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Evidence of meeting #12 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was building.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ellen Burack  Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, Department of Public Works and Government Services
Shirley Jen  Senior Director, Real Property and Material Policy Division, Treasury Board Secretariat
Berny Latreille  Director, Environmental Affairs, Department of the Environment

12:10 p.m.

Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Ellen Burack

Obviously, Mr. Chairman, I can't speak to this specific example, and I know the member doesn't expect that.

Our standards are not unreasonably high. They are leadership, but they are not outside what is possible. Canadian firms compete and are successful across the country for the work we do. In many cases, we are very pleasantly surprised to find they can surpass our environmental expectations, even when we specify these high levels of performance, and I'm quite confident the market can support the objectives we have set for our green buildings.

I would note a number of provinces are also setting themselves standards, in some cases comparable, in other cases not comparable. I'll give the example of Manitoba, where they have a green building policy, so all new construction there will be LEED silver, plus some extra effort in the area of energy conservation. Ontario and British Columbia are also requiring LEED certification for a number of their activities, as is the case in the United States.

The industry really has been moving along quite nicely in terms of its ability to support these types of green building construction.

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Have I used all my time?

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

Yes, you have.

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Very well. Thank you.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

Mr. Warkentin, for eight minutes.

March 26th, 2009 / 12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank you for coming in this morning. We appreciate your testimony. We also appreciate and thank you for the positive information you've provided us this morning.

I know this is something the departments have been working toward, and your department specifically has over the last while. I'd like to commend you for the efforts and for the successes in terms of the number of LEED platinum buildings that have been constructed and the ones that are in the planning stages right now as well.

One thing that I think ties into the previous comments is the concern we've identified in our procurement discussions with some of these companies we've been speaking to.

When we talk about the four stages of uses of any purchase, obviously one of the most important is the life span or the usage stage, because even though there may be a product that is a little bit more detrimental or a little less sensitive to the environment when it's constructed, if it lasts four times longer, obviously that's something that has to be considered.

Specifically, I've spoken to some companies that have concerns in terms of procurement when it comes to supplying the government with furniture. Obviously I can see where the government...and I actually endorse the way the government has worked toward unifying or having a standard type of desk and a different type of modular system so that it can be reused and the life span can be expanded. Has there been any consideration to designing a modular system that would be government-owned, that would be able to be issued to the different competitors, so when a company does not win the contract to supply a particular modular system, then the government is tied to that company indefinitely because the modular system they may be supplying is only being supplied, or can only be supplied, by that company because of the specific nature of that modular system?

I'm looking at this from the furniture angle, but I'm also wondering about other places where this type of practice could be implemented. Is that something government is looking at or considering?

12:15 p.m.

Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Ellen Burack

To the best of my knowledge, that is not being looked at, but I would like to be able to check on that and get back to you, with the caveat that as that wouldn't be specifically a green-driven initiative, then it's entirely possible it's something someone is thinking about but has not discussed with me.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

I certainly don't take issue with your comment, but I suggest it possibly plays into a greening initiative. If a line of furniture or a component structure becomes obsolete simply because the manufacturer has determined that, the entire modular system becomes obsolete and there's no ability to add and subtract as government needs. We have identified the lifespan issue as the most important component of the four stages. If we can't continue the lifespan, we have a green or an environmental problem because of the disposal of the entire framework. It would have to be disassembled, disposed of, and replaced with something else.

I bring that as a suggestion. It's something I'd like our committee to investigate as we look into the procurement, but I think it needs to be noted as a possible environmental consideration as well.

12:15 p.m.

Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Ellen Burack

I understand. I didn't mean to discount the potential environmental benefits of the approach you're describing. If it is under way, it's not under way in your green push. So I would have to ask some questions to learn whether that's something anyone is considering.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

I appreciate that. Thank you.

There was a question about what makes a product green. I know we had a discussion about the procurement, and there's a different consideration for office supplies compared to office furniture, and then for buying buildings.

I was a builder prior to this job. We in Alberta have something called Built Green, which is the provincial residential program for green buildings. We use LEED for commercial buildings in the province like every other province, but Built Green is an initiative of the province and what I'm familiar with. We were engaged in working on green buildings for residential construction. It was interesting when I first became aware and was being educated in this program. Sometimes I would wonder why I was getting credit for usage of a certain product, but it was tied very closely to the durability and long-lasting nature of a particular product.

I wonder if you might know or have some specifics about the LEED program, for the information of the committee, and what types of things would be integrated into the establishment of a platinum standard. Obviously design is one of those attributes. I'm wondering if you could speak to the surfaces and other components that play an important role in considering whether something would qualify for the platinum standard.

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Ellen Burack

I'd be happy to provide material that the Canada Green Building Council has about the LEED rating system, and platinum in particular. I wouldn't be able to speak in too much technical detail. I can say that from an energy use perspective, building to a LEED platinum standard gets you a greater than 60% improvement in energy performance of the building relative to the standard. But I can't speak to the products, durability, and that sort of thing. I'd be happy to facilitate the committee in accessing those documents from the Canada Green Building Council.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

I think it would be interesting to committee members to really understand what's involved in the platinum standard. A number of things are considered, and it isn't simply changing the light bulbs so they're energy efficient. It really is a feat to get a platinum building.

I understand this is a major success and something that needs to be applauded. If more information could be provided to the committee, there would be an inclusive recognition of just how amazing it is that the government has been successful in developing and building these buildings to that standard.

Thank you very much. I appreciate your attendance here today.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

Thank you, Mr. Warkentin.

In interest of green procedures, you've agreed to facilitate our access to documents as opposed to delivering them.

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Ellen Burack

We'll send them to you.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

The access is really important. Before we say we'd all like to have all of these documents, we should have an idea of how many pages and pounds are involved, with the realization that whenever we move documents around they have to be in two languages. This could be a multi-thousand dollar exercise before we're done. But if Mr. Warkentin is happy just to have access....

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Maybe I could make a suggestion for the sake of saving the environment. I know that a number of these documents could be provided online in both languages, specifically when it comes to the LEED standards and various things. If you could just provide us with that link and then with whatever other documentation there is, that would be great.

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Office of Greening Government Operations, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Ellen Burack

Mr. Chairman, I'm quite confident that the Canada Green Building Council themselves have the documents in both languages, since a lot of construction is in locations where that would be required, so we'll provide the appropriate links to the committee.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

The links; that sounds perfect.

I'll just note that the LEED standard replicates my own personal e-mail address here on Parliament Hill, so I'd ask you to be careful as you—

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

I never claimed a copyright.

Thank you, Mr. Warkentin.

Mr. Martin, you'll have eight minutes.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

There are two issues I'd like to touch on briefly, with about equal time for each one. The first is the federal buildings initiative. I've been involved with it since 1993 and have been frustrated since then at the poor progress. You say that roughly one-third of the square footage has been affected or improved. But the program is really focused on what we call the low-hanging fruit—the easiest, simplest things, such as changing the ballasts in the fluorescents or something. There has been very little comprehensive building envelope energy retrofit work that will really bring down the operating costs. That's my first criticism.

We were hoping back then that we could show the world—or at least show the private sector—the incredible savings that can be realized through comprehensive energy retrofitting of our publicly owned buildings. It just hasn't happened, and I think it's been a real failure, personally, given the number of buildings in which we've had any real building envelope structural changes—green roofs, new window systems.... Changing the light bulbs and such stuff isn't a comprehensive energy retrofit. That's my first observation.

The second thing I'd like you to comment on is asbestos. April 1 is Asbestos Disease Awareness Day, something I'm very involved in. We have pretty much littered all of our public buildings with Canadian asbestos. These Parliament Buildings are no different.

In 2006, I believe it was, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources actually passed a unanimous report urging that we use more asbestos in our public buildings domestically and find new markets for it abroad, because we're still the second largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world, and I guess the Canadian government is proud of it. In actual fact, we're rendering our public buildings unfit for human habitation by littering our buildings with this asbestos.

I know the LEED system does not allow the use of asbestos, so I'm wondering how many billions of dollars it is going to take. If you're going to earn any kind of LEED standard, you have to make the building safe, and that means getting the Canadian asbestos out of the rafters.

Do you see this as a barrier, first of all, to getting that kind of accreditation? And secondly, have you or has your department dealt recently with this government directive to use more asbestos, at the very point in time when the rest of the world is banning asbestos in all of its forms?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

There are a couple of questions or issues for somebody. We have to have some kind of response.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

More people die from asbestos now than from all other occupational causes combined in Canada, and especially in Quebec. Eighty per cent of all the occupationally related deaths in Quebec are now asbestos caused. So how can we be promoting it through Public Works in our buildings here?

12:25 p.m.

Senior Director, Real Property and Material Policy Division, Treasury Board Secretariat

Shirley Jen

Mr. Martin, I can't speak for Public Works; I am with the Treasury Board Secretariat. But I certainly can assure you that as far as I am aware, we have no policies or directives or standards—or guidelines, for that matter—that instruct public servants to increase the use of asbestos in their buildings.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Well, let me show you the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources from the 38th Parliament in 2007. It's very clear. It says we should seek out new markets abroad and promote more domestic use through our own government procurement and government buildings, which essentially means that while we're spending billions to rid this building of asbestos, you have a government directive—a unanimous report of a parliamentary committee—saying to go out there and litter the rest of the country with it. It's quite appalling, really.