Toronto opposed to Certified Professionals program

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The City of Toronto has concerns about a provincial proposal that could allow developers to hire their own independent building inspectors.

Last September, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing released a discussion paper titled “Transforming and Modernizing the Delivery of Ontario’s Building Code Services.” It includes numerous amendments to the building code to “improve and expedite services.”

One proposal is to create a “Certified Professionals Program,” allowing architects and engineers to undergo additional training to perform some of the work currently done by city building inspectors.

The ministry says changes would “streamline the permit approval process” while still ensuring “code compliance.”

“Stakeholders have indicated that lengthy approval processes delay the construction of buildings, costing significant time and money,” the ministry wrote in its discussion paper. “For example, there may be disputes about building code interpretations, or permit applications may be incomplete or may not comply with building code requirements.”

Changes to the building code are an attempt at streamlining the development approval process.

“Over the years, stakeholders have asked the government to consider leveraging professional expertise to support building code enforcement.”

However, Will Johnston, Toronto’s chief building official, has concerns.

In a report to the city’s planning and housing committee Johnston wrote that he can’t support a program “whereby builders would be allowed through legislation to hire designers to assume the plan review and inspection roles and responsibilities on behalf of municipalities.”

“In the City of Toronto, the public relies on the expertise of our qualified staff for an independent and objective review of construction,” he wrote. “This regulatory oversight by our building inspectors provides the public with assurance that the buildings where they live, work and visit meet all fire and life standard requirements while achieving other code objectives such as environmental protections and accessibility.”

In its discussion paper the ministry says changes are in response to the “lengthy approval processes” faced by some developers often “delays the construction of buildings, costing them significant time and money.”

According to ministry documents, changes create “a new path forward for building code services.”

The new program is based on a similar model in place in Vancouver and Surrey and is in response to requests “to consider leveraging professional expertise to support building code enforcement.”

“The building sector is a $38 billion industry and a key driver of Ontario’s economy. It is essential that the people working in this sector have the support they need to keep Ontario’s economy growing,” the report said.

“Stakeholders have been asking for better, more modern and timely services and resources to support their ability to understand and apply the highly technical and complex building code requirements.”

Their plan creates an administrative authority to provide enhanced and new user-driven services.

In British Columbia, engineers and architects who have taken additional building code training and examinations can review building plans and perform site inspections for large buildings to support the building permit process. Municipalities may voluntarily choose to run their own programs where Certified Professionals take on some of the traditional functions of the Chief building official, but with enhanced documentation through “letters of assurance”.

“Transferring service delivery to an administrative authority would enable new, modern, user-driven services to be delivered to the building sector. An administrative authority can scale and deliver services more nimbly and would also be tasked with providing streamlined customer service to all Ontarians. It would also promote a consistent approach to building code interpretation and application, while still protecting public health and safety.”

The administrative authority would operate on a “full cost recovery” basis, funded by the sector.

In his report, Johnston says while certified professionals would have “legal and ethical obligations under their professional act,” there would still be the potential for conflicts of interest if they are hired by the developers.

Instead, the province should expand the roles and responsibilities of registered professional engineers and architects in Ontario and strengthen the ability of municipalities to rely on them, he wrote.

Johnston is advising city council to request the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to “conduct further consultations directly with the City of Toronto on its proposals to change how Ontario Building Code services are delivered.”

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