OTTAWA — Home construction in Canada picked up last month, driven by British Columbia and Alberta, defying expectations that homebuilding activity would cool down.The seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts rose to 222,324 units in July, up from 212,948 in June, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Wednesday.The ramp-up likely reflects strong demand for new housing from the end of last year into the start of this year, TD Bank economist Diana Petramala said, adding that the new construction market tends to lag real estate demand, which has started to fall.Petramala said regulatory changes over the past year including tougher mortgage qualification rules have prompted a shift for some first-time homebuyers from existing homes to cheaper, newly built dwellings.“Some of the momentum could potentially carry forward into the second half of the year before new home construction eases along with the existing home market next year,” she said.Last month, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported that national home sales figures in June posted their largest monthly drop in seven years. CREA is expected to release July sales data next week.The annual pace of urban home construction increased by 5.5 per cent last month to 206,122 units, driven by a rise in multiple urban starts — generally apartment buildings, townhouses and condominiums — while single, detached home starts slowed.Multiple urban starts increased by 10.4 per cent to 141,950 while single-detached urban starts fell by 3.9 per cent to 64,172. Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16,202 units.Regionally, the annual pace of housing starts in B.C. surged 20 per cent compared with June while Alberta saw an eight per cent increase. The annual pace of starts in Ontario was up one per cent.“Much of the recent strength has been concentrated in B.C., where starts have rebounded back close to record highs after slowing late last year,” Royal Bank senior economist Nathan Janzen wrote in a report.The housing start data came as Statistics Canada also reported the value of building permits issued in June rose to $8.1 billion, up 2.5 per cent from May and the second highest value on record.The overall increase came despite a 0.9 per cent drop to $5.0 billion in the value of residential building permits in June. The value of permits for single-family dwellings fell 12.5 per cent, while plans for multi-family dwellings rose 12.5 per cent in June to $2.7 billion.The value of building permits for non-residential structures in June rose 8.8 per cent to $3.0 billion.