Federal mandate letters signal changes to building codes, deep retrofits and electric vehicles

Highlights from the letters with some added context

Brendan Haley

Policy Director, Efficiency CanadaDirector of Policy Research | Efficiency Canada

December 17, 2021

Blogs | Federal Policy | News

  • New federal minister mandate letters released
  • The new mandate includes important changes to building codes and a net-zero emissions building strategy
  • Low-income energy efficiency remains a gap

The Prime Minister of Canada released the “mandate letters” to federal Ministers on December 16th. These letters define each Ministries agenda and progress was previously actively tracked by central government offices.

See below for some energy efficiency highlights from the letters, with some added context.

Building Code Accountability

We were watching to see if the mandate letters included federal leadership over the development of model building codes. 

As highlighted in Efficiency Canada’s report on Strengthening Canada’s Building Code Process, there is no clear champion at the federal level for net-zero new buildings. Code development has been led by a volunteer body and a provincial/territorial committee, which do not recognize direction from Canada’s climate plan.

The letters now clearly include a mandate regarding the “development of model building codes … that align with national climate objectives and provide a standard for climate-resilient buildings” for the Ministers of Natural Resources and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

This mandate includes “publishing a net-zero emissions building code and model retrofit code by the end of 2024”. This language signals some significant changes.

First, it adds “emissions” as an objective within a model code that has previously only focused on a narrow definition of energy efficiency.

Second, it directs a model retrofit code to be developed by 2024. Efficiency Canada previously uncovered that the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes (CCBFC) had planned to not develop a retrofit code until 2030.

Furthermore, the letter includes language to “ensure effective implementation” by working with “partners to develop strategies around incentives, training programs and pilot initiatives”. 

This shows there is a recognition that accelerating building code adoption, enforcement, and compliance will require federal action to spur market readiness activities in provinces and municipalities. Kevin Lockhart wrote on how the federal government can accomplish this through federal platforms and a building code acceleration fund here.

National Net-Zero Emissions Building Strategy

 The Natural Resource Minister also has direction to implement a strategy to “achieve net-zero emissions from buildings in 2050”. This includes net-zero emissions new builds and “deep retrofits of existing buildings. 

The letter also includes:  

  • “requiring EnerGuide labeling of homes at the time of sale.” Our provincial policy tracking shows this agenda has stalled, with only BC recently committing to mandatory home labeling by using a combination of virtual and in-person assessments. 
  • “transitioning away from fossil-fuel home heating systems”. This is a more explicit mention of fuel switching, and could build from the market transformation roadmap that aims to see all space heating technologies meet an energy performance of more than 100% (i.e. heat pumps). 
  • “launching a community level net-zero homes initiative”. This language was used in the Liberal Platform to describe Energiesprong retrofit at scale approaches. As discussed in our Retrofit Mission report, Energiesprong is implemented by “market development teams” that coordinate demand and supply sides of retrofit markets to deliver large-scale retrofit solutions. This a governance model relevant to all building types and different retrofit technologies. It could also aggregate retrofit projects at national/regional as well as community scales. The key is to demonstrate and learn about how economies of scale can accelerate retrofits.

Electric Vehicles 

The mandate letter for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change includes a regulated sales mandate for at least 50% of all new light duty vehicles sales to be zero emissions in 2030, towards 100% by 2035. Plus, a sales requirement that 100% medium and heavy-duty vehicles sales be zero emission by 2040.

We called for a national ZEV mandate in previous provincial policy Scorecards

With increased emphasis on both vehicle and heating electrification, all provinces should be considering ramping up electric energy efficiency and demand flexibility initiatives.  

Low-income energy efficiency remains a gap 

No mandate letter makes any mention of energy poverty or low-income energy efficiency. This is despite the letters including principles of “equity, diversity, and inclusion” a future where “no one is left behind”.

This policy gap is not only an injustice, but a significant political liability for the net-zero emissions agenda, especially as living costs rise and we encounter more extreme weather events that impact lower income households the most. In addition, we will not bring all buildings to net-zero emissions without a specific strategy for low-to-moderate income homes.

We previously made the case for why the federal government should support low-income energy efficiency here. We are also adding insights on how to expand the scale and scope of low-income efficiency in Canada. Abhi Kantamneni wrote a recent blog providing international insights, and we will continue to work to ensure the benefits of energy efficiency are available to all Canadians.  

Taking Action Works 

 There are many other relevant items in the mandate letters in areas such as a Clean Jobs Training Centre, industrial “net-zero acceleration”, electric vehicle charging, climate resilience, and low-carbon building materials. Take a look.

 Overall, the mandate letters signal policy areas (e.g., building codes) that were previously off the policy radar are now an integral part of the government’s mandate. This could not have been accomplished without the people who work in energy efficiency and their allies raising their voices. Let’s continue to make sure energy efficiency and demand side solutions continue to be supported in the new year.

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