Better together: Building a global economy

For over 50 years, Canada’s accountants have played a leading role on the world stage. It has helped to boost CPA Canada’s profile abroad — and drive home important global lessons.

The strength of CPA Canada is reflected in the influence it has globally. Take Jackie Poirier, CPA, CGA, who now works for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), when she was head of CGA Canada, one of the legacy bodies that formed CPA Canada. At the time she helmed the organization, she was often called upon to participate in ceremonial duties, including attending the graduation of each fresh batch of accountants. On one such occasion, she was asked if she would go to China to welcome a new class of accountants, trained using a Canadian program, into the fraternity.

“It was my first trip to China — and to be honest, I was kind of nervous about representing Canada,” recalls Poirier from her office in Halifax, where she now serves as director of the Nova Scotia Tax Service Office at the CRA. “My husband said, ‘There’s no choice, you have to go — you’re their president.’” Looking back, she describes the experience as a revelation about Canada’s global reach.

“It opened my eyes to the impact that the Canadian profession can have worldwide — and also how [we in] the profession can learn from each other,” she says. To illustrate, she mentions a meeting she had while she was in China with the country’s vice minister of finance. “I sat down with him and talked about our profession in Canada, their profession, and how we could assist them in developing the profession in China. And I thought, ‘Boy, we really are doing some pretty neat things on the international stage.’”

Building connections in Asia Pacific

Just like that, what had started as a simple pomp-and-circumstance ceremony turned into a high-level meeting of global accounting minds. Her interest in global alliances piqued, in 2007 Poirier joined the board of the Confederation of Asian and Pacific Accountants (CAPA); for the past two years she has served as its first female president.

CAPA represents 32 national professional accountancy organizations operating in Asia and the Pacific, and over 1.6 million accountants. The primary goals of CAPA, now in its 60th year, are to collaborate and share knowledge and experiences, and to harmonize standards across regions. “We bring people together and work on projects that aim to develop strong accounting organizations and a strong public sector in the various countries,” explains Poirier.

As our world grows ever more interconnected, Canada’s accountants have tremendous opportunities to collaborate, share, and innovate — strengthening the profession around the globe. That global path was carved early. In the 1950s, the Certified General Accountants of British Columbia developed a curriculum for future CGAs in partnership with the University of B.C. The portable curriculum they developed became the basis of a ground-breaking program, instituted by CGA Ontario in the 1960s, to help would-be Caribbean immigrants get trained and certified for work in Canada’s accounting profession. Today, there are 1,200 Canadian CPAs residing in the Caribbean, and some 220 students in the CPA pre-certification program throughout the region.

Case study: China

That same program expanded into Hong Kong in the 1990s. Poirier’s former colleague, Lyle Handfield, CPA Canada’s VP International / Asia Pacific, has worked on the educational side of the profession for four decades and has been instrumental in the Chinese expansion efforts, overseeing the opening of offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen over the past two years, as well as developing alliances with 13 universities across China. Today, there are 2,700 Canadian-designated accountants working on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

“There has always been that strong business connection, that family connection, between Hong Kong and Canada,” Handfield notes. “So that was a major step forward.” He adds that our global reputation is one of support and collaboration — we boost, and don’t compete with, local accounting bodies. That, he thinks, has allowed Canada to continue to spread its wings, across China and elsewhere.

The benefits don’t just flow one way, Handfield argues. “The students offshore, before they even come to Canada, they have helped build our reputation,” he says. “Yes, it has been a revenue stream, and it is important to contribute to the sustainability of the profession, but it was also brand and recognition and profile. It built our profile with the founding body in China, the CICPA [Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants]; we had never been part of that global accounting network.”

Global profession, global economy

According to Poirier, a strong, interconnected accounting profession is critical to building a strong, resilient global economy. Developing economies benefit from international expertise in creating the structures of accountability that attract investment, and developed economies gain new perspectives when external, fresh eyes look at old problems.

Building these global ties becomes ever more urgent in a turbulent economy: “The accounting profession is one profession, so we’re only as strong as our weakest links,” Poirier says. She notes how past failures, such as Enron, have made the need to collaborate more important than ever — and how CPAs in Canada are playing a leading role in building those ties.

“Canadians don’t walk in the door and take over,” she says. “It’s our approach to really build a relationship, understand what somebody might need, and then genuinely see how we might be able to help. We’re very humble about our accomplishments, very unassuming, but very well respected in terms of the strength of our profession.”

Stay tuned for more stories about the people and the events that contributed to CPA Canada’s rich history as Canadians prepare to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

You may also be interested in:

Like legendary accountant George Edwards before her, Lt.-Col Eleanor Haevens carries on the tradition of CPAs who have had a profound impact by serving with or alongside the Canadian military.

Sustainability and corporate reporting; the pursuit of knowledge development, advancement, and sharing has existed from the early establishment of the accounting profession — and continues to grow as CPAs champion research and innovation.

Public service rewards CPAs with lofty ideals and a devotion to their country. Learn how the work of Environment Canada’s Sarah Tobun, benefitting regular Canadians, owes a debt to the origins of Canada’s accounting designations.