Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Can we learn from Calgary’s red tape dilemma?

Canadian Contractor

Calgary’s housing industry is ‘mired in red tape’ according to the Fraser Institute. What the City is doing about it might be a learning experience for everyone

The Fraser Institute released a survey in August after questioning over thirty developers in the Calgary-Edmonton area about their experiences with timelines, approval processes and fee structures. Of the nine communities surveyed and ranked, Calgary reportedly came in #8 out of 9.

Small sampling of apples-to oranges-markets?
The survey was not wholly accepted as accurate, according to a Globe & Mail report. “Several builders felt it was unreasonable to compare such disparate communities, while others suggested the sample size was too low.”

Garett Wohlberg, director of planning and communications for Qualico Communities in Calgary was quoted as saying “You can’t compare apples to oranges and complain about the difference.”

The Fraser Institute rose to the defense of their survey. The purpose of the survey was to show “how municipal governments are affecting access to housing stock and affordable housing with regulation systems,” Dr. Kenneth Green told the Globe & Mail, one of three researchers engaged in the study at the Fraser Institute. “Government rules and regulations can definitely impact people’s lives.”


Is Calgary alone?
Nevertheless, the issue of red tape is something many developers, builders, and renovators mention all the time. While some municipalities and regions may issue ‘partial permits’ to allow projects to begin, even more steps need to be taken. Improving building processes while ensuring that they meet the needs of their communities is vital if Canadian housing industry is to grow and prosper. This in turn requires good relationships amongst all those involved, an initiative that needs to be undertaken both by government and by groups representing the industry.

Collaboration on the mend
Improving relationships and communications between government and industry are at the heart of Calgary’s desire to change its standing.  Both the CHBA Calgary division and the City of Calgary have been moving towards a more collaborative approach recently. Here, as in some other communities, on-line building applications are speeding up processes, for example.

Last month,Wendy Jabusch of the Calgary Home Builders’ Association told Canadian Contractor “Our association is working very closely with the City of Calgary right now, with great initiatives coming on in terms of cutting red tape, eliminating redundant processes and other things that add cost but not value.”

In addition, the Globe & Mail spoke to  Dennis Inglis, vice-president of the land development division of Melcor Developments, who said that over the past 2 years, the City of Calgary through its Build Calgary initiative has improved its approach to housing development significantly, meeting with community associations, politicians, planners and residents and with the CHBA Calgary and the affected communities.

Given the added pressures of a regional economy under stress, Calgary’s model may be one to watch by other areas across the country.

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