To Honour an Individual Outside the Profession
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The newly created Consulting Engineers of Alberta (CEA) President’s Award will be presented to former MLA, Deputy Premier, Cabinet member, and Speaker of the Alberta Legislative Assembly, Ken Kowalski. The award was created to recognize and honour an individual outside of the consulting engineering profession who has made an outstanding contribution to the consulting engineering profession.
Ken Kowalski was born in Bonnyville and pursued a career as an educator. He moved to Barrhead to teach social studies – politics was not on his mind. He liked Reach for the Top, the CBC television program that pitted students from one school against another in an academic competition. Alarmed that Lorne Jenkins High School could not participate because of prior poor performance he went all the way to Ottawa to get special dispensation and received provisional permission to enable his school to participate.
Then he got to work. His magnetic enthusiasm and organizational skills led to creation of intramural Reach for the Top competitions. One former student says there were more students involved in Reach for the Top than there were playing sports. The Barrhead team succeeded – undefeated all the way to national champions in 1973 making six other national appearances in the 1970s and considered “the program’s most successful competitors.”
This story is typical of the way Ken Kowalski lives his life. His successes show that, for him, nothing is impossible. In 1974 Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture Hugh Horner recognized the talents of the young teacher and convinced Ken to change jobs and become his assistant. Thus began a new career. When Horner became Minster of Transportation, Ken became assistant deputy minister shortly thereafter – the youngest deputy minister in the province’s history. His relationship with the engineering profession had begun.
In 1979, Hugh Horner retired from politics and Ken ran in the by-election. Again his infectious enthusiasm and ability to meet people on their terms made him successful – through nine elections and four premiers. He served as Minister of Environment; Minister of Career Development & Employment; Minister of Public Works, Supply, and Services; Minister of Economic Development & Tourism; Deputy Premier; Government House Leader; and then as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly until his retirement in 2012.
CEA was originally established in 1978 as an association of consulting engineering firms. Although successful, CEA always wanted to have their organization formalized and after discussion with Ken Kowalski a decision was made to develop a Consulting Engineers Act.
As Minister of Public Works, Supply and Services, Ken Kowalski introduced and carried the Act through the legislature. He said, “Mr. Chairman, could I repeat again during committee … that this Act was built, manufactured, written in consultation with the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta as well as the organization known as the Consulting Engineers of Alberta.”
He also commented, “What this Bill will do, Mr. Speaker, is allow members of the Consulting Engineers of Alberta the right to title and the utilization of the phraseology “Member of the Consulting Engineers of Alberta” and to use the abbreviation MCEA after their names.”
In 1992, the Consulting Engineers Act formalized the profession and with the by-laws and code-of ethics leads the consulting engineering profession today. “In his typical consultative fashion Ken Kowalski met with us over and over to ensure he fully understood our objectives and then he represented our interests in the legislature. He answered the questions and defended our profession during debate. We owe him a great deal of thanks,” says CEA President Craig Clifton. “We have right to a title and it is thanks to Ken Kowalski.