415 - 3075 Primrose Lane
Coquitlam, British Columbia
V3B 7S2 Canada
August 10, 2000
The Palmer Partnership
The Clock House, Meriworth Road
Meriworth, Nr. Maidstone
ME 185 JQ
Re: U.K. Mission to Canada on Home Building Skills
Dear Mr. Palmer,
I am a British Columbian home owner who read with interest a newspaper article outlining your housing team's recent visit to Canada to research Canadian construction standards. I was especially surprised that your group did not visit Vancouver, British Columbia which has a climate most similar to Great Britain's. I can understand your visiting Ottawa where the National Research Council has its impressive facilities. It is true that Toronto and Calgary are the Canadian cities that are undergoing robust housing growth for you to observe in action. I can only hope that you were not intentionally swayed from visiting British Columbia, despite its nearly identical climatic conditions to your market, in order to conceal the largest residential construction crisis in Canadian history.
I feel I have a moral obligation to bring this construction crisis to your attention as I would hate to see what has happened to thousands of housing consumers in British Columbia happen to anyone else. Having spent the last 5 years of my life actively lobbying for government action to protect housing consumers from shoddy building practices, I can assure you that all is not well within the Canadian home building industry - not with building practices, nor with building products, nor with construction industry ethics, nor with government stewardship.
It is estimated that the residential construction crisis in British Columbia alone will cost innocent home buyers a minimum of $ 1 billion in repairs. When the litigation and social and health costs of this crisis are factored in, it has been estimated that the final tally could be double that of the repair costs.
Foreclosures due to mortgage defaults and personal bankruptcies are occurring in unprecedented numbers as home owners falter under horrific financial burdens not of their making. Illness related to mould and high levels of stress are increasing. The residential construction industry has fallen from second to seventh place as a contributor to the provincial economy. Housing starts for the year 2000 will be at low levels not seen since 1962, due in most part to consumer fear of buying a problem home and to the huge stock of damaged homes in existence. This is not the analysis you will hear from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). It is the unglossed version of reality of the residential construction industry in British Columbia.
While premature building envelope failure is the most predominant problem affecting both low-rise wood frame and high-rise concrete construction in the coastal regions of British Columbia, crumbling foundations due to swelling clay soils and plumbing and fire system problems have also occurred in alarming numbers. There are equally serious housing construction failures elsewhere in the country. Albertan home owners have had a $300 million problem due to the failure of pine shake roofing. Quebec has had problems with crumbling foundations and brick building exteriors. The Maritime provinces have also had rot problems associated with water ingress.
The federal government action to assist home owners who have experienced these problems can be categorized at best as being tepid and ineffectual. In B.C., CMHC has participated in various studies with a funding contribution that constitutes a mere 2% of its annual research budget. This is hardly a significant response to a billion dollar crisis that has crippled the third largest housing sector in the country and destroyed the financial stability of thousands of citizens whose only folly was to purchase new 'made-in-Canada' homes.
Having read the Egan Report, it does appear that the U.K. is seeking proactive ways of improving its residential construction industry. I referred the Egan Report to Shayne Ramsay, CEO of the British Columbia Homeowner Protection Office, to Jan Pullinger, the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security and to provincial opposition MLA Christie Clark. I believe the findings of the Egan Report bolster many of the recommendations which resulted from the two public commissions of enquiry, chaired by ex-Premier Dave Barrett. (The Renewal of Trust in Residential Construction - Commission of Inquiry into the Quality of Condominium Construction in British Columbia / Parts I (1998) & II (1999). The reports are available at www.sdes.gov.bc.ca)
It is hoped that after reviewing the Barrett Reports, you will be in a better position to evaluate the risks and advantages of adopting Canadian home building practices and materials in the U.K. From an informed consumer perspective, it is my opinion that the Canadian home building industry and government have issues that require resolution prior to marketing their 'expertise' internationally. To do otherwise would be tantamount to Canada selling CANDU nuclear reactors knowing they were faulty. At present the Canadian housing industry, in concert with all levels of government, is building disposable housing, not durable, quality housing. Is this a model the U.K. wishes to emulate?
Should you care to have the names and numbers of engineers, architects, city officials and provincial government representatives who have been wrestling with the British Columbian residential construction crisis, please feel free to contact me. In the event that the content of this letter was already known to you, please accept it as unsolicited input from a consumer spokesperson who attended 70 of the 79 public hearings intended to right our building industry's wrongs. I remain
cc: Sir John Egan / Chairman of the Construction Task Force
Nigel Dorling, Divisional Manager / Construction Industry Sponsorship
Inquiry, headed by ex-Premier Dave Barrett. (The Renewal of Trust in Residential Construction )