Editorial: December 2012
New ideas, please
By Patrick Flannery
Industry leaders agree that most parts of this country lack a fair,
enforced regime to ensure that industry standards are met. We need some
new thinking to fix this old problem.
Industry leaders agree that most parts of this country lack a fair, enforced regime to ensure that industry standards are met. We need some new thinking to fix this old problem.
If the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result, Canadian standards regulators must be crazy. For most of a century, we have had established standards and practices around construction and architecture. Great effort and intelligence has gone into refining and updating those standards as technology has progressed. Standards writers, governments and associations have moved heaven and earth in their attempts to communicate these standards to the industry.
Yet there has never been a time when those committed to upholding standards have felt they were taking the most competitive position in the marketplace. The feeling persists of being under threat from corner-cutters and helpless to communicate the benefits of higher-quality products to an uneducated customer base. Insisting on high standards, long warranties and trained personnel has been more a personal choice on your part about the kind of company you want to run than a market-driven attempt to make more money and defeat the competition.
Tension between high-quality/high-price and low-quality/low-price is as old as markets. In general, it is a good thing because it ensures consumers will have more choice. But most people walking around on the street do not know a good window from a bad one, much less possess the knowledge to correctly apply a fenestration solution to their homes and environments. And builders and commercial property owners may be motivated by short-term concerns that are not in line with the long-term needs of homeowners and tenants. As a result, a market left purely to market forces can turn into a perpetual race to the bottom on price with an overall decline in the quality, safety and efficiency of the country’s building inventory. If the situation is allowed to stretch on long enough, the technical ability to build higher-quality fenestration can actually leave the country.
Unfortunately, government attempts to enforce minimum standards have owed more to ideology than pragmatism. More interventionist governments have sought to control jobsites, forcing contractors to use only certified, unionized labour and subjecting them to red tape and bureaucratic delay in getting projects approved. The result has been higher prices, barriers to entry for new companies and corruption. More laissez-faire regimes have cut back on research, oversight and enforcement, allowing standards to lapse behind technology and untrained, fly-by-night contractors peddling cheap but inferior products to undercut the fortunes of those who aim higher. The result has been danger to the public, slow uptake of better technology and reduced energy efficiency with its attendant environmental consequences. Sliding back and forth along the continuum of more or less regulation appears to have failed.
We need a third way. Anyone?