Canadian Consulting Engineer

Ontario tests patience of building engineers

On January 1 the Ontario government stuck to its guns over the provisions of Bill 124. From now on engineers who submit or review designs for clients' building permit applications in Ontario have to t...

January 1, 2006   By Bronwen Parsons

On January 1 the Ontario government stuck to its guns over the provisions of Bill 124. From now on engineers who submit or review designs for clients’ building permit applications in Ontario have to take tests to show their knowledge of the building code and register with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) and Consulting Engineers of Ontario have raised an outcry over the new regime, with letters, articles and policy advisories proliferating. Under protest, the architects’ association took the option to run parallel tests themselves and to keep a registry of the qualified individuals. At press time it seemed PEO might finally decide to do the same, but no announcement had been made.

Not everyone is against testing professionals (this magazine’s website poll showed 67% against, 33% for). But so far, the changes brought by Bill 124 certainly have created a raft of problems.

Perhaps the salt rubbing most bitterly into consulting engineers’ wounds is the fact that the government has allowed other groups to be exempt from the registration component. An individual designer employed by a design-build company, for example, still has to pass code tests and become “qualified.” However, the design-build company itself doesn’t have to be “registered” and carry insurance. Among the other groups inexplicably excused are design companies doing home renovations, which leaves a huge escape hatch for renegade small contractors.

Other reforms in Bill 124 that were enacted last year affect the municipal building departments and were intended to streamline the processing of permit applications. Critics say the new rules have produced the exact opposite result, adding more layers of bureaucracy and red tape.

There is still room for building officials to use their own discretion in refusing a permit, for example. And despite the use of new standardized application forms, municipalities are supplementing these with other forms requiring more information. In this way, Consulting Engineers of Ontario believes municipalities could pile liability onto engineers and recommends that the building owner, not the engineer, should be the name on permit applications. Naturally, some owners won’t be happy to go along, thinking engineers are unwilling to take responsibility for their work.

Meanwhile the code tests are already becoming outdated. The Ontario Building Code is set to be revised, bringing it into line with its national counterpart. There’s no word yet whether everyone will have to retake the tests when that happens.

Finally, consulting engineering firms have yet another level of registration to comply with and pay for. It’s not enough that they have to apply to PEO for a Certificate of Authorization and the Consulting Engineer designation, now they also have to register for a Building Code Identification Number. An already complex web of certification requirements has been made even more complex — adding to the confusion of all. Last but not least, the new certification raises a barrier to the interprovincial and international movement of practising engineers.


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