For me, one of the most chilling memories of the 1998 Eastern Canada Ice Storm was watching a truck pull up to a clump of white birch on a resident’s front lawn, the “contractor” climbing into the bed of his truck to start his chainsaw (with no safety gear).  With their tops weighted down by the ice, he began cutting them mid-stem, where they violently sprung out under hundreds of pounds of tension. “Reduction pruning” or even “waiting” was not in his vocabulary.

“Joe Chainsaw” had probably just finished telling the resident that her trees were “dangerous”, “finished” and were “never going to recover” – that they needed to come down sooner than later before “someone got hurt” or “the local utility would charge them for removal” etc. At the time, I was desperately leading an initiative to dispense objective advice to residents on caring for their ice-damaged trees. No doubt the contractor called himself “an arborist”. If only arboriculture was a “compulsory trade” I thought… Many trees may have not suffered these brutal fates, nor would innocent homeowners have been taken advantage of.

Flash ahead to 2015. Tree Canada is updating its Strategic Plan. The focus of the organization would be on urban forests. Throughout this process, we kept hearing about the need to set standards in arboriculture and the need to encourage a “Red Seal” designation. A dedicated Action Item in the Plan read: to lead in the promotion of a national urban forest strategyWork towards national standards for arboriculture…

“Urban forestry” is broadly defined as the management of trees and plants in urban areas.

“Arboriculture” is the practice and study of the care of trees and other woody plants in the landscape.

To compare the two, arboriculture focuses on the tree itself, while urban forestry is the care of the forest or larger populations of trees in urban areas.

In April 2019, Tree Canada put out a call via the Canadian Urban Forest Network (CANUFNET) seeking volunteers to form a Red Seal Committee. The response from across Canada was itself testimony to the need and urgency of the work the Committee would undertake.

So, the National Arboriculture Apprenticeship Recognition Committee / Le Comité national dédié à la reconnaissance des apprentisarboriculteurs (NAARC/CNDRAA) was created:

  • Matt Heder (NB) – Utility Arborist
  • Olivier Lamontagne (QC) – Commercial/Consulting Arborist
  • Alice Power (ON) – Program Specialist, College of Trades
  • Courtney McCann (ON) – Educator
  • Mike Watson (ON) – Commercial Arborist
  • Peter Wynnyczuk (ON) – Executive Director/Arborist
  • Codie Anderson (AB) – Commercial Arborist
  • Gerard Fournier (AB) – Instructor/Arborist
  • Betty Cunin (BC) – Apprenticeship Coordinator
  • Gus Amundson (BC) – Municipal Arborist
  • Nadia Chan (BC) – Municipal Manager/Arborist
  • Mike Rosen (Tree Canada) – Forester, President of Tree Canada and Chair of the NAARC
  • Marie-Paule Godin (Tree Canada) – Forester, Operations Manager
  • Michael Petryk (Tree Canada) – Arborist, Program Manager
  • Cristiane Doherty (Tree Canada) – Communications and Marketing Manager

What does “Red Seal” mean?

The “Red Seal” program sets common standards to assess the skills of tradespeople across Canada.  It was created in 1959 as a partnership between the federal government, the provinces and territories who are responsible for apprenticeship and trade certification.

Tradespersons who have successfully completed an apprenticeship and then passed the Red Seal examination receive a Red Seal Endorsement on their provincial/territorial trade certificate or licence, usually a “Certificate of Qualification”. A Red Seal endorsed Certificate of Qualification confirms that you are qualified in your trade – that you have the skills, knowledge and experience that meet industry standards of practice in every Canadian province and territory.

Is Red Seal  right for Arborists?

For the 56 trades that have received Red Seal status, the benefits are clear: increase in stature, safety, skill portability and worker mobility within the trade.

The Red Seal Program is about setting a standard of excellence and setting a benchmark for training for employers and apprentices in the trade, harmonizing technical training between provinces and territories, and providing the resources to help provinces and territories develop their own programs (such as a national trade scope, occupational standards, learning objectives, and certification examinations). This is especially beneficial for provinces that may lack the capacity or resources to develop their own programs.

Currently, the landscape of provincial training and certification for arborists is not coordinated with every province/territory doing its own thing. Most provinces/territories regulate workers who perform the work of “arborists” in some way, but relatively few have designated the “arborist” as a trade in their jurisdictions.

The Canada Free Trade Agreement (formerly the Agreement on Internal Trade – the agreement on trade within Canada) requires provincial and territorial governments to recognize individuals who hold certain trade certificates issued by a Canadian province or territory. However, recognition between provinces/territories can be challenging as each maintains programs/licenses that may not be equivalent matches in terms of the trades’ scope of practice, and whether the trades are designated by legislation.

Some provincially required licenses simply cannot be recognized by other provinces as they are not equivalent matches.

The advantage of Red Seal Endorsed Certificates of Qualification are that they are automatically recognized by every other Canadian province and territory without the need to perform an individual credential evaluation to determine if an equivalent trade match exists between two provinces/territories.

What is the Red Seal designation process?

The process and criteria for designating a Red Seal trade requires that the trade is designated for apprenticeship and certification by at least five provincial/territorial governments.

Currently, there are three provinces which have designated an arborist trade and program: British Columbia, Ontario, and New Brunswick. These three have “Utility Arborist” designated as a provincial trade which means only two more jurisdictions are needed to satisfy that Red Seal designation criterion and begin the process of applying for that trade.

“Arborist” is a provincial trade in Ontario and is matched to British Columbia’s “Field Arborist”. BC also has two other modular programs including Arborist Technician and Climbing Arborist, both of which are required steps to become eligible to obtain the “Field Arborist” certification.

As part of the Red Seal trade designation criteria, “national demand” will also need to be demonstrated. That is, that the industry (employers and employees within the trade) are prepared to support, maintain and promote the Red Seal endorsement, if designated.

Next Steps

Through the NAARC, Tree Canada is facilitating meaningful discussions and research to generate industry awareness that the adoption of this designation requires. The NAARC has outlined objectives it feels necessary to do so:

  1. To assess what is in place in each province with respect to apprenticeship programs for arborists – to define similarities between existing training and recognition programs. Are they sufficiently similar? Who administers the program? Are the standards up to date?
  1. To achieve better across-the-board recognition of arboricultural training and skills (ultimately aiming for “Red Seal” status, which will have a 5-10-year timeline).
  1. To raise the awareness of the arboricultural trade including the need to have qualified people instructing trainees in all Canadian provinces and territories.
  1. To define the scope of the initiative in terms of its inclusion of consulting arborists, operational tree workers, utility arborists etc.

Communicating will be a big focus for the Committee’s work in 2020. Efforts will continue to update people through the CANUFNET listserv, Tree Canada’s website and by posting articles with each Canadian ISA Chapter. The Committee hopes to publish a report to summarize the “state of the trade” along with key recommendations. There is currently a Facebook page on Red Seal with about 350 people following it, moderated by Gerard Fournier of Alberta.

Ultimately, NAARC wishes to emphasize that the recognition of arboriculture is an issue of safety for those working in the trees as well as an issue of the health of the urban forest in general – the forest where 82% of Canadians live!

Mike Rosen,
Chair, National Arboriculture Apprenticeship Recognition Committee
President of Tree Canada