Anxiety over new building code tests in Ontario picks up
December 12, 2005
By Canadian Consulting Engineer
With a deadline fast approaching, so far there is no word that Professional Engineers of Ontario has managed to per...
With a deadline fast approaching, so far there is no word that Professional Engineers of Ontario has managed to persuade the provincial government to drop its required testing of building engineers.
On January 1, 2006 all professional engineers who do building design will have to have passed examinations to show their knowledge of the Ontario Building Code in order to submit building applications. The requirement was introduced in 2003 as the Building Code Statute Law Amendment Act, now known as Bill 124.
While the Ontario Architects Association has come to an arrangement with the Ontario government whereby it will conduct the tests on its licensed members, Professional Engineers of Ontario has refused to do the same.
PEO objects to the testing regime on principle, saying that it is unnecessary since professional engineers are already obliged as a condition of their licence to be knowledgeable in their area of practice. In a letter dated September 16, 2004 to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, George Comrie, P.Eng., president of PEO, said that the requirement for engineers to pass code-knowledge exams “sets a policy precedent that ignores existing public statutes that regulate and govern the practice of licensed professionals.” Also, a policy statement on the association’s website states: “Testing licensed practitioners for building code knowledge … is tantamount to a public denigration of the professional engineer licence.”
At a grassroots level, anxiety about the new requirements was much evident during a session held at the Construct Canada show in Toronto on December 1. The “Update on Bill 124” panel was led by James Douglas representing the government, and Michael Steele, B. Tech, one of the people who helped formulate the original building reform (BRAGG) recommendations. Steele said that among his concerns was the fact that the government had “cherry-picked” the BRAGG committee’s recommendations. He felt that the new regulations had added complexity to the building approvals process rather than creating a streamlined process, which was the original intention.
Besides requiring building practitioners to be tested on the building code, the new regulations require those who have qualified in the tests and who also wish to provide services to the public to become registered with the government.
The regulations also standardize building permit applications and impose a time limit on a decision ranging from 10 to 30 days, depending on the type of building. The municipality might turn down the application within 30 days, but then the applicant can resubmit the application indefinitely, paying a fee every time. It will place an onus on the building designers to ensure that the application is approved quickly. During discussions it became evident that discretion over the decisions will still rest with the building officials, which drew cries of “So what’s changed?” from the audience.
Another attendee suggested that the big problem in northern areas of Ontario will be a lack of trained building officials to administer the new system. Complicating things is the fact that the province will be issuing a new building code in 2006.
The government has said it will set up a Building Advisory Council whose purpose will be to review how the regulations are working and to advise the Ministry.