Click here for menu Menu design element

Open a world of possibilities.

Interview
Q&A: John Walter, former ISO President and former CEO of SCC

December 1, 2020

Q&A: John Walter, former ISO President and former CEO of SCC

Share this page Share This
Interview
Decorative image

John Walter is one of Canada’s most influential leaders in the standardization world. He has more than 25 years in the field, with over a decade dedicated to the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Walter’s journey in standards began as an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Government of Ontario. He was responsible for the safe regulation of elevating devices, boilers and pressure vessels, fuels and amusement devices. In that role, he leveraged national and international standards from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and American standards bodies.

Walter became Vice-President, Standards Development at CSA  and was heavily involved with SCC Advisory Committees. From 2009 to 2018, he was the Chief Executive Officer of SCC and represented Canada on the ISO Council and the Technical Management Board (TMB). In 2014, he became ISO’s Vice-President, Policy. Three years later, he became ISO’s President-elect, then served as ISO President from 2018-19.

 

Q.
SCC first held a seat on the ISO’s governing council in 1972. How has SCC’s relationship with ISO evolved since then?
A.

I don’t think that the role has changed, it’s just been enhanced, strengthened and confirmed.

SCC’s relationship with ISO began on very solid footing. Prior to SCC being created, CSA was Canada’s representative to ISO. SCC was readily accepted in ISO governance meetings and committees based on the work CSA had accomplished on Canada’s behalf.

I think that the relationship between SCC and ISO has simply continued. For 50 years at ISO, Canada has always been seen as a facilitator, a mediator and the country that can find consensus between conflicting points of view. Canada is often asked to take on roles that other countries aren’t able to fulfill.

Canadian representatives on ISO governance committees, technical committees, subcommittees and working groups have always stepped up and carried more than their share of the load. Their work has enhanced Canada’s reputation by delivering global solutions.

Q.
How has SCC’s involvement with ISO’s Technical Management Board strengthened international standardization?
A.

ISO’s Technical Management Board (TMB) is the committee that is responsible for the standards development program. It is composed of global representatives who are committed to developing and maintaining the best international standards.

Canada has been a regular member of TMB over many years. I’m proud to say that I don’t think Canada has ever advocated an agenda that was focused solely on Canada. I think that Canada has always focused on finding solutions that brought benefit to the world, not just one part of it. Having that reputation also creates a responsibility for SCC. International members of TMB collectively advance ISO’s work and that’s a big responsibility.

Q.
In what ways has Canadian industry benefited from SCC’s work with ISO’s Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO)?
A.

ISO’s conformity assessment committee has been the door by which Canadian industry has been able to enter world markets. Regional and international accreditation and certification schemes supported by CASCO have been very important to providing a complex standards and certification requirement scheme around the world.

SCC has worked with CASCO very effectively. We’re a small country in economic terms and we need trade to continue to grow. We cannot have trade or sell our products and services if they do not meet the requirements of other countries and international standards.

Being a part of CASCO has allowed Canada to be aware of changes that could be coming in the conformity assessment program. It has allowed Canadian industry to be better prepared for those changes, and has allowed Canadian industry to compete on a level playing field.

Q.
As a leading Canadian influencer in international standardization, what are you most proud of during your term as ISO’s President?
A.

I’m most proud to have been able to represent Canada and carry ISO’s message to the world. As President-elect and President, I travelled to many countries and helped translate the standards language into language that national and industry leaders can understand. I believe the biggest challenge for SCC, ISO and other standards bodies is that we are not known for the work we do for our nations. People don’t realize the importance of standards.

What I always found fascinating was that after spending 30 minutes with leaders of governments and industry, they would stop and say, ‘Well, that’s amazing, why didn’t I know that a long time ago?’ That for me is a success. It happened all over the world. Whether it was big countries like Russia, Brazil and China, or smaller ones like Ecuador, Costa Rica, New Zealand, all of them were welcoming when they heard the ISO message.

Q.
What does Canadian representation on ISO’s governance and policy structures mean for innovation and international trade?
A.

Canada’s involvement in the ISO governance processes brings a unique perspective. Canada is an imaginative, innovative and progressive country. There are many new ideas coming forward from universities, industries and other Canadian networks. Canada often provides innovative solutions and we have the expertise to share those with the world.

SCC has always been able to bring disparate groups together. We don’t go into a meeting to divide and conquer. Canada doesn’t build walls, we build bridges.

Q.
SCC engages with an extensive network of regional standards bodies, such as the Pan American Standards Commission (COPANT) and the Pacific Area Standards Congress (PASC). How have these relationships advanced Canada’s strategic priorities?
A.

Canada is a relatively small country in economic terms so it’s very important that Canada continues to develop friends and allies around the world. We need fair and equitable standards and conformity assessment systems that allow us to survive and thrive in the international market.

Our vast partnerships give us alliances we can reach out to when we need help. When we have a strategic priority that we want to raise through TMB, or through the governance process at ISO Council, Canada has many people and countries we can connect with and ask for support.

Q.
What advice do you have for the next generation of standards professionals?
A.

The world is changing. The days of face-to-face meetings are limited. ISO and IEC have moved almost totally to virtual meetings. The challenge for young professionals is to encourage alternative ways of working together.

Young professionals should also ask ISO and SCC to focus on standards that have the greatest importance for our society. Is it standards for climate change, for handling pandemics, for the sharing of wealth, the cleanliness of water, or the provision of food? I believe we need to focus on standards that deliver the most benefits to the world.

Q.
Standards and conformity assessment are so critical to preserving the stability and quality of goods and services. Could you talk about the importance of standardization in a COVID-19 landscape?
A.

The pandemic has brought considerable focus on the need for standards and conformity assessment. Our society would fall apart without them. Consider the standards that are necessary to certify personal protective equipment like masks. If there weren’t standards for masks, what situation would we be in? We would be covering our faces with anything we could find.

Consider the long-term care situation in Canada. I believe over 80% of deaths due to COVID-19 have come from long-term care homes. If we had appropriate standards for care and proper compliance processes, how many of those people could we have saved? We need standardization to protect the vulnerable. We need standards to protect front line workers.

Q.
What role do you believe SCC will have in the standards world 50 years from now?
A.

SCC’s role in the next 50 years may not be substantially different from our role in the last 50 years. I can’t think of a better mandate for an organization than to continue the great reputation we’ve developed.

I do believe that standards bring people together. We need a greater focus on the issues that matter most to us so I would hope SCC will focus more on standards that bring the greatest benefit to Canadians and the world.

Tags: