In accounting we trust

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.

Think back: where were you when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2010 Games to Vancouver? Those Winter Games were a defining moment for the country, with Canadians everywhere coming together in one of the most significant events in our nation’s 150-year history. But as every athlete knows, a few moments of public glory are built on innumerable hours of unseen labour and preparation. For the Olympic Games, countless CPAs in public service worked quietly to help bring glory to our country and our athletes, just as they have always worked behind the scenes to move our country forward.


Many factors led to the Games’ success, including one small but critical contribution from the finance team at Environment Canada, led by Sarah Tobun, Regional Director, Finance (Pacific and Yukon Region). Long before the torch was lit, Tobun’s team was helping lay the groundwork for a successful bid by developing the financial aspects of the bid’s environmental assessment. Armed with this data, the bid committee was able to decide where the venues would go and what impact various facilities would have on the region. “It took several years of work for the folks who were in the department, leading up to 2010,” Tobun (CPA, CGA ‘99) recalls today. “You don’t just put on an Olympic Games. There’s a lot of work.”

It wasn’t just financial forecasting and risk assessment her teams were involved in. They also facilitated many physical systems and pieces of infrastructure to support the athletes. “They actually had to [fund teams to] build things, install them, and make them operational and test them.”

For instance, Tobun says, in the Callaghan Valley south of Whistler “we didn’t have a weather network in place to report conditions at that micro level. So we had to install weather measuring technology in order to set up a network and set up a specialized desk to provide the services. It was quite an operation.” When all was said and done, “We were very prepared. Vancouver was very prepared.”

Thanks to Environment Canada’s efforts, Olympic organizers were able to determine the likelihood of staging an event on schedule — or even if snow had to be flown in (as was the case for alpine events on Vancouver’s North Shore mountains). This best-practice approach by Canada’s meteorological services was adopted at the following Winter Games in Sochi.


Accountants across Canada have long used their passion and commitment to their work to move mountains, sometimes almost literally. The Canadian Pacific Railway helped link Canadians across the country, and the work of accountants like John Leslie, CPR’s assistant comptroller, kept the company moving. Railroads weren’t Leslie’s only interest. Accounting colleagues F.A. Cousins and E.B. Manning approached him in 1908 with a proposal to create a “club or association” to bring professional development opportunities to accountants within the CPR. Cousins and Manning succeeded in convincing Leslie to take on the role of the president, and the Canadian Accountants’ Association was founded later that year, with the signal purpose to “encourage improvement in skills and job performance” among accountants.

Five short years later, the association would be granted a federal charter as the General Accountants’ Association, and the CGA designation began to take shape under the leadership of John Leslie, who himself grew into the position of vice-president of finance for the rail juggernaut, which last quarter posted revenues of $1.6 billion. The impact of his work continues today, with a legacy that shows the vast range of opportunities and career paths that accountants can find within the unified CPA profession.


Sarah Tobun has worked with the federal government in one capacity or another for almost 27 years (following a brief sojourn in the private sector). Today, she serves as one of Environment Canada’s national financial management advisors, out of Vancouver. She and her fellow advisors support an astounding range of programs and policy areas, from environmental protection to strategic policy to international affairs.

The breadth of their portfolios and the potential to affect positive change for the country can be particularly appealing, she says, for millennials. “Our department is one of the preferred employers for young people, and it has to do with what we do at Environment Canada,” she says, noting that even though accountants don’t directly work on climate change or cleaning up the Great Lakes or protecting Rockies wildlife, her team does support those initiatives. “If you want to go to bed at night thinking that you’ve done something meaningful for the world and for your country, public service is definitely the place to be.”

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.

Keep the conversation going

Do you have a story to share about a remarkable CPA? Post a comment below.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

You may also be interested in:

Canadian women have changed the face of accounting over the last 200 years because of their persistence. Learn more about these women and how their actions opened the door for women entering the profession.

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.

Scroll through our visual timeline below for the key milestones, events, and people who have played a part in the rich history of the accounting profession in Canada.