Climate and Construction: Industry experts cautiously optimistic about new code harmonization committee

Giuseppe Meazza

On Nov. 22, the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) was dissolved and replaced with a new committee called the Canadian Board for Harmonized Construction Codes (CBHCC). The reasons provided appear relatively straight forward.

“Under the new governance model, strategic policy direction will be set by the Canadian Table for Harmonized Construction Codes Policy, which will oversee the CBHCC and include deputy-minister-level decision-makers from provincial, territorial and federal governments,” states a media release.

Apparently, this was a result of two years of collaboration between provincial, territorial and federal officials under the Construction Codes Reconciliation Agreement, a Regulatory Cooperation Table agreement under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement.

This realignment of code development will not impact the public review of the 2020 National Building Code (NBC), now underway, or its provincial adoption, but will instead look towards the 2025 NBC and beyond.

Code harmonization has become an issue given the inconsistent provincial application of the 2020 NBC, particularly regarding energy efficiency. In fact, the 2020 NBC itself was a disappointment to many.

“The proposed federal code isn’t the pathway to net-zero it’s hyped to be. It’s an improvement but not there yet,” Passive House Canada CEO Chris Ballard wrote in an op-ed. “The latest federal model code is a step code, much like that found in British Columbia. This means it’s designed to allow provinces to ratchet up energy performance levels over time to increase efficiency and drive down greenhouse gas emissions.”

Some provinces have aimed higher than others. Notably, Ontario has chosen the lowest possible level.

“Rather than adopt the step code, the provincial government in Ontario proposes to opt for the lowest possible efficiency level,” says Ballard. “For smaller buildings, Ontario will make no improvements in energy efficiency. For larger buildings, the province will put in place a standard that is less efficient on some of the requirements for windows, doors and insulation.”

Ballard has been critical in the past of the old CCBFC and the dominance of entrenched industry stakeholders.

“Gaining a seat at the table (was) near impossible,” he said, adding the overall process was too slow to match the urgency of the climate crisis underway.

Some industry experts tell the Daily Commercial News they are nevertheless encouraged to see this new initiative promoting improved harmonization of provincial codes.

“At its core, it makes it clear the responsibility for code development lies with government, particularly provincial and territorial governments,” said building consultant Rob Bernhardt. “The influence of some industry groups will be reduced, which is good.”

Kevin Lockhart, efficient building lead at Efficiency Canada, is also optimistic.

“The proposed governance model provides a seat at the table for the federal government and provides a venue within the codes development system for direct policy input on the part of provinces and territories.”

In response to inquiries, a spokesperson for the new CBHCC confirmed that, “Development of codes content will continue to be carried out by technical committees made up of volunteers from across the country, and considers input from industry, regulators, and the stakeholder community.”

That would suggest little has changed.

That leaves resilient building consultant Deborah Byrne more guarded when it comes to those non-governmental members of task forces and committees who will continue to hold sway.

“It really depends on who is driving the bus and the influence of the ‘volunteers.’ Based on Ontario’s reaction to ‘harmonizing’ with the NBC, I don’t hold out much hope.”

As for the CBHCC itself, provincial, territorial and federal governments will hold one vote each, along with a lengthy list of industry stakeholders across the entire construction spectrum. If one believes that larger, more complex committees can improve decision-making, this might sound promising.

“Although the new process will include many of the old code development ‘cliques,’ we are hopeful it will provide more accountability to the public,” says Ballard.

The proof of the CBHCC’s success will be in the harmonization results it actually achieves.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Climate and Construction column ideas to [email protected].

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