy through bodies like the Commonwealth, the EU or the UN, you quickly realise what a disadvantage this is. Architecture, surveying or engineering are not only much larger professions, but also operate practices and use concepts that are much more globally portable, and much less specific to national policy frameworks.
Size matters. In a rapidly urbanising world, where the failures to plan today will have long lasting consequences, in many countries there is little prospect of being able to sustain a professional planning institute with the resources to effectively input to policy-making. If Canada can no longer do it, what hope is there for the many countries where urbanisation is running at 3% plus each year and there is either no body representing planners, or the number of members of the professional planning institute is less than 50? A global body, with the staffing resource to enable it to speak credibly for planning, but with links into and beyond the national professional planning institutes is needed.
From Sandy James:
Yes, it is a very sad situation. And it requires patience, mediative skills, and good communication to solve. All things we should be good at.
From Julien Lamorte: