Evidence of meeting #56 for Natural Resources in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was construction.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Tina Saryeddine  Executive Director, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs
Jeff Bromley  Chair, Wood Council, United Steelworkers Union
Keven Lefebvre  Fire Chief, Leduc County, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs
Carmen Santoro  Senior Executive for Eastern Canada, International Association of Fire Fighters
Jean-François Samray  President and Chief Executive Officer, Quebec Forest Industry Council
Ross Linden-Fraser  Committee Researcher
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Geneviève Desjardins

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Good morning, everyone. I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting 56 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

Pursuant to the order of reference made Wednesday, February 15, 2023, the committee is meeting on Bill S-222, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood).

Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022.

Now that we're in session, screenshots are not allowed.

I'd like to make a few comments.

Charlie, do you have a point of order, or can I get through my opening comments? Is translation not working?

8:50 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Yes, do your opening comments, and then I have a point of order.

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Thanks, Charlie.

For those who are new to our panels, welcome. I think many of you have been to committee before, so it's good to see you back.

For those participating remotely, if you want to say anything, use the “raise hand” function. You can choose a language preference of floor, English or French audio. For anybody online, you have to mute and unmute yourself.

In accordance with our routine motion, I am informing the committee that all witnesses have completed the required connection tests in advance of the meeting.

We have a slight issue with Mr. Blois that we're getting sorted out. We have one of our witnesses who was on a meeting until 8:45. He hasn't arrived yet, so when he does get here, we'll have to either suspend or take a brief pause to do his sound check before he does his opening statement.

We have the first hour set aside for witnesses, and I'll introduce them shortly.

With that, I'll turn to Charlie for his point of order, and then we'll continue with the meeting.

I'd also like to welcome Mr. Doherty to our session today.

Mr. Angus, it's over to you.

8:50 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you so much, Chair. I won't take much time from my colleagues.

I just want to let my colleagues know that I brought forward a motion that we can debate in future regarding the corporate structure of Paper Excellence, a company that now controls the largest batch of forest lands in Canada as a pulp and paper giant. Serious questions are being raised about its corporate structure, about its ties to Chinese state banks and about its ties to the Asia Pulp & Paper company.

I think it would be incumbent upon our committee to look into this company a little more. I want to let my colleagues know that the motion is being brought forward this morning, and we can discuss it as people get up to speed on the issue.

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Thanks for the heads-up.

The clerk hasn't received it yet, but when we get it, we'll have it translated and circulated.

Go ahead, Mario.

8:50 a.m.


Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

I've been working on that since November. I think Mr. Angus has a great idea, but I wouldn't want us to spend any time today on a bill introduced by one of his colleagues. We can come back to it a little later.

For now, I'd like us to hear from the witnesses and get through what we have to do today.

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

That's all I have on that, so we're ready to get to the witnesses.

We have the Quebec Forest Industry Council. Our witness, Mr. Samray, has now arrived. I think we'll go through everybody else's opening statements, and we'll come back to do a quick sound check and then move right into his opening statement.

We have Mr. Bromley from United Steelworkers Union joining us online this morning.

Good morning.

We have the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and Keven Lefebvre, fire chief, Leduc County; and Tina...

Tina, I don't want to butcher your last name too badly.

8:50 a.m.

Dr. Tina Saryeddine Executive Director, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs

My last name is Saryeddine. Any way you say it is fine.

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Thank you. Good morning and welcome.

8:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs

Dr. Tina Saryeddine

Good morning.

8:50 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

From the International Association of Fire Fighters, we have Carmen Santoro, senior executive for eastern Canada.

Good morning.

If we're ready with Mr. Bromley, let's move to you. I'll give you five minutes.

For those who may be new, I give a yellow card for 30 seconds left on the clock, and a red card when your time is up. Don't stop mid-sentence; just wind up your thought, and then we'll move on to the next thing.

With that, Mr. Bromley, if you're ready to take the floor, the mike is yours.

8:55 a.m.

Jeff Bromley Chair, Wood Council, United Steelworkers Union

Thank you, Chair, and through you, thank you to the clerk and all members of the committee for the opportunity to join here today.

My name is Jeff Bromley. I'm the chair of the United Steelworkers Wood Council. I'm speaking to you today on the unceded and traditional territory of the Ktunaxa-speaking people in southeastern British Columbia—Cranbrook, B.C.

United Steelworkers is the largest private-sector union in North America. The USW represents 225,000 member workers and retirees in nearly every economic sector across Canada. Of those members, 15,000 work in Canada's forest industry, including logging and harvesting, manufacturing, value-added—which includes mass timber, finger-joint lumber and laminated veneer lumber, among others—chip production and hauling.

The United Steelworkers Wood Council is made up of local unions across Canada. Six of them are in British Columbia. There is one local in each of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and there are two locals in Ontario. Approximately 1,500 of our members in the forestry industry reside in Quebec.

As for me, I've spent 29 years working in the forestry industry, including 18 directly in the operation I came from, which is about 45 minutes east of here, and the last 11 years servicing our members with the United Steelworkers.

Let me start with a basic point that I think we can all agree on. Ensuring that Canadian forestry workers are supported as much as possible by Canadian procurement policy and Canadian public dollars is a good thing. For that reason alone, I encourage you strongly to pass this bill quickly, but I will elaborate further.

Our forestry industry provides good, family-supporting and community-supporting jobs, which are often in rural communities and areas where local economies rely entirely on forestry.

Wood is the only resilient, carbon-storing and renewable building material. By expanding wood use and substituting traditional building materials with wood products, including mass timber, we can significantly cut the carbon footprint of infrastructure products.

Mr. Chair, we're falling behind. The Americans are already taking action. Since the U.S. procurement market is 10 times the size of the Canadian procurement market, maintaining access to the U.S. is important.

The Biden administration has made it clear that its infrastructure plans tie together infrastructure spending, fighting climate change and the creation of good union jobs. In Canada, we need to do the same. The more we are set up to meet the goals of a buy clean strategy, the better chance we have of getting and maintaining an exemption to buy America policies. The fact is, along with steel, aluminum and cement, wood products produced in Canada represent an opportunity for a reduced carbon footprint.

Canada's forest products are a net carbon sink. Our softwood products have been produced for housing both here and abroad for decades. Across this country, you cannot go into a rink or arena that was built over the last 70 years without seeing the distinctive blue-laminated beams supporting the roof, proving that the value-added or cross-laminated timber products that are the flavour of the day in terms of mass timber have been around for decades.

Things are changing in how larger buildings are constructed. New building codes are allowing for up to 12 storeys. They have better fire-resistant qualities and an aesthetically appealing look, and they effectively store carbon. These all point to positive uses in Canada's forest industry. Why wouldn't we root this industry in Canada's procurement policies? It just makes sense.

While I have the floor, I'd like to make two more quick points.

First, because the mass timber and new mass timber markets are growing, with new demand and products, I would urge parliamentarians and the government to take steps to make sure the industry is developed alongside our existing manufacturing sector. It already has the infrastructure and the established good, family-supporting, unionized jobs. Integration will be the best way forward, but our employers will need a little more nudging.

Second, while working on our own procurement policies in seeking an exemption to buy America, we can't stop fighting for a long-term deal that addresses the softwood lumber dispute once and for all. Such an obvious point may go without saying, but after all the damage this dispute has caused, I think it has to be said whenever possible.

With that, I thank you for your time and I look forward to your questions.

9 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

That's great. Thank you so much for your comments.

We will now come to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

Mr. Lefebvre, if you'd like to take your five minutes for opening statements, the floor is yours when you're ready.

9 a.m.

Keven Lefebvre Fire Chief, Leduc County, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs

Good morning. Thank you for inviting the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs here today.

My name is Keven Lefebvre. I'm the fire chief for Leduc County in Alberta. I'm an elected CAFC board member and co-chair of the CAFC’s building codes committee.

I am also a member of the advisory council of Canada’s harmonized building codes board and of the Alberta Safety Codes Council's Building Sub-Council. I'm a master electrician, and I start my 42nd year in the fire service later this month.

I'm joined today by CAFC’s executive director, Dr. Tina Saryeddine.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs represents the country’s 3,200 fire departments through their fire chiefs and through a national advisory council of provincial, territorial and national affiliate organizations like the Department of National Defence, one of the largest owners of federal buildings.

Fire departments vary from small, rural volunteer to large, unionized metro departments. Despite our diversity, we are united in our calling to protect the lives of Canadians.

Bill S-222, in the context of federal properties and public works, is commendable. However, my colleagues and I are fire chiefs, so, as is our proclivity, we prepare for what could happen on the worst day.

First, wood has a special meaning to many of us as Canadians, but we must use it selectively. Outcomes could be disastrous in combustible parking garages containing lithium-ion charging systems, such as electric vehicle or solar storage. Well-intentioned environmental efforts, like using wood shingles in wildland urban interfaces, can contribute to wildfire damage. Buildings in these areas need to follow FireSmart principles and include sprinklers and other detection and prevention methodologies.

Secondly, take the necessary measures to ensure that federal buildings are fully operational post-disaster. Canadians require our government to be operational during and after disasters. The buildings need to be part of the solution, not an additional problem. Specific areas of government are currently looking to enhance and toughen building construction in light of the increasing impact of weather-driven disasters. CAFC's 2022 census showed that of the two million emergency events responded to annually, nearly 10% of these are new environmental emergencies.

If encouraging the use of products through government procurement, ensure that the end use is fully understood. Please ensure this bill doesn’t contradict or duplicate already adopted codes and standards. Some buildings, by code, are required to be specifically non-combustible. Understand that additives, treatments and unintended consequences of construction products could actually prevent the carbon reductions you anticipate or even become toxic in a fire.

In this vein, we would like to thank all MPs for their unanimous vote on Wednesday regarding Bill C-224, an act to establish a framework for firefighter cancers.

Our next ask will be to please support an increase in the volunteer firefighters tax credit. Eighty per cent of the country's fire service is volunteer, and no matter what building material you choose, we need every incentive to help protect response capacity in this country.

Thirdly, in Vancouver the successful introduction of tall wood buildings was accompanied by many resources from public safety engineering, many variances to specific code requirements, and much training. Unless we are considering such resources and training wherever we introduce innovation, we fail in its responsible introduction. As you pass this bill, consider that a firefighter safety objective be placed in the regulations under this act and support the same in the national building code of Canada, as required recently in ministerial mandate letters.

Related to this are the tenability times for firefighters to work within structures in the event of fire and the need to include floor performance standards within the national building code. Firefighters can and have fallen through floors during a fire. Canadians need the same floor performance assurances as are provided for in the U.S. and elsewhere.

As you move forward, please ensure that first responders are made aware of and trained to handle construction fires with the materials and methodologies chosen. This is necessary for appropriate entry, evacuation and response measures.

In preparing for today, my colleagues at Ottawa Fire Services reminded us that replacing existing building components with wood, for example, can impact load, fire spread and other safety calculations negatively.

In closing, we have always believed the same building code should apply to everyone, everywhere. It should be enforced and enforceable. It should have a firefighter safety objective. Firefighter readiness, training and equipment must be considered in preparation for what might happen on a building's worst day. The work you are doing today can help to mitigate future problems.

Thank you.

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Thank you.

We'll move right over to Mr. Santoro. If you're ready, the floor is yours for your five-minute opening statement.

9:05 a.m.

Carmen Santoro Senior Executive for Eastern Canada, International Association of Fire Fighters

Good morning and thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for this opportunity to share our views on Bill S-222 and the expanded use of wood in federal government buildings.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that we are on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe nation.

To briefly introduce our organization, the International Association of Fire Fighters, or the IAFF, represents more than 330,000 members in North America, including over 26,000 in Canada. Across this country, our members are on scene in minutes in any kind of an emergency, including structure fires, medical emergencies, water and ice rescues, hazardous materials incidents, and much more.

The IAFF supports a vibrant economy and a successful sustainable wood and wood products industry, including the expansion of the forestry sector and the opportunity for those workers. We ask this committee to consider that the increased use of combustible materials should come with increased considerations for fire safety, fire protection resources and firefighter safety. The last thing anyone wants is for a preventable tragedy to occur because of the unintended consequences of using combustible building materials for the wrong building in the wrong location, or in a place where the risk exceeds the capabilities of the local fire departments.

Expanded use of wood products in the construction of federal government buildings should not migrate into certain type 1 buildings as defined in the national building code, such as detention facilities, art facilities or industrial sites, or into such structures as parking garages, structures with major electrical installations or structures that are critical to government operations in the event of a major disaster.

Existing building code and safety-related considerations, such as sprinklers, smoke alarms, egress and floor performance, should be adhered to and enforced.

Building locations should be carefully assessed to ensure that they are not positioned to contribute to or be victim to wildfire, which is a threat that is becoming more and more prevalent in Canada. The design and safety of structures in so-called interface areas should be approached with the greatest amount of caution as the Government of Canada works slowly toward its commitment to train 1,000 firefighters in wildland response in the face of this growing threat.

Currently, the national building code doesn't link building uses to the available fire protection resources or training. We recommend a fire protection assessment in concert with local authorities any time a building with significant wood content is proposed. Local firefighters should be made aware of exactly what kinds of materials are present in a higher-risk structure and must be able to preplan the emergency response operations with training specific to the materials and the risks present. Training and awareness should include reference to any toxic chemicals that are present in building materials, such as wood treatments.

Adequate fire protection resources should be available in such a manner as to arrive on the scene quickly and with an adequate amount of personnel and the equipment necessary to safely and effectively protect lives, protect the structure and protect nearby exposed structures. All of these concerns from a fire protection and firefighter safety point of view are amplified when it comes to proposals for tall wood structures, meaning six- to 12-storey structures that are now permitted in the building code.

Bill S-222 and the rise of innovation in construction support our long-standing call for firefighter safety objectives in a national building code.

On behalf of our members across Canada and the IAFF, we appreciate this opportunity.

Before I close, while I have the floor, I want to say that I've been a firefighter for 37 years. For most of it, I was a supervisor or a captain. What a lot of people don't realize is that we are one of the few professions that do not have the right to refuse unsafe work. Every emergency scene is unsafe work, and we rely on all of you to include safety measures in building codes and fire codes to reduce the dangers that we face every day.

With that, I'll close. Thank you very much.

I am open to questions.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Thank you very much for your opening statements.

Thank you to both of you and your organizations for all of the service you provide to the country. We look forward to having some good discussion with you today.

I want to take just a minute here. We're going to suspend so that we can quickly do the sound check. Mr. Samray has the approved headset, so we think this should take just a second. Because we're being televised, it gets messy if we do it all live, so we'll suspend. If you need to grab a coffee, do that, but don't go too far. I expect to be back in session momentarily.

We are temporarily suspended.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

All right, Mr. Samray. You have five minutes for your opening comments.

Welcome. The floor is yours.

9:10 a.m.

Jean-François Samray President and Chief Executive Officer, Quebec Forest Industry Council

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Quebec Forest Industry Council (QFIC) would first like to commend the intent of Bill S‑222, which is to ensure that wood is more systematically considered as a material in federal government infrastructure, thus contributing to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Until now, strategies and measures to reduce the government's GHG emissions have primarily targeted building operating energy.

The means advocated to reduce these emissions focus mainly on improving energy efficiency and conserving energy sources for heating through the use of greener energy, such as hydroelectricity.

However, a growing number of studies show that emissions from the manufacture of building construction materials are a significant source of GHG emissions.

The QFIC shares these views and believes that material selection has a major impact on the carbon footprint of buildings, which is why we support the passage of Bill S‑222.

As a local resource from sustainably managed Canadian forests, wood could contribute substantially to decarbonizing construction. It helps fight climate change in three ways: forests store carbon; wood products store carbon; and wood products are a good substitute for GHG-intensive products.

The QFIC believes that action is needed in all three of those areas if we want more wood used in federal government infrastructure.

First, we must recognize the impact of materials on the carbon footprint of buildings. If we hope to accelerate the decarbonization of the Canadian economy and achieve net zero in the construction sector, one way to get there would be to replace carbon-intensive materials with low-carbon substitutes like wood and other bio-based materials.

Bill S‑222 is very much in line with that way of thinking, and while the QFIC supports the bill, we recommend that more meaningful action be put forward to accelerate the decarbonization of the Canadian economy and achieve net zero in the construction sector.

The QFIC recommends that legislators put in place a requirement to produce a construction material GHG emissions analysis for all construction, maintenance and repair of public works and federal government buildings.

Public policy adopted by government also plays a crucial role, in our view. These policies contribute to the use of wood in building construction and, in turn, to the development of expertise and innovation throughout the wood construction industry.

However, despite the potential for reducing GHG emissions and fostering long-term carbon storage in wood, the policies in place are mostly guidelines and they need to be strengthened, through regulations among other things.

That's why we believe that considering the use of low-carbon materials should go beyond voluntary or incentive measures. Perhaps we might take a cue from some countries that have already gone down this path by including emissions associated with construction materials in buildings' GHG limits.

Third, we believe that informed decision-making must include life cycle analysis.

In the construction industry, life cycle analysis has led to a better understanding of the sources of emissions associated with the building sector and it's also helped assess the relative importance of the emissions produced in manufacturing materials.

The introduction of carbon footprint calculation tools, such as Gestimat in Quebec, supports informed decision-making throughout the design and construction process. It also makes it easier to set reduction targets and measure the achievement of those targets.

We would welcome meaningful measures such as mandatory pre-project life cycle analysis and pilot initiatives that foster systematic consideration of emissions associated with construction materials.

Specifically, the QFIC urges Canadian legislators to introduce a requirement in their legislation for pre-project life cycle analysis, therefore in the pre-design stage.

Fostering and bringing about a change in practices will make it possible to accelerate decarbonization and reap the positive benefits of using wood materials. This will not only help decarbonize construction, it will also help Canada meet its ambitious net zero goals, while also creating jobs and vibrant indigenous and non-indigenous communities across the country.

Thank you for your attention. I am now ready to answer your questions.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Liberal John Aldag

That's perfect.

That was excellent timing for the opening statements. Thank you so much, everyone, for sticking within the timelines.

We now have time to go through one six-minute round of questioning by each party.

First up is Mr. Dreeshen, for six minutes.

Mr. Dreeshen, the floor is yours.

9:15 a.m.


Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to all the witnesses who are here today.

I think one of the most important things is the point that was just made by Mr. Samray, which is informed decision-making and a life-cycle analysis of the products we are using. I think that's really a critical aspect of it. Wood structures do not last forever. Sadly, some of them can succumb, as many structures can, to such things as fire and so on. I think that's important to recognize. They still have to be disposed of at a certain time. It's good to know that there is this full life-cycle analysis of the products being used for construction.

I would like to turn to you, Mr. Lefebvre. It wasn't that long ago that I had an opportunity to present a number of Queen's Platinum Jubilee medals to a bunch of brave firefighters in Alberta. It was an honour to do that. You really recognize the commitment that they have and what they go through on a day-to-day basis.

I would like to get some information from you, Mr. Lefebvre, and perhaps Mr. Santoro can also chime in, with regard to building codes. You talked about the fact that you majored in electrical. I think that's really a critical part, because as we see in new buildings, we anticipate that there will be much more of a case for electrical charging—i.e., battery packs being left in basements. Of course, you've mentioned in past testimony the concerns you have regarding fires taking place with electrical vehicles.

Can you give us a bit of an idea of what type of codes there could be? If a fire happens to be taking place, what would you need to have in order to put it out before the whole structure gets in a state that can't be controlled?

9:20 a.m.

Fire Chief, Leduc County, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs

Keven Lefebvre


As you rightly say, I've been a master electrician for nearly 40 years as well. I've seen code change over the years. Years ago, batteries of any type were meant to be stored in such a way that if they became a problem, they didn't interact with the living space. Now we're allowing living walls—I'm not sure of the correct name—where the batteries are allowed to be in the attached garage, a combustible attached garage. Lithium-ion batteries explode. They don't necessarily off-gas the way batteries used to, but they explode when they overcharge. Seventy per cent of all residential garage fires are detected by a bystander or neighbour, not by the occupant. There's still not a code in an attached garage requiring detection, which would give early detection to an occupant as soon as the battery started smoking.

There is a bit of a code conflict happening right now between the electrical code and the building code that's going to allow additional battery storage capacity in the attached residential garage. We have some concerns about the way in which these are stored, the location in terms of egress paths, and just the general protection from creating the building to its being on fire.

9:20 a.m.


Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Mr. Santoro, can you add to this?

9:20 a.m.

Senior Executive for Eastern Canada, International Association of Fire Fighters

Carmen Santoro

Sure. Thanks for the opportunity.

I think the stairwells need to be sprinklered to allow us more opportunity in high-risk structures. We need proper training and awareness for firefighters to be able to preplan for those structures, and more egress points when there are high-risk situations in those structures as well.

9:20 a.m.


Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Just as an added point as far as safety is concerned, of course we've seen wildfires come into communities. It's really nice to have your buildings really close to the forest, because they look great, but there certainly should be some thought municipally. Even though you live out on a farm, just make sure you have a buffer in case fires come through.

Is that something you've been able to get to the attention of municipalities, to try to make sure we can prevent some of these fires, Mr. Santoro?