moved that Bill C-354, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to begin debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-354, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, with regard to the use of wood in government infrastructure.
I introduced this bill at a critical time for our forest industry and for our fight against climate change. This bill could play an important role in both of those issues. There is a revolution happening around the world in how we construct buildings, the revolution of mass timber construction of engineered wood. The revolution began in Europe and has spread to North America where Canada is the leader in that technology. However, we have to work hard to keep on top here, and this bill is about that revolution and about that work. It is a bill designed to support our forest industry, and the forest industry needs support.
For the last 30 years, we have suffered through the onslaught of several softwood lumber disputes with the United States. We need to develop other markets for our wood and there are several obvious ways to do this. We could use more wood at home. We could export more wood to Asia. We could export engineered wood to the United States since it is not covered under the unfair softwood lumber tariff. All of these strategies can be tackled through mass timber construction through engineered wood.
I would like to go back to the bill itself, what it says and what it aims to do. On the surface, it is a simple bill designed to support our forest industry but there is much more to it. First, it is a recycled bill like many private members' bills and motions in this place. Similar bills have been tabled in past parliaments by members of different parties. Like those bills, it asks the federal government to give preference to the use of wood when constructing buildings, with two important caveats. Those caveats form a dual lens to help the government decide what structural material or materials to use in a building. The first issue is the overall lifetime cost of those materials; second, the government should consider the impact that those materials would have on the greenhouse gas footprint of that building. Therefore, the bill seeks to balance those costs, the dollars and cents cost and the environmental cost. It is very similar to the Wood First Act enacted in British Columbia and to government procurement policies in Quebec that promote the use of wood.
I want to say here that there is nothing to stop the government from choosing to use a number of materials in the primary structure of a building. Right now, large buildings across Canada and around the world are largely built of concrete and steel. It is the way the industry has worked for decades. However, what this bill seeks to do is to get the government to consider wood by applying that dual test. Many buildings now use a combination of wood, concrete, and steel and that would continue. One of those hybrid buildings partly made with engineered wood is the Ottawa airport, a building that I imagine a number of the members here are very familiar with.
My bill differs very little from the previous bills. What has changed is our ability to use wood as the primary structural material in large buildings, and that is why this bill is so timely and so necessary to the well-being of our forest industry and indeed the construction industry across Canada. To take advantage of these new wood technologies, we will have to steer the mindset of designers, architects, and builders, and the government procurement agents who hire them, to consider the use of wood in large buildings.
I would like to move on here to talk in a bit more detail about engineered wood, how it is made, why it makes good sense to build with it, why it is safe, why it is economical, and how it plays into Canada's climate action goals. There are two main types of engineered wood used in large buildings. First, there are the glulam beams made from dimensional lumber glued together to form large, sometimes a metre by a metre in thickness, beautiful support beams that support the floors, ceilings, and roof in the building. These beams can be used instead of the large steel beams we now use. Second are the cross-laminated timber, CLT, panels that are made in a similar manner to glulam but are formed as panels about eight or nine inches thick. These can replace some of the concrete used in walls and floors. The beams and panels are made with extreme precision, much more precisely than concrete or steel. These products are made off-site in a manufacturing plant and then moved to the building site just as they are needed, where they are joined together to construct a building, floor by floor. It is an extremely efficient way of building.
In traditional construction, the site is prepared over a number of weeks or months, the time depending on the complexity of the site and often the weather. Delays can be caused by wet weather or cold weather, both of them very common here in Canada. Then the building goes up with a concrete foundation, steel girders, building concrete frames, pouring concrete, letting the concrete cure, and then moving on to the next floor. More delays can ensue because of weather. In tall wood buildings, the concrete foundation is prepared much as in other projects, but because the beams and panels are made off-site, they can be constructed as the site is prepared. They are light enough to transport long distances to the site.
This fall, the University of British Columbia opened Brock Commons, an 18-storey student residence on campus. Brock Commons is the tallest wood building in the world. Only its foundation and the elevator shafts use concrete or steel for support. Brock Commons was built with engineered wood made at the Structurlam plants in Penticton and Okanagan Falls, 400 kilometres away. It was built in nine weeks, two floors per week, about twice as fast as a typical high-rise. The cost savings in that speed are significant.
Tall wood buildings are not only efficient to build, but can play a significant role in reaching our climate action targets. We are at a moment in history where we must take bold steps in tackling the global issue of climate change. We must reduce our carbon dioxide emissions and increase our sequestration of carbon. The Green Building Council of Canada has calculated that buildings account for about 30% of our energy use in greenhouse gas emissions, significantly more than any other sector, and the UN Environment Programme identifies buildings as offering the greatest potential for achieving significant energy and GHG emission reductions at the least cost. How we construct the buildings and what they are made of can be a huge part of those reductions.
As architect Michael Green states in The Case for Tall Wood Buildings, “Wood is the most significant building material we use today that is grown by the sun. When harvested responsibly, wood is arguably one of the best tools architects and engineers have for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon in our buildings.” FPInnovations has calculated that each cubic metre of wood in a building acts to sequester one tonne of carbon. A 20-storey wood building takes the equivalent of 900 cars off the roads in carbon dioxide savings every year.
We can do all this and help our forest sector at the same time. As I said earlier, that sector has had tough times over the past 30 years because of the unfair tariffs on softwood. Mills have closed across the country, tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs, and many rural communities have been very hard hit.
We can help our forest sector in two ways: develop new markets and create value-added opportunities within Canada. Engineered wood does both of these at the same time. If we build more infrastructure using wood, that would automatically boost our domestic market, and engineered wood can be exported to the United States without softwood lumber tariffs, which would expand our U.S. market. China is actively exploring the concept of building with engineered wood. Just a tiny part of that market could be a significant win for Canada.
We are in the middle of a study in the natural resources committee on the value-added sector in Canadian forestry. Engineered wood and tall wood buildings have come up time after time as the biggest opportunity for us to make gains on that front. Bill Downing, the president of Structurlam in Penticton, mentioned that his company has just received a contract to rebuild the Microsoft campus in Silicon Valley with engineered wood. From that one contract, he put in a purchase order to local Canfor mills for $4 million of dimensional lumber. The amount of $4 million is a big payday for any Canadian company, even a big one like Canfor, and that money is going to rural communities in the B.C. Interior.
Any new technology, any change, comes with concerns about the unknown. One of the questions I get most often is about the fire safety of tall wood buildings. I talked to one fire chief who said he breaks out in a sweat whenever he hears the word “wood”. The fact is that mass wood buildings are as fire-safe as those built with steel and concrete. First, the heavy beams and panels that are used are completely different from the old stick-frame construction we are used to. Fire acts completely differently when it encounters a beam that is a metre thick than when it encounters a two-by-four. It is like holding a match to a large log. Tests have shown that the material typically chars on the outside and then the fire goes out. Even a building with exposed beams and panels offers more than the standard two-hour exit time in a fire.
The U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory published findings this year from the burning of a two-storey test building, concluding that the exposed cross-laminated timber essentially self-extinguished after fire consumed the building's furnishings.
The Brock Commons student residence included design features meant to provide added assurance for safety. The panels and beams were clad in layers of fire-resistant gypsumboard, for instance. The architects pointed out that this was unnecessary, but it may well be necessary to include these features until this technology becomes more common and Canadians feel more comfortable about tall wood buildings.
Others have asked me if we have enough wood in Canada to provide the material for this new sector. The forests of North America can grow the wood used in Brock Commons, a very large building, every six minutes.
I have also been asked about the reaction from other industry sectors. Interestingly, the Cement Association of Canada was on Parliament Hill a few weeks ago lobbying for their industry, and their big ask of the federal government was to consider a dual lens when choosing material for infrastructure: the lifetime cost of the materials and the greenhouse gas emissions. That is exactly what I am proposing in this bill.
The fact is that steel and concrete have enjoyed a century of a duopoly in large-building construction. This shift to tall wood construction would not suddenly result in a significant loss in market share for either industry. We would still be constructing many buildings with steel and concrete, but any small increase in market share could be significant for the forest industry. This bill simply asks the federal government to consider wood and to remember that there is a new way of building. The wood industry just needs that foot in the door.
I have been encouraged by government action on this front. Natural Resources Canada will be providing almost $40 million in funding over the next four years to support projects and activities that increase the use of wood as a greener substitute material in infrastructure projects. This money will be used in research and testing that is essential to growing that needed confidence in a new product and in incentivizing new construction to serve as examples of just what we can do with wood.
There are many examples out there already. Chantiers Chibougamau has built numerous bridges for the mining industry in northern Quebec using glulam beams. Their engineered wood was used to build the Buffalo Sabres' training facility. The architect first proposed steel for that project, but a second look showed that wood would be more economical. The Art Gallery of Ontario was transformed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry using Douglas fir glulam arches made in Penticton, British Columbia, by Structurlam. The 284,000 square foot Rocky Ridge Recreational Facility in Calgary boasts the largest wood-constructed roof in North America, again built by Structurlam. These are iconic buildings. What I hope to promote in this bill is the construction of much more conventional buildings, such as office buildings and warehouses, from engineered wood.
Government procurement could play a huge role in expanding the engineered wood industry in Canada. Bill Downing, at Structurlam, would tell us that their company would not have gotten off the ground without the wood-first policy in British Columbia, and now it is one of the leading manufacturers of engineered wood in North America, along with Chantiers Chibougamau.
Forest companies across Canada are looking to this new sector to help them survive or even flourish. All these companies would benefit from government procurement to make that leap into a new technology. J.D. Irving has gone to Europe to look at the burgeoning mass timber construction sector there. France intends to build 30% of its new residential buildings with wood over the next 30 years.
Wood buildings are safe, cost-competitive, and beautiful, and they fight climate change. I ask all members to consider wood, support Bill C-354, foster the engineered wood sector in Canada, and keep our forest industry strong.