On Thursday I rose to speak at second reading in support of Bill 3 -2015 Building Act. This is a bill that has been in the works for quite some time. As Minister Richard Coleman (Liberal – Fort Langley-Aldergrove) and Mike Farnworth (NDP – Port Coquitlam), two of the longest serving MLAs in the legislature, noted, the contents within the bill have been discussed and debated since the 1990s.
This bill has three main purposes:
Below is the text of my contribution to the debate.
I must say, I do agree with the member for Nanaimo about the importance of climate and actually having that reflected in building codes. There have been steps made in the province of British Columbia, without any doubt, in that area. I assume and hope that there will be in the future.
The minister points out that the building code has been greening for the past seven years. I agree that there have been advances in that area. My concern, of course, is whether or not this bill will actually limit the innovation that has occurred and will continue to occur at the municipal level.
There’s a lot of good in this bill. I’ve been in contact with municipalities in the area that I serve, and they’re generally supportive of this bill. There’s strength within the streamlining of the building requirements across the province, particularly in a region like the capital regional district, with our multitude of municipalities and subsequent building codes. There does need to be standardization, and that has certainly been conveyed to me.
The intent, of course, is to reduce costs and improve efficiency, productivity and innovation in the construction sector. It’s hard to argue against attempts to reduce bureaucracy, red tape and costs in the construction sector. Of course, builders and construction associations have been lobbying for a streamlined Building Act for many, many years. As a stakeholder in the building business…. Of course, listening to an important stakeholder is of great importance.
Some of the local governments that we’ve looked into, particularly the ones that I represent, have expressed concerns not so much about what they’ve read in the bill, but the devil is within the details, in some sense. They’re not sure to what extent, at this stage, it will actually affect them or affect their ability to take local concerns into their building practices.
There are some concerns about streamlining. But generally, streamlining the building requirements, especially qualifications for building officials, would certainly help reduce confusion and improve the efficiency for builders.
Some of the concerns and questions that have been expressed to me lie in these finer details. In particular, there have been questions with respect to whether or not this bill actually provides a minimum standard or a maximum standard in some cases, whether it will limit innovation or allow for innovation. Again, this is where the devil is in the details. We’ll hear more about that as we go into committee stage.
One specific and very local example that was brought to my attention — and I think this is shared not only in the region of Oak Bay but across British Columbia — was the issue with respect to local requirements for fire regulations, fire sprinkler regulations. There are areas that are not well served by access for fire trucks, access for fire reduction. These areas do have and are required within local areas to have various sprinkler regulations. We only have to look at what happened on Mount Washington just this past week for some of the ramifications of perhaps not having more aggressive fire regulations in a community that is not well served, that does not have good access to fire services.
There’s also some question and concern about the extent to which this bill will retroactively remove some of the unique bylaws within the municipalities. I look forward to exploring that further. Again, it’s important — as the member for Nanaimo, the member for Port Coquitlam and others have expressed — to actually ensure this bill facilitates innovation rather than limits innovation. I’m sure, again, in committee stage we’ll see more of that.
Finally, the big question municipalities are asking is: who’s going to pay the cost? Is the government going to be repaid? Or is this, in some sense, going to be downloading of costs onto municipalities? Or will it be alleviating municipalities?
There is a very real concern out there that while builders will be saving money, the question is: what about local governments? Will they be picking up the bills, or will they actually be reducing their costs as well?
The rationale for this, of course, is that there are far too many pressing issues, as we try to deal with our infrastructure debt in municipalities across British Columbia that has grown over decades of neglect and is now having to be dealt with through year-after-year increases in municipal housing taxes, property taxes. There is simply no more room for growth in these areas to cover downloading of costs onto municipalities.
Once again, overall, I’m very pleased to support this bill at this stage, and I will look forward to seeing more information in the details as we move to committee stage.