Municipal overreach on green standards can result in chaos and uncertainty

by Richard Lyall on 12 May 2022

In an effort to show leadership in the fight against climate change, municipal governments have been putting in place their own technical requirements and green standards for developers and builders to follow.

It’s great that civic brass and politicians at the municipal level are taking an interest in implementing measures to protect our planet but acting independently and hastily ahead of the federal and provincial governments and putting in place new rules can sometimes have unintended and negative consequences.

Municipalities that come up with their own requirements are undermining an established process that works. Fragmented building requirements implemented at the municipal level often create a duplication of efforts with higher tier governments and can contribute to policy confusion, ultimately hampering the ability of the construction industry to deliver much-needed housing supply.

This municipal overreach, whereby municipalities mandate their own unique technical requirements as they see fit, might seem like a good idea at first, but municipal standards must be in harmony with those established by the higher-tier levels of government. Otherwise, they will merely cause chaos and uncertainty.

Harmonization of construction codes by the federal and provincial government might seem to move too slowly for some municipal governments but there is a methodical process in place for a number of reasons.

The development of building codes involves countless subject matter experts, comprehensive research and development initiatives, monitoring of case studies, material and product evaluations as well as demonstration projects. 

It is a costly and complex process, which is why code development is typically left to provincial and federal governments, with support from the National Research Council Canada which co-ordinates the process and validates code change proposals. 

This is the primary reason RESCON supports the provincial and national building code development process over municipal programs. The built-in checks and balances vet code change proposals and institute accountability to the process before any changes are made.

In 2020, Ontario signed the Reconciliation Agreement on Construction Codes, whereby Ontario committed to harmonizing the Ontario Building Code with the National Construction Codes. The aim of the agreement is to harmonize codes to help reduce barriers related to labour mobility, product manufacturing and building design, all while ensuring a path forward for net-zero buildings across Canada.

Upsetting the apple cart by having individual municipalities come up with their own requirements does not advance the cause.

For one, many municipal green standards have proven to be futile in lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improving energy efficiency in new homes and buildings. 

For example, the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) was implemented in 2010, and the more recent TransformTO climate action strategy in 2017. These were put in place independently and more hastily ahead of higher-tier government actions. However, more recently a growing amount of data has emerged that showed these approaches have not lowered GHG emissions and improved energy efficiency in new buildings.

Unfortunately, homeowners ultimately paid the price, as the municipal green requirements increased the cost and complexity of construction. Yet, they delivered lackluster performance in return.

Now, Toronto council has fast-tracked the city to be net-zero by 2040 instead of 2050. This will accelerate TGS implementation timelines even more, increase costs for the construction industry and send us down a path without consideration as to how to handle electrification. Meanwhile, Canada and Ontario are still working towards the 2050 goal, which will only cause confusion for the industry and buyers of new homes.

Everybody must be working off the same rules when it comes to standards. RESCON strongly believes municipal governments should fall in line with federal and provincial codes. It should not be the other way around.

Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected].

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