Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

One Task, a Few Approaches, Many Impacts: Private-Sector Involvement in Canadian Building Code Enforcement

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

One Task, a Few Approaches, Many Impacts: Private-Sector Involvement in Canadian Building Code Enforcement

Article excerpt

Our built environment is strongly affected by building regulations and their enforcement. As in other policy sectors, a global trend in built environment policy is the introduction of private-sector actors in regulatory enforcement. Privatization of building code enforcement has been undertaken by governments in the U.S. (LaFaive 2001), Australia (Australian Building Codes Board 1999), New Zealand (Hunn 2002), and different European countries (Meijer and Visscher 2006). The shift towards using private-sector actors is premised on the assumption that they are better than public-sector enforcement actors at effectively and efficiently enforcing building regulations.

Canada is no exception here. Interestingly, in Canada, building regulations are drawn up on a national level, but the introduction of privatization of regulatory control has proceeded with variations among different Canadian jurisdictions. These variations allow an exploration of the specific impacts of privatization in three contexts where building techniques and the (national) building code are broadly similar. We are also provided with a unique opportunity to empirically analyse multiple approaches to a single task. The aim of this article is to gain insight into the impacts of these three different approaches in different jurisdictions.

This study proceeds in four parts. First, since it is expected that privatization of Canadian building regulatory enforcement fits in a global trend of government reforms, the first section of this article questions what general impacts might be expected when regulatory tasks that were formerly a public responsibility are now privatized. The article then introduces and discusses three cases: building regulatory enforcement in the City of Vancouver, the Province of Ontario, and the Province of Alberta. Then, referring to testimonials from interviews with about fifty key actors, the substantive part of the article describes and evaluates the implications of private-sector involvement in building regulatory enforcement practice and process. Finally, I discuss some specific findings that add to existing knowledge on privatization of regulatory enforcement. Based on these findings, we can draw some lessons for the redesign of building regulatory enforcement in Canada.

Regulatory enforcement regimes

In order to ensure that regulations are observed, they have to be enforced. Regulations and their enforcement as a "means for achieving regulatory goals" can be referred to as a "regulatory regime" (May 2007: 9). Enforcement itself is, however, regulated and enforced as well. To provide clarity in terminology, the term "oversight" will be used for the enforcing of enforcement (for an overview of oversight literature, see Marvel and Marvel 2007). By combining the concepts of a regulatory regime and oversight, we can posit the concept of a "regulatory enforcement regime." This regulatory enforcement regime is defined as an organizational structure of actors that have tasks and responsibilities regarding the enforcement of regulations, the relations between these actors, and the relation between the organizational structure and its context (cf. Hood, Rothstein, and Baldwin 2001). As such, a regulatory enforcement regime builds on three levels of responsibility: the responsibility for setting regulations; the responsibility for regulating and overseeing enforcement; and the actual enforcement of regulations.

Traditionally, all tasks and responsibilities regarding regulation, oversight and enforcement were carried out by governmental agencies (Baldwin and Cave 1999; Kagan 1984): we can refer to these as "pure public" regimes. Yet, from the 1970s onward, major criticism of the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of this traditional structure (Hood 1995; Sparrow 2000) resulted in a new paradigm under which governments became more entrepreneurial (Osborne and Gaebler 1992). Under the phrase "from government to governance" (Rhodes 1997: 2007), non-governmental organizations were involved in governing, and former governmental organizations were privatized. …

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