Madam Speaker, thank you very much. I am pleased to rise in the House once again.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-354, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, use of wood.
I would like to thank the hon. member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for putting this bill forward. I enjoyed our time in Kelowna discovering bookstores. I think we spent a day on the finance committee. It was a great pleasure to get to know him.
I fully agree with the spirit and intent of this proposed legislation, as it aligns well with the government's goals of supporting the Canadian forest industry and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I listened to my colleague and friend from Trois-Rivières, and I appreciate his teaching skills. I also appreciate his romanticism over forestry. I share this romanticism since my own region, the Outaouais in Quebec, was also built essentially on wood, log drivers and forestry workers. My colleague spoke about the CIP and we also have a CIP tradition in Gatineau. I very much saw myself reflected in what he said. I thank him for his speech.
First, let me speak to the motivation behind the bill, which is the desire to support the Canadian forest industry, an objective the government certainly shares.
Few countries are more bound to their forests than Canada is. Our forestry sector helped build our country and contributes significantly to the Canada of today. It is an industry that accounted for $22 billion of Canada's gross domestic product last year alone.
It also has a significant impact on more than 170 rural municipalities with economies that are tightly bound to the paper industry, pulp and paper plants, and other areas of the forestry industry. The industry employs more than 200,000 Canadians.
This includes 9,500 jobs in indigenous communities, making this industry one of the leading employers of indigenous people.
Our government is looking to the future and is proud to do its part to help the forestry sector to innovate and continue to be a vital component of our communities and our economy.
I would also remind hon. members that the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change requires that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments collaborate in promoting the greater use of wood in construction. Part of this promotion will involve updating the building codes.
This approach avoids the challenges that come with trade and supply. The 2015 National Building Code of Canada normally authorizes the construction of wood frame buildings as tall as six storeys.
However, Natural Resources Canada is supporting research and development to have the updates to the code in 2020 and 2025 authorize the construction of wood frame buildings as tall as 12 storeys.
Natural Resources Canada is also leading demonstration projects, in conjunction with industry, to encourage acceptance of high-rise wood buildings and to boost Canada's position as a global leader in wood-building construction.
I have talked about wood as a building material. I would now like to turn members' attention to areas where wood plays a part in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, another worthy component of the bill.
As we know, the government has recently committed to reducing GHG emissions from federal buildings and fleets by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. In support of the federal sustainable development strategy, PSPC is making government operations more sustainable through green building practices and other initiatives. I have been very impressed by the work of our officials in this regard.
One such initiative is the energy services acquisition program, which is well known here in our capital region, through which we are modernizing the heating and cooling system that serves about 80 buildings in Ottawa and Gatineau, including many of the buildings on and around Parliament Hill. A pilot project being carried out in advance of this modernization effort is testing woodchips for use as a possible biomass fuel. The result of this pilot project will help determine the potential for expanding this option to other federal heating and cooling plants.
PSPC is actually leading the way in embedding environmental considerations, and specifically greenhouse gas reductions, into the design and approval stages of its proposed projects.
I am pleased to say that in support of the commitment to a low-carbon government, PSPC is the first federal department to complete a national carbon-neutral portfolio plan. As such, the department now factors greenhouse gas emissions into its decisions on energy-related real property projects, from new roofs to updated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment.
All of this is to say that there is much that we are already doing in the course of our real property operations at PSPC to support the use of wood and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
I want to thank the hon. member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for introducing this bill, which will be another tool for achieving these objectives. That said, this bill would conflict with certain principles and policies and well-established, sensitive obligations of the Government of Canada, and therefore Canadians, and it may have unintended consequences. The Standing Committee on Natural Resources should consider amending Bill C-354 yet maintain the general objectives to resolve the following problems.
The proposed bill states that “the Minister shall give preference to projects that promote the use of wood, taking into account the associated costs and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Though well intentioned, this provision raises some issues, two of which I will mention in particular.
The first issue relates to the Government of Canada's commitment to fairness, openness, and transparency in the procurement process, principles that are deeply enshrined in the Public Services and Procurement Canada policy. As much as Canadians no doubt want their government to support a sector as important as forestry, and we do, they also expect the government to adhere to the principle of fairness in procurement. With this in mind, we have to ask ourselves whether a minister who represents all economic sectors and all Canadians can realistically give preference to one building material over all others. If this bill were to pass as currently written, we would eventually find ourselves debating similar bills calling for similar preferences for other commodities.
The second issue I want to raise is how this bill would interact with Canada's trade obligations. This is an important consideration in federal procurement. Depending on how the provisions of Bill C-354 are interpreted and applied, the bill could be at odds with Canada's obligations under key trade agreements, such as the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
For example, the Canadian Free Trade Agreement prohibits discrimination against the goods or services of a particular province or region. With Bill C-354 giving preference to projects that promote the use of wood, it may be interpreted as discriminating against those regions that do not supply wood.
The bill could also be interpreted as setting out a technical specification in terms of a "design or descriptive characteristic" rather than ''in terms of performance and functional requirements", or referring to a particular type of material for which no alternative is permitted. This, in turn, could be interpreted as "creating unnecessary obstacles to trade" under article 509, paragraph 1 of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement.
NAFTA, too, prohibits any technical specification with the purpose or effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to trade.
This is not even an exhaustive list of possible trade implications.
At the same time, let us not forget that the government is already an important consumer of wood products in the form of furniture. Public Services and Procurement Canada policy requires contractors to propose materials that meet the needs of a project, including the criteria of durability and performance, and that comply with the National Building Code of Canada.
In addition to being elegant, wood is a solid, durable, environmentally friendly, and sustainable material. Approximately 15% of the average annual $160 million allocated by Public Services and Procurement Canada on interior design and furnishing is spent on wood products.
While Bill C-354 poses practical challenges in its current form, its goals are sound. With the co-operation and collaboration of all members in this House, it could be amended so as not to contradict long-standing federal principles and policies. The Government of Canada is committed to leaving future generations of Canadians a sustainable and prosperous country.
I therefore encourage hon. members to support the bill so that it may move forward to committee for further study and amendments.