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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

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

Merci.

Mr. Brown, for five minutes.

March 26th, 2009 / 12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Thank you.

One thing I wanted to touch on is how you look at emerging environmental technology within the scope of government greening. For example, several years ago wind power or solar power would have been considered more efficient. I would suggest that now geothermal has the greatest benefit in a building in terms of its payback. Is there a process that looks at the success of the energy efficiency of new environmental technology?

12:45 p.m.

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

Ellen Burack

It's an interesting question. As far as I know, there is no formal process for doing that. We frequently meet with companies that are interested in talking to us about their technologies. We are open to doing that. From where my office sits, we certainly work hard to make connections with them and others across the system to make sure they are able to communicate the benefits of their technologies. But as far as I know, there's no system across government for identifying specific technologies to pursue.

In the approach that we take within Public Works, which I think is a fairly widely used approach, it's results that are required as opposed to defining the technology. We will have requirements vis-à-vis the energy efficiency of a building. We may have requirements vis-à-vis a design, for example, that it must be LEED gold. It requires that a certain amount of energy must actually be generated by the building. But we wouldn't specify that the building must have a heat pump or that the building must have a certain amount of solar power.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

I guess what I'm getting at is this. A few months ago I was in a meeting at Yanch Heating, which is a company in my riding. Two fellows there, Adam Smith and Chris Yanch, gave a presentation on geothermal and the different areas of the world where it's being used. They said it would be much easier to get Canadians engaged in using an exciting and progressive environmental product such as this if the government led by example. They weren't aware of any government buildings in our region that utilized geothermal. At the time, I didn't have an answer on where it might be utilized elsewhere.

Are there any examples where geothermal is currently being utilized in government buildings? Are there any plans on going forward with its greater use in government buildings?

12:45 p.m.

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

Ellen Burack

As I mentioned, there would be no plan to specify a particular technology.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Do you know of any that are currently utilizing geothermal ?

12:45 p.m.

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

Ellen Burack

Yes, the Normand-Maurice Building in Montreal has some geothermal capacity. I've anecdotally heard that the Canada Border Services Agency has at least one facility that makes use of it. There is some out there. I suspect that the more we look to meet LEED gold and above requirements, the more we'll see that kind of energy production.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Sometimes developers build a building with the goal of getting the government as a tenant. For those individuals or those builders who are targeting the Government of Canada, how do we build an awareness that this is an element that is looked at? What attempts have been made to raise awareness that this is something the Government of Canada believes in and that we see the greening of a facility as an asset?

12:45 p.m.

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

Ellen Burack

I can tell you about certain types of activities. For example, Public Works has a publication called Doing Business that is designed to reach out to companies that do business with the federal government. There recently was an article in it on a number of LEED buildings that Public Works has built. Using instruments like that, we demonstrate to Canadians our interest in pursuing that type of construction. In individual situations--when we look to build to lease, for example--that would be part of the specifications.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

To what extent does it make a difference if one potential lessor has a facility that is roughly equal in cost to one that's much greener, but maybe the facility that's not green is 1% less expensive? What weight does it have in the process if the facility is greener? Is it minuscule or...?

12:50 p.m.

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

Ellen Burack

It's hard to speak to that in the abstract. It's rare that just one tiny element--not that it's necessarily a tiny element--is the difference between two projects. The decision to take one lease space over another is made on a case-by-case basis. It's not a decision that I myself am tasked with making.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

I guess I'm just curious about the extent to which consideration is paid to that aspect. Do you have any sense that it's a big asset, or is it more of a small consideration?

12:50 p.m.

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

Ellen Burack

I can tell you from a common sense perspective that if, for example, it means there will be significant energy savings, it would have a big impact. But I can't speak to the decision-making process on leasing more comprehensively than that.

I don't know if, Shirley, you have anything to add.

12:50 p.m.

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

Shirley Jen

Maybe I can add something to this.

In our system, ministers and their deputy heads are responsible for the administration of assets under their departments. For example, the Minister of Public Works is responsible for office building accommodations. The Minister of Agriculture would be responsible for those buildings that go to support the agricultural program.

Each deputy head is responsible for preparing a sustainable development plan for his or her own department. And as part of that sustainable development plan, the particular deputy could make, in fact, a commitment to do such and such a thing with a building. It may mean things like increasing the percentage of buildings leased that are green from this percentage to that percentage. That really is very much the decision of the deputy and depends on the priority he or she puts on greening and on competing priorities, because as you're well aware, most ministers and deputies have many competing priorities.

All that is to say that I think there is a way in which that kind of emphasis on improving one's green performance in the situation you mentioned, which is to perhaps increase the consideration of green building standards, is part of that individual deputy's sustainable development goals. I would just say that it is very much, I think, a decision that would be taken by individual deputies.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

Thank you. It was a good, healthy, long overtime round.

I have indications from two or three members that they have questions. There isn't time to give each member a full round, so it would be a question or an issue. We have Madame Bourgeois, for sure. And Mr. Martin indicated that he had some kind of.... No? I think it was Mr. Warkentin.

So I'll go to Ms. Bourgeois first. It won't be a full round. And then I'll go to Mr. Warkentin.

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

I do not want to ask a question, Mr. Chair, but to make a comment.

I would like to bring my colleagues' attention to an extremely interesting document that our researcher referred to in his paper. It is the Sustainable Development Strategies Management Review published in November 2008 by Environment Canada. When reading this document, one understands that sustainable development, which is related to the greening of operations, remains a marginal concern in the decision-making process of government and that it does not have very much bearing on the national budget and the planning of government activities. Those strategies do not have any impact on budgetary allocations.

This document also states that the present approach, developed more than 10 years ago, has not produced the expected results and that continuing in this manner will put Canada in a situation such that much more drastic steps will have to be taken.

Finally, if we keep the same approach, Environment Canada and Public Works and Government Services, which do not have the power to force any changes, will be even more criticized.

If I refer to this report, it is because we have just seen that, even if our guests have tried to put the best face possible on those issues, the fact remains that our government does not have the will to act and that, if we do not give them the tools they need... As a matter of fact, Environment Canada referred to planning. There are also obstacles between the different departments: people do not talk to each other and there are major gaps. The report refers to some successes but also to very significant failures. Therefore, I believe that our committee should try to give clear guidance and direction to federal departments.

I want to thank our witnesses for their testimony. Thank you very much.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Derek Lee

Thank you for drawing our attention to this document—as was pointed out by our researcher as well.

Mr. Warkentin.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Thank you.

I want to follow up on some questioning that Ms. Hall Findley was engaged in regarding the preparation for retrofitting of buildings. I've witnessed the process in other cases where departments have been moved out of a particular building for the duration of the process. We're witnessing something of that nature right here in this building we're sitting in now. There are plans for this building, and we know that it has taken several years just for the plan to be in place for where additional accommodation is going to be found, and those types of things.

I don't know if you have an update on this particular building. If you don't, that's fine; but if you do, it might be of some interest to the people around this table.

In terms of the process from the time a building is identified to the time construction can begin, what type of timeframe are we looking at if there are no stalls in funding the project? I simply ask about the time required for the work to try to find alternative accommodations and then for the whole planning and development process to reconstruct or redevelop a building. Do you have that offhand? What would be an average time period?

12:55 p.m.

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

Ellen Burack

We can actually speak to that.

I don't know, Berny, from your experience of having done that for your own department, if you can comment.

12:55 p.m.

Director, Environmental Affairs, Department of the Environment

Berny Latreille

It's hard to think of an average. I think there are so many factors that can affect how long it takes.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Maybe then you can identify some past experiences in terms of timeframes.

12:55 p.m.

Director, Environmental Affairs, Department of the Environment

Berny Latreille

Normally, if you look at the full planning cycle for this, it would be difficult to imagine any such project taking less than two years.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Okay, and that's from the time it was identified to the time the construction could begin?

12:55 p.m.

Director, Environmental Affairs, Department of the Environment

Berny Latreille

No, I'm sorry, that's until the completion of the project. Again, there are so many variables, including how big the facility is, that we're talking about.

12:55 p.m.

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

Shirley Jen

Yes, there are many variables. There's whether or not you own the land, and whether the building is a cookie-cutter type of building, or whether it's a special purpose, iconic building such as this. Obviously that factors a lot into the planning process.

It depends very much on the procurement method; for example, if it's a building that is planned, designed, and then tendered by the crown versus the crown leasing the space. So when I say “procurement method”, that factors into it.

I would say that two years would be pretty amazing. I would hazard to say that for some of the buildings I know that were built over the last 15 years or so, it's not unusual at all for the process to take between, I'd say, seven to ten years. It's not unusual.