On-Site Magazine

Double-digit drop in building permits

By Adam Freill   

Commercial Construction Industrial Institutional Residential

Statistics Canada indicates a 14 per cent monthly fall in December construction intentions as permits roll back to 2020 levels.

Building permits, December 2023. (Source: Statistics Canada, : Table 34-10-0285-01, Building permits, by type of building and type of work.)

December’s total value of building permits in Canada fell 14 per cent from November, coming in at $9.2 billion, the lowest monthly level since October 2020. According to the most recent figures shared by Statistics Canada, declines were recorded in both the residential and non-residential sectors, however two segments were the main drivers of the dip: multi-family residential and institutional.

The total value of residential permits fell 17.9 per cent to $5.7 billion in December, driven by a 31 per cent decline in multi-unit construction intentions, the largest monthly drop in the series. The 45 per cent decline in Ontario’s value of multi-unit permits was a key contributor to the overall monthly decrease.

Meanwhile, construction intentions in single-family dwellings actually edged up for the month, rising 0.8 per cent to $2.9 billion. A 15 per cent gain in Alberta more than offset declines in seven provinces. Growth in single-family construction intentions in Alberta hit their largest monthly value since January 2014.

On the whole, non-residential sector permits decreased seven per cent in December, to land at $3.6 billion. The 56 per cent decline in institutional permit values in Quebec more than offset the 4.1 per cent gain in commercial intentions and 4.7 per cent rise in industrial permits across Canada. Quebec’s large monthly decline is attributed to the absence of new major institutional permits issued in December, after two projects estimated at over $150 million each were issued in November.

On the quarter

The total value of building permits in the fourth quarter of 2023 was $31.3 billion, down nine per cent from the previous quarter, and 1.7 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2022. The total value of building permits in the fourth quarter of 2023 was the lowest quarterly level reported since the $30.8 billion reported in the third quarter of 2021.

Non-residential permit values were down 13.3 per cent from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2023 to sit at $11.6 billion for the quarter, while residential dipped 6.3 per cent to land at $19.7 billion.

Permits down in 2023

Year over year, the total current dollar value of building permits fell 3.2 per cent to $132.2 billion in 2023. However, Statistics Canada explained that rising material and labour costs inflated nominal building permit valuations, which masked some of the true decline. On a constant dollar basis, using 2017-dollar values, the total annual value of building permits decreased 8.9 per cent from 2022 to $84.2 billion in 2023.

In constant dollars, the residential sector experienced its second consecutive annual decline in building permit values, dropping by 15.5 per cent to $48.3 billion in 2023, while the non-residential sector rose for the third consecutive year, up 1.7 per cent to $35.9 billion in 2023.

The institutional component gained 14.4 per cent and the industrial segment was up 4.1 per cent as both experienced series highs in construction intentions, leading to an overall growth increase in the non-residential sector. However, growth in the non-residential sector was tempered by a 6.1 per cent decline in the commercial component, which accounted for almost half of the value of construction intentions in the non-residential sector.


Drivers of growth

The gains in the institutional component were mostly attributed to large construction intentions for hospitals and long-term care facilities. The demand on the Canadian healthcare system has been magnified in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Canada’s aging population. A variety of public policies have been announced to address the high demands on the healthcare system, including investments from various levels of government like the federal Canada Health Transfer top-ups, and bilateral agreements between governments. In 2023, the largest building permit issued was for a new hospital in Vaudreuil-Dorion (Quebec), with an estimated construction value of almost $1.0 billion. Construction intentions for hospital permits that cost over $100.0 million were recorded in Montréal and the Greater Toronto Area, as well as throughout British Columbia, specifically in Dawson Creek, North Cowichan, Williams Lake and the Greater Vancouver Area.

Building permits for long-term care facilities also bolstered growth in the institutional component, with large construction intentions concentrated in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.




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