Regulatory Cooperation: Building Codes


Building construction is an important part of Canada’s economy, employing nearly 1.4 million Canadians. The National Building Code of Canada (the Code), comprises the National Model Codes for buildings, fire, plumbing and energy, and set out the requirements for the design and construction of new buildings, as well as changes to, or demolition of, existing buildings. The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, which includes volunteers, industry experts, governments, and the public, develops the Code.

The National Research Council Canada (NRC) publishes the Code and sells it to users through the NRC’s website. Provinces, territories, and some municipal governments are responsible for adopting the Code through their legislation. These governments may choose to modify parts of the Code and/or delay adoption to suit specific jurisdictional building needs. As a result, the Code is currently applied differently across the country, and these differences impose significant costs and impacts on the productivity of the construction industry.

Ensuring harmonization, timely adoption, and free access to the Code will reduce costs on the sector and improve accessibility. The 2018 Fall Economic Statement proposes to make access to the National Building Codes free, and to provide sufficient resources for the federal government to address provincial, territorial, and other stakeholder code development priorities in a more timely way.

Similar initiatives in other countries comparable to Canada (e.g. Australia) in construction GDP, population, regulatory systems, and labour mobility have realized an economic benefit between $500 million and $1 billion annually.

A report from the Canadian Institute for Plumbing and Heating, entitled “Breaking Down Barriers for Water Heaters”, examined the economic impact of differing water heater requirements. It indicated that due to misalignment of the technical provisions for water heaters across the country, manufacturers, retailers, builders, and home owners incur additional costs of over $130 million dollars annually.

Extrapolating this to the thousands of technical provisions (standards) and products in Canada, the overall impact is projected to reach several hundred million dollars.

Next Steps

The Government of Canada will make the National Building Codes available for free. This will set the stage for provinces and territories to come to an agreement on harmonizing building code requirements across the country.

Building code alignment is currently part of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement’s Regulatory Reconciliation and Cooperation Table work plan. Federal, provincial and territorial governments are seeking to finalize an associated reconciliation agreement.

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