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Marie C. Robidoux – Association of Canada Land Surveyors’ First Female President

We are very fortunate and pleased to announce Marie C. Robidoux, CLS, LLM and share her insights with you, our readers. She was the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors’ (ACLS) first female president and holds multiple degrees in formal education.

GoGeomatics Canada: Thank you for taking the time to discuss your career and prior role as the President of the ACLS. We would like to start by asking you a little about your background so the GoGeomatics community can get to know you better. Where are you from and where did you receive your formal education?

Marie Robidoux: I am from Shawinigan and spent most of my youth in Shawinigan and Trois-Rivieres (St-Maurice region). I attended Universite Laval in Quebec City and graduated with a Baccalaureat en droit and went on to practice law as a Notary in Montreal for a few years. In the early 1980’s I moved to Edmonton and returned to school to become a land surveyor. I took the long (and ardous) route by getting a Surveying Technology diploma from NAIT and then writing all the necessary examinations to obtain my Canada Lands Surveyor licence. I worked for Natural Resources Canada in Edmonton, Alberta and in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. While in Yellowknife I sought out online courses to further my learning and started a Master of Laws which I obtained in 2002.

GoGeomatics Canada: You received your Master of Laws in Information Technology from the Robert Kennedy University in Switzerland – can you tell our readers any differences you noticed between their IT and Canada’s way of doing things?

Marie Robidoux: The course itself was not focused on any specific way of doing things in particular countries – it was more a comparative look at different regimes. Remember this was in 2000 – 2002 when the web was really just taking off in a big way and at that time file sharing was a huge issue. Most of the course work centered on intellectual property rights in the EU, US, Canada and Australia and each had a slightly different way of dealing with those rights. One of the main difference still exists although the federal government keeps trying to change our laws respecting intellectual property to align it better with the US and the EU especially in the file sharing area where Canada is seen as a haven for copyright infringement. Canada has had a “fair dealing” doctrine similar to the UK and Australia which allows users to engage in certain “copying” for specific, private purposes. The US uses a ‘fair use” doctrine which is more limiting and therefore the US wants Canada to change its copyright act to provide the same protection to intellectual property rights as it does.

GoGeomatics Canada: What aided in your decision to become a part of this industry? What attracted you to the work you do today?

Marie Robidoux: While practicing law a lot of my work involved property transfers and legal surveys which I found fascinating. When I decided to enter the surveying world I found out that I was not the first one in my family to be a surveyor which was news to me! I then thought that it must be in my genes. I loved being outside and the investigative part of any legal survey appealed to me although I must say preparing plans is not so much fun.

GoGeomatics Canada: We have a number of females that we are speaking to this month that have been trailblazers and become the ‘first females’ in their respective disciplines and regions throughout Canada. What commonalities do you think lay between you and these other women?

Marie Robidoux: I know of many women myself who are trailblazers in a variety of industries in Canada and in other countries. I think what most have in common is passion – passion for something that engages your whole being, that expands your mind, that fulfill a vision or an ambition. Most do not come to it in a straight line and many arrive there by accident or through a coincidence. In all these women’s lives I think someone kept the “little light” alive until it grew bright enough to get them where they ended up. Whether a mentor, someone they admired or aspired to emulate, someone showed them a way to follow. I don’t mean that most followed an existing path as for most there was no path – they made their own – but someone showed them that it was possible to make your own path. The trailblazers also bring to their path a singular focus that enables them to overcome obstacles, established mind sets, and discrimination.

GoGeomatics Canada: Can you explain some hardships that you have had throughout your career with respect to being a female? How were these overcome?

Marie Robidoux: I may speak of a time gone by already as I have seen that many women do not have the same battles to fight than the ones I faced: discrimination (whether overt or covert) such as job opportunities disappearing once employers knew a woman was applying or when strength was made an issue (!) or having to have a separate room available on out of town work; subtle disaffection in meetings by ignoring women’s comments or ideas; the famous line of “we will lose you when you decide to have kids so we will not consider you”. On many fronts now it looks like some of these have disappeared but not everywhere. The battle that most women face as trailblazers is how to be recognized for contributions made. Women often have a different way than men to organize and carry out their work and they also often have different expectations. However I still see this not being recognized as it does not fit the accepted model built around men’s approach to work and decision making.

GoGeomatics Canada: What were your roles as the President of ACLS?  What would you consider your greatest achievement during your term as President?

Marie Robidoux: As president of the ACLS I represented the Association throughout the country attending provincial survey associations meetings, participating in task forces, and generally advancing the ACLS agenda with various agencies and particularly the federal government. I was elected as a councillor a few short years after the Association became self-regulated and many of the years spent as part of council were about setting up the various components necessary to effectively function as such. When I became president my focus was on the ACLS Aboriginal file. I don’t think there is one thing in particular that I can point to as I was part of a very thoughtful council where each member was devoted to see the big picture that the ACLS paints – aboriginal lands, the offshore, the 3 northern Territories, National Parks.  Maybe I can point to the joint conference that the ACLS hosted with the Canadian Hydrographic Association as a high point and a whole lot of hard work.

And as a point of interest I believe that this year the ACLS may also elect a woman as president – Estelle Moisan,CLS, a.-g. who practices in Quebec and is currently the vice-president of the ACLS .

GoGeomatics Canada: You now wear many hats on the 2012-2013 committee – Board of Examiners, Conference Committee and Aboriginal Liaison.  What major changes have you seen since you started with ACLS? What is in the future for ACLS? Is it a good time for young individuals to enter the surveying field?

Marie Robidoux: As you can see I like to be involved! I have been on the Board of Examiners for many years and I am also the Chair of the Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors. This is work I really enjoy as it keeps me abreast of new developments and of changes in technology. The Conference Committee  is something I am pleased with as it was created following the conference during my presidency – I thought it would be a good thing to not re-invent the wheel every time a conference was held i.e. every year and that some continuity would really benefit conference organizers.

The Aboriginal Liaison Committee is important to me. My current work is as Aboriginal Relations Coordinator for an oil sands company in Alberta and I see a lot of synergies between the two. I have always been interested in Aboriginal issues. As a teenager I spent a lot of time listening, discussing and comparing my world and the world of young Aboriginal women boarding at my house while going to high school – what I learned then never left me and ever since I have look for ways to be of service and make a difference in the lives of Aboriginal peoples.

The major changes for the ACLS have been mostly dictated by changes in the Canadian society, the economy and the federal government policies and goals. As society changes and technological innovation takes hold, the profession feels the repercussions. One has only to look at the advent of GPS and especially the breakneck speed at which it has evolved in the past 20 years to understand that surveying has been affected. GPS, Single Point Positioning, LIDAR, High Definition Scanning are all fairly recent innovations that have changed the surveying world. With all the new technologies which affect society in general (think of your car’s navigation system), government policies and goals have also changed. Different economic realities have forced the hand of many departments towards technologies and the previous support of various government operations have disappeared. One of the striking trend is found in how the economy dictates in the number of individuals joining the profession: during good economic times the numbers are lower than during periods of economic uncertainty or downturn. This is an amazing indicator of economic strength.

I think this is a great profession – of course I am biased – as it offers a myriad of possibilities including travel, regionally and nationally and also sometimes internationally. The profession has evolved – it is not the same as when my great uncle was surveying. Technology in all its guises is prominent at all levels. Whether surveying a boundary, a wellsite, a power line or a bridge under construction, to working in the office with specialized software or creating customized programs, to meeting clients or teaching Aboriginal land managers, the challenges are endless and enough to keep everyone in the profession growing and involved. Decades ago surveying was a profession where you were away from your family for months at a time in frontier areas or on long term projects demanding your full attention. Nowadays surveying is an exciting profession appealing to a more diverse demographic because it is evolving so quickly with new technological advances. The future of the ACLS looks bright as it has and continues to work diligently at expanding its members services where appropriate; provide innovative workshops, seminars, and continuing development opportunities for all its members; work closely with the surveyor General Branch on Aboriginal land issues and initiatives as well as improving statutory requirements in the CLS Act; and integrate many of its initiatives with other organization where possible.

GoGeomatics Canada: The National Surveyors’ Conference 2012 was held last June. What differences can we expect for 2013 in Niagara? Is anything in the works?

Marie Robidoux: The 2013 conference will be held in June again this year – June 18 to 21 – in Niagara Falls. The ACLS has members across the country and the conference is held in the east one year and the west the next with occasional visits to the north. Generally the conference starts with a golf tournament that is always hotly disputed, followed with 2 days of workshops before  the Annual General Meeting is held. This year there is an interesting afternoon dedicated to the Role of the CLS in Marine Surveys and a presentation on the Search for the Franklin Expedition by one of the participants who is a CLS (Andrew Leyzack). There will also be a half day seminar of High Definition Scanning (HDS) which promises to be a practical overview of the technology. Also of note is the joint participation of the ACLS and Professional Surveyors Canada in this year’s conference. This is a corner stone of the ACLS conference – every year the ACLS seeks the participation of other interested association in its annual conference. This really makes the conference appeal to a broader audience.

GoGeomatics Canada would like to express our sincere thanks to Marie for sharing her thoughts and experiences with us and the geomatics community. GoGeomatics will be at the 2013 Conference in Niagara Falls where we look forward to meeting more of the ACLS team.

Check out other Canadian Women in Geomatics for International Women’s Day 2013 articles and interviews.

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