House of Commons Hansard #258 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.


Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister took taxpayers' money to the tune of $200,000 to be exact. He took this money and used it in order to help pay for his illegal vacation to a Caribbean island. Today, believe it or not, we are debating whether or not the Prime Minister should now accept responsibility for his illegal conduct and pay back the money that he stole from Canadians. It seems ridiculous, does it not? We are spending an entire day debating whether or not the leader of our country should function with integrity, accept responsibility for his illegitimate actions, and pay back money that he wrongfully took from Canadians. How has it come to this?

In 2016, the Prime Minister accepted an illegal gift of an all expenses paid vacation to a private tropical island from the Aga Khan, who I might add, is someone who receives millions of dollars in government grants and contributions from the government. I should also mention that he is a registered lobbyist.

The Prime Minister was caught and the Ethics Commissioner conducted an investigation. For the first time in Canadian history, a Prime Minister was found guilty of having broken the Conflict of Interest Act, not once but four times. He is guilty of accepting gifts that could influence decision-making. He is guilty of not recusing himself from discussions that could further private interests. He is guilty of failing to arrange his private affairs to avoid the situation. He is guilty of accepting travel on a non-commercial aircraft. To date, the Prime Minister has refused to accept full responsibility for his actions. I acknowledge that he offered a half-hearted verbal apology, but to make amends, the $200,000 that he wrongfully took from taxpayers in this country to help cover the cost of his vacation must be paid back if he is truly sorry.

If the Prime Minister had simply followed the very clear rules set out in the Conflict of Interest Act, taxpayers would not have been stuck with the bill to begin with. Not once did we see even a hint of entitlement in the former prime minister. Stephen Harper paid back the Canadian taxpayer every single month for the food bill that was incurred at 24 Sussex, something that he did not need to do, but he chose to do because of his level of integrity. Stephen Harper paid for his family's child care costs out of his own pocket, again something he did not need to do, but he chose to do it because he felt that it was the right thing to do. Stephen Harper took his winter vacations at his family home in Calgary, which he paid for with his money, and his summer vacation at the Prime Minister's residence in Harrington Lake, which meant the lowest price possible for taxpayers. This is true leadership.

Today, MPs will choose to stand with the Canadian public or against the Canadian public. They will choose to support and condone the Prime Minister's unethical behaviour, which reeks of elitism and entitlement, or they will choose to support Canadians who expect their hard-earned tax dollars to go toward paying for things like infrastructure and services that they have invested in.

Will the Liberal MPs obediently do what the Prime Minister has demanded of them and defend his inexcusable actions, or will they stand up today for Canadian taxpayers and agree that the money does in fact need to be paid back? I am sure their constituents will take note of the decisions made today when it comes time to vote.

It has become increasingly obvious that the Prime Minister believes that there is one set of rules for him and there is one set of rules for everyone else. It was the Liberal Prime Minister who put his signature on a document called the “Open and Accountable Government” guide for public office holders. In this guide the Prime Minister instructs:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must not accept sponsored travel, i.e. travel whose costs are not wholly paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, or by the individual personally, or his or her political party, or an inter-parliamentary association or friendship group recognized by the House of Commons. This includes all travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose except in exceptional circumstances....

It must have been a really exceptional circumstance to take that private vacation to the Caribbean. He continues:

...and only with the prior approval of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and public disclosure of the use of such aircraft.

Mr. Speaker, I kid you not, these are the words of the Prime Minister himself. These are his instructions to his members on that side of the House. Does he live up to them? No.

The Prime Minister ignored his very own requirements. He took a private helicopter to a private Caribbean island, on which he took a private all-expense paid vacation. Did he check with the Ethics Commissioner? No. Did he disclose it to the public? No. Could it be deemed an exceptional circumstance? No. He got caught.

If the Prime Minister cannot follow his own guidebook, can we reasonably expect him to follow the laws of Canada? Can we reasonably expect him to lead our country well, to create rules and regulations, and policies and initiatives that will serve everyday Canadians day in, day out? Can we count on him for that? No.

According to the Ethics Commissioner, she does question his integrity and whether he is ready and able to do the job.

I would imagine this is fairly frustrating for the Liberal cabinet ministers, who watch as their boss tells them to do one thing but then goes off and does another thing on his own. The Prime Minister's chief of staff and his principal secretary repaid $65,000 they had claimed for moving expenses that were deemed to be inappropriate. They paid it back.

The former minister of health paid back $3,700 to taxpayers when it was discovered she was using the limousine services of a Liberal Party supporter instead of taking a taxi. Why does the Prime Minister have no problem forcing his staff and the ministers to pay back questionable expenses, but exempts himself from the same level of expectation?

When the Prime Minister was first called to account, he declared that the individual taking him on the all-expenses paid trip, the Aga Khan, was a close family friend and therefore it should be totally acceptable. Not a problem, right? However, when the Ethics Commissioner did the necessary research, when she investigated further, she concluded that the Aga Khan could not in any way be deemed a family friend because the Prime Minister had not spoken with him in 30 years. I sincerely feel bad for the Prime Minister if this is, in fact, what he deems a close friendship.

It is clear the Prime Minister has tried very hard to cover his illegal actions, but the fact is this. He has been found guilty, guilty of accepting a gift he should have said no to; guilty of meeting with the Aga Khan, who has received millions of dollars from the Canadian government, and could have undue influence on the PM's decision; guilty of failing to arrange his private affairs to avoid this opportunity; and guilty of accepting travel on a non-commercial aircraft.

Now that the Ethics Commissioner has reached the conclusion that the Prime Minister's trip was illegal, he needs to pay the $200,000 back that was expensed to Canadians. If the trip was illegal, then so were the expenses billed to taxpayers.

The situation before the House today is not about $200,000 being paid back, though the money should be. It absolutely should be. Today's dialogue is about so much more. It is about the integrity of a man who has been entrusted with the responsibility of leading a nation. It is about a man who chose to break that trust for the sake of selfish gain. It is about a man who, though found guilty, refuses to take responsibility for his actions. It is about a man who is able to say that he is sorry with his lips, because words are cheap, but when it comes to actually making amends for his actions and returning the money to the Canadian public, he says no.

This debate today did not need to take place. It was avoidable. The Prime Minister knew better than to accept this illegal gift that clearly put him in a conflict of interest. Sadly, the Prime Minister's inability to live up to his own standards means that for the first time in Canadian history, Canada's head of state has now been found guilty of breaking the Conflict of Interest Act.

The Prime Minister seems to think taxpayers should pay for his boyish dream of being a jet-setting celebrity, but he could not be more wrong. On behalf of Canadians, we call on the Prime Minister to function with integrity, show leadership, accept responsibility, and to make restitution. We call on the Prime Minister to pay it back.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been hearing this all day, the allegations that the Prime Minister has somehow taken $200,000. This is just a preposterous notion put forward by many members of the opposition.

Could the hon. member tell the House about what this really represents? It is RCMP security costs. These are costs that would have been incurred regardless of where the Prime Minister travelled or where he went on vacation. Those costs will always follow him.

I know the hon. member for Thornhill is trying to heckle. He was there asking the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner about whether more penalties should have been incurred for violations of the act, and she said “no”. Why does the Conservative Party know better than Mary Dawson?

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, all day long we have been debating this. Should the Prime Minister be a leader? Should the Prime Minister act ethically? Should the Prime Minister take responsibility for his actions? Should the Prime Minister listen to the words of the Ethics Commissioner, who said that his trip was in fact illegal, that it should not have taken place, that he did not properly follow the rules that were put in front of him and in front of all of us in this place? Should the Prime Minister do the right thing? That is what we are debating today.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for raising again the Prime Minister's double standard, one standard for himself and his inner circle, and one standard for everybody else.

I like the example of the former health minister being forced to repay several thousands of dollars of inappropriate expenses claimed for travel. The Prime Minister, at the same time, stood and said, with the former minister standing behind him, that the government had to work to regain the trust of Canadians.

Would my colleague agree that the Prime Minister seems to be treating the finding by the Ethics Commissioner that he broke the law as something like a suspended sentence? There is no meaningful penalty the commissioner could bring down, but he seems to be looking the other way on the moral obligation he applied against the former health minister.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has put a guide in place with respect to the ethical standard by which his ministers, his cabinet, are meant to function. When it came to himself, though, when accepting a private vacation on a private island with the Aga Khan, he turned the other way and said yes to that opportunity. He just could not help himself. He had to say yes to this opportunity. Meanwhile, he expects a very different conduct from the ministers in his cabinet.

He forced the health minister to pay back $3,700 that she had charged for a limousine ride instead of choosing to take a taxi. We are talking $3,700, and she should have paid it back, which she did, and I commend her for that. However, the Prime Minister has been found guilty of taking $200,000 of taxpayer money and illegitimately using it for a part of his vacation to a private island in the Caribbean. Why is he not paying it back?

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to draw the parallel to the situation we are talking about today to a previous time when the Prime Minister was found to have had inappropriate travel. He immediately apologized and then paid it back. That was in 2012 when he took a limo ride to Kingston, and he repaid that money.

Therefore, not only is there this double standard for the Prime Minister in the case of other people compared to himself, but in this case what is good for the goose should still be good for the goose should it not?

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, what we have here are two very different people that were leading our country. In 2012, we had a man who functioned with the utmost level of integrity, responsibility, authority, leadership, and respect for others. Today, we do not. Today, when an ethical scandal like this comes to the forefront and the current Prime Minister is expected to pay back the money that he wrongfully took from Canadian taxpayers, he will fight tooth and nail against it. Why? Because he has an attitude of elitism and entitlement.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will make it very clear that the previous commissioner, both in her report and in testimony in committee, answered many questions related to her report. We accepted those findings, and respect the fine work she has done. On this side of the House, we respect the work of all officers of Parliament. Unlike the opposition, when officers of Parliament make recommendations, we take them seriously and work with them to ensure we follow those recommendations.

On top of this, the Prime Minister is committed to working with the office of the commissioner to clear all future personal and family vacations. As has been the case for past prime ministers and is the case for the current Prime Minister, whenever and wherever the Prime Minister travels, there are costs associated with security. We always accept the advice of our security agencies as to how best ensure the safety of the Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister has said, going forward, he will engage the commissioner.

The commissioner has dealt with this. It is not the first time the commissioner has had to deal with issues. The Conservative human resources minister was also someone Mary Dawson had to deal with and provide a report on. We all have an obligation to report to the commissioner and the commissioner gives us advice, some more formal than others. That is the reality, and we respect what the commissioner presents to us.

Today I have heard time and again about ethical standards, as if the Conservative Party has more ethical standards. We all know that is far from the truth. I will remind members across the way of the reality of the Prime Minister and this government in comparison. The irony is that just prior to resuming debate on the motion this afternoon, we voted on Bill C-50.

What would Bill C-50 do? It would ensure more transparency and accountability for leaders, whether it is a prime minister, a cabinet minister, the leader of the official opposition, or the leader of any other political party, so when people pay $200-plus to sit down with leaders, there is accountability. Elections Canada has to be told who the individuals are. There are other requirements. It is all about accountability. Even the commissioner, who Conservatives like to cite, suggested that it was good legislation, and the Conservatives voted against that. They voted against transparency and accountability. I have tried to understand why they would do that.

Last year, the Conservative leader had a fundraiser and he did not want to tell Canadians about it. When he was challenged about it, his initial response was denial, that he did not have that high-priced fundraiser. Then when individuals said that they paid the big bucks to meet with the leader of the Conservative Party, he admitted to having that fundraising event. This legislation would obligate, by law, the reporting of things of that nature.

It was interesting that in a story about that incident, the leader of the official opposition said that if it was law, he would have reported it. Is that the reason the Conservatives did not support that legislation, because if it were law, they would have to report it? That is the kind of legislation this government and the Prime Minister have brought forward to ensure there is a higher level of accountability and transparency on these types of issues, which are important to Canadians.

When the Prime Minister was leader of the Liberal Party, the third party in the House, with only 34 or 35 Liberal MPs sitting in the corner, he brought forward what we called proactive disclosure. He stood up on several occasions to get the opposition and the government of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to agree to share with Canadians, in a transparent way, how MPs were spending money. Initially, the Conservatives and the NDP both said no. That was when the Prime Minister was leader of the Liberal Party, not the prime minister. What we saw was very much a high sense of accountability.

After the commissioner made her report, the Prime Minister did not go into hiding. He travelled the country. He went to town halls all over the country. Canadians, real people, got to ask questions of the Prime Minister, and their focus was on issues such as the economy, jobs, and health care. They were concerned about the different social programs the government is providing.

It is truly important for us to recognize that as much as the Conservatives want to continue to focus on being negative in all aspects of the Prime Minister's personal life, the Prime Minister and his cabinet are going to continue to focus on what is important to Canadians, and that is the middle class and those aspiring to be a part of it, and the many individuals who we want to give that lifting hand to.

Our government will continue to be transparent and accountable for the many positive actions. Those actions have seen Canadians develop jobs that have never been seen in recent history for our country, with 700,000 jobs, and I think it was 422,000 jobs in 2017 alone, not to mention the redistribution of wealth, supporting Canada's middle class. Those are the priorities of the Prime Minister and the government.

I agree with the government House leader when she says that the Conservatives have nothing else to talk about because they know how well things are going and how well the government is performing, so they want to focus on the negatives, the personal attacks.

One thing I agree with my colleague from across the way on is that we did not need to spend a day on this issue. What we should be talking about today are those important issues that we hear about at those town halls the Prime Minister is doing. There are so many wonderful things that are taking place in our country, but we can always do better and those are the kinds of ideas we should be talking about in the House.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It being 5:27 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members



Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 6th, 2018 / 5:25 p.m.


John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the recorded division be deferred until tomorrow, Wednesday, February 7 at the end of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Conflicts of InterestBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Accordingly, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 7, 2018, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from November 27, 2017, consideration of the motion 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.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, this bill, introduced by my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay, pertains to an extremely important matter.

Let me begin by saying that my interest in this subject directly relates to the fact that I am what my family might call a bit of a woodsman. Now, Mr. Speaker, I am not talking about the stereotypical bearded lumberjack who lives in the forest, hunting and trapping to survive. I would not last an hour. However, let us just say that my entire childhood was framed, you could say, by wood, beginning with a cradle my father built. You see where this is going. As a young teenager, my Saturdays were spent at our local lumber merchant, Léopold Duplessis, where customers could buy two-by-fours and so on for renovations, construction, and building furniture.

This talent, which has faded somewhat in my generation, was something my grandfather had. The types of wood and the smell of woodworking will always be with me. I gained this new awareness as I got to know the region where I lived. Certainly, forestry is a vital industry for Quebeckers, even more so for a region such as Mauricie. No fewer than 4,700 local jobs rely on the region’s 33,000 square kilometres of forest. Across Canada, it accounts for 60,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Obviously, my awareness about the importance of using wood grew over the years. It grew from enjoying a family activity to an important environmental consciousness. As we all know, at a time when countries around the world are trying to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, forests are absolutely the biggest carbon stores we know of. Every time we use wood where carbon has been captured and stored for many years, since our wood structures last longer and longer, we play a critical role in the fight against greenhouse gases.

During my childhood, there was not just my grandpa’s shop, which then become my dad’s, and the trips to Léopold Duplessis’s, but there were also my first paying jobs, which were, just like for the rest of my family, with the Canadian International Paper Company. I spent my summers roping up timber to feed the mill in the winter. Here again, I was in contact with my region’s source of wealth, the forest.

Later on I became a teacher, somewhat removed from forestry, after studying geography. Again, I was shaped by the “land” approach of geography. Later I even became involved in research projects at Laval University and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. This research served to bolster my understanding of the forest’s importance not only in terms of nature's biological cycle but also its economic importance.

That is why I support this bill, since it promotes the use of wood in the construction and renovation of federal buildings by emphasizing the role that the Department of Public Works and Government Services could play in achieving this objective. Unfortunately, I am referring to the role that it could play, since as long as the bill does not enjoy the unanimous support of the House, something I hope it will, we will need to use “could” instead of “will.”

Imagine the excellent PR that would come with Public Works and Government Services Canada using wood in its own construction projects. Imagine what a showcase this could be for the entire industry. It would also demonstrate the much more impressive possibilities provided by wood construction.

Not only does it support our logging industry, but the proposal put forward by my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay will also go a long way to protecting our environment, an important issue supported by New Democrats, as well as all politicians in the House, although perhaps not with the same intensity or the same concern for putting words into action.

There are significant international examples helping to show that the use of wood, even in tall buildings, is a solution for the future. Supporting forestry workers through federal procurement is a proven approach in many foreign countries. In France, wood-based projects help the forestry industry compete internationally, as they do in the Netherlands, which has a similar policy.

We do not have to go as far away as France—we can look closer to home. Quebec has already had support measures in place since 2009. Unfortunately this is not widely known. Allow me to go over the highlights of these measures. Through legislation passed in 2009, the Government of Quebec decided to give equal footing to construction projects that use wood, which costs as much as 5% more than other comparable materials. Quebec understands that while it costs a bit more to build using wood, the benefits more than justify this slightly higher investment, even if only to support the entire logging industry and efforts to cut greenhouse gases. For a cost modelled at about 5% or less, there is recognition of the considerable effort that can be made in wood construction.

As we are always hearing in the news, the forestry sector has been in crisis for the past 20 years. This bill is therefore a great opportunity to give a boost to forestry workers. Scientific advances have led to substantial progress in the construction of tall wood framed structures. Large buildings can be built quickly and economically with wood without compromising safety, since that is almost always the first argument raised against wood construction. While wood buildings are considered to be solid, some are concerned that such buildings are at greater risk in the event of a fire. However, firefighters and fire chiefs have testified that they too believe in the quality of new wood construction.

According to Peter Moonen of the Canadian Wood Council, wood’s strength-to-weight ratio is about twice as high as that of steel or concrete.

I will wrap up, since I do not have enough time to educate everyone following along about the virtues of wood construction. I hope that both the Liberals and the Conservatives, who have not always had a stellar environmental record, will use this bill as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Not only is it a tangible way to reduce greenhouse gases, but also, at a time when our relationship with the forestry industry has been tense, particularly given our neighbour to the south, this is a way to give our industry all the tools it needs to provide added value in wood processing.

I therefore urge all members in the House to vote not only in favour of the legislation introduced by my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay, but to embrace it.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Gatineau Québec


Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

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.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to start off by commending my friend and colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay for bringing forward this legislation. It demonstrates not only to his constituents but to the people of British Columbia, and to people across this great country who are involved in the wood industry, that we can bring forward practical solutions to support the work they do to promote what is truly a sustainable industry.

I have had my own personal involvement in this industry, although in only one section of it. In a previous life, I had the honour of working as a tree planter in British Columbia's forests for eight years. I have planted trees everywhere, from Kamloops to Merritt to Prince George to northern Vancouver Island. I have had an incredible glimpse of the wonderful province I call home.

We have had bad forestry practices in the past, but those practices have largely changed. I have seen, from my own point of view planting trees, that forestry companies really are taking in what consumers want. They want certification, because they know that a lot of the people who buy wood products are looking for wood that is harvested in a sustainable manner.

Across this great country, thousands of Canadians either directly or indirectly make a living working in this important industry.

Let us look at what Bill C-354 purports to do.

The bill would amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to require that in the awarding of certain contracts, preference be given to projects that promote the use of wood. We can see that in the bill. It would add, after subsection 7(1), proposed subsection 7(1.1).

It has been noted in a few speeches, but it should be noted again, that great advances have been made in tall wood construction. We now know that with today's technology, it is possible to construct large, safe wood buildings quickly and economically.

Building with wood produces lower greenhouse gas emissions and sequesters more carbon than other products. This can really help Canada achieve its greenhouse gas targets under the Paris agreement. That is something all members and many citizens of this country want us to do with sound policies.

In my own neck of the woods, in coastal British Columbia, the forestry sector has had very tough times over the last several decades. Given the difficulties the forestry sector has faced over the past 20 years, innovation and new developments, such as those that allow this kind of construction, offer a path forward for the future health of this sector. As the largest procurer in Canada, the federal government can give this sector a major boost by using this cutting edge technology at home.

Most of the sawmills in my riding of Cowichan--Malahat--Langford are operated by Western Forest Products, which has facilities up and down Vancouver Island. It has a total number of employees of just over 2,000, based on 2012 figures. It might even be higher by now. The company has sold over $1 billion in products both at home and abroad.

There is a sawmill in my riding in Cowichan Bay. There are two facilities in Chemainus. In the last election, and even since then, I have had the pleasure of getting to know many of the men and women, proud unionized members of the United Steelworkers, who operate those facilities. They have good-paying jobs. They have the ability to live in our communities, raise families, and contribute to the local economy, all because of the focal point of those important sawmills in my riding, and I am sure within the ridings of many hon. members in the chamber.

People are a critical part of the wood processing industry. That includes everyone from employees to the people who live in the communities where they operate. Many people, directly or indirectly, depend on the sustainability of the business. They continually build the business, protect the tenure they have, and work co-operatively with external agencies and groups on progressive approaches to policy and operations.

I believe that the industry has come a long way and is very much committed to the communities in which it works, through employment, through sponsorships, and various operational public forums such as our public advisory groups. We know that the employees are the heart of any business operation. They are dedicated to safety, to professionalism, to their co-workers, stakeholders, and customers. They have a unique skill set which they use to achieve excellence.

I want to say a few things about wood itself as a building material. First of all, it is beautiful. Each piece of wood is a unique creation of nature. It is a fascinating process that allows such a small seedling, which I had the honour of planting throughout British Columbia, to grow into a massive and mighty giant, and from which we can derive such an amazing material. It is durable. It offers more strength in proportion to its weight than any other material. It is renewable. All the trees are harvested sustainably in sustainably managed timberlands, and they are renewed through reforestation. That is part of the law in the province of British Columbia, that every company that harvests timber is responsible for replanting it.

It is also an environmentally friendly product. It is a low-impact green alternative to energy intensive building materials, such as concrete, aluminum, steel, and vinyl, which all must be manufactured from non-renewable resources using petroleum and other carbon intensive resources in the production. I do not want to say that we should stop using those other products, but if we are serious as a nation in finding a sustainable building material that will help us achieve our goals in greenhouse gas reduction, wood is the first place to be looking.

It is biodegradable and recyclable. Wood products decompose and naturally return to the environment, unlike most manufactured or composite building materials, which can end up spending hundreds of years in landfills. It is reusable, whether as beams or compost products. It is also a natural insulator. It insulates against heat and cold which saves energy. In fact, wood is 400 times more effective as insulation than steel, and 1,800 times more effective than aluminum.

One of the big things we have seen in the debate tonight is the importance for carbon storage. Forests absorb carbon dioxide emissions that are part of the greenhouse gases connected to climate change, and store carbon in the fibre of the wood that they grow. The structures that are built from wood products continue to store this carbon while healthy young forests continue to absorb it.

Consumers, retailers, investors, and communities are taking an increased interest in how their buying decisions affect the environment for future generations. That is something that, as the father of young children, I am very much concerned with. Considering factors beyond the traditional attributes of price, service, and quality, when all of wood's positive attributes are factored in, it is obvious that wood is a good choice.

I see that my time is starting to run low, so I will begin my conclusion. I will note that in the federal government's budget 2017, it provided Natural Resources Canada with $39.8 million over four years, which will begin in fiscal year 2018-19, to support projects and activities that increase the use of wood as a greener substitute material in infrastructure projects. I believe that bringing this forward is our way of calling on the government to act on a good idea that it already supports in a very reasonable way. It will allow us to show our important support for the forestry communities across Canada, and those who work in the industry, while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

In closing, I want to again thank my friend and colleague for bringing forward this important bill. From what I have seen so far, I think there is general support from all of the major parties, especially from members who are lucky to have forestry communities within their ridings. I very much look forward to seeing the bill proceed to committee. That is where the hon. members of the committee can do the important work, hear from witnesses, and get the factual basis for why it is a good idea for the federal government to move forward on.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Northumberland—Peterborough South Ontario


Kim Rudd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for this important and timely bill, and to thank him for his hospitality. He took me around to meet some of the operations in his riding.

This is important because Canada's forest industry is a major driver of our economy, employing more than 210,000 Canadians and contributing some $23 billion a year to our GDP. In fact, forestry creates more jobs per dollar than any other resource sector, and we export more than 34 billion dollars' worth of forest products to 100 countries around the world.

Across the country, it remains the lifeblood of rural Canada and a major source of income for about one in seven municipalities. Just as significant is its role in the lives and livelihood of indigenous peoples, 70% of whom live in forested regions. Not surprisingly, forestry is one of the leading employers of indigenous people, providing some 9,700 well-paying jobs across Canada. These jobs are creating the potential for enduring prosperity and bringing hope to communities for lasting change.

The hon. member's bill is also timely, for a number of reasons. First is that this has been a difficult year for the industry and it needs our support. Over the past 12 months, the industry has faced historic fires, devastating infestations, and punitive protectionism from our largest trading partner on products from softwood to newsprint.

Our government's position has been clear and unequivocal. The U.S. duties are unfair, unwarranted, and unjustifiable. We are vigorously defending Canadian workers by challenging the duties before the World Trade Organization and the through the North American Free Trade Agreement. We will continue to fight and we expect to win, as we have in the past. However, we also know that in the meantime families and communities are hurting.

When the duties were announced, our government stepped up with an $867 million softwood lumber action plan, a plan that included loan guarantees for industry, access to work-sharing programs for employees, funding to help provinces support workers, investments in forest innovation programs, and access to programs that will help companies reach new markets.

The hon. member's bill is also timely because it speaks to an industry that is in the midst of an historic transformation. It was not so long ago that this sector seemed to be on the ropes, its prospects grim, its potential limited, and its practices criticized. To many it seemed like an outdated and dying industry. However, instead of wringing its hands, it rolled up its sleeves and began a transformation whose best chapters are still yet to be written.

Forest industry leaders reached out to their critics, listened to their concerns, and made changes to their operations. With government support, it invested in research, developed new products, and established new offshore markets, creating not only a new image but a new vision of what forest products could be.

The result is that forestry is now one of the most innovative parts of our economy, writing a success story most Canadians do not know well or hear about often. Few areas demonstrate the renaissance of forest products better than its use in construction. New, stronger, and more environmentally friendly products are coming to market every single day. Engineered wood, for example, is as strong as steel, making it safe and practical, not only in buildings but also in infrastructure such as bridges.

These innovations are placing Canada at the forefront of tall wood building. In Vancouver, Natural Resources Canada supported the University of British Columbia in constructing a new student residence that is the tallest hybrid wood building in the world, towering 18 storeys. This magnificent structure is not only an engineering and architectural showpiece, it is also an environmental game-changer, storing more than 1,700 metric tons of carbon and saving nearly 700 metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions. That is like taking 500 cars off the road per year, and UBC is just the start.

Our government is also supporting the construction of a 13-storey cross-laminated timber condo building in Quebec City. The Origine project consists of a 12-floor solid wood structure on a concrete podium, and because cross-laminated timber has no gaps through which heat can transfer, it will have lower energy costs, about 40% less than a traditional building.

Canadian innovation in wood construction is not only creating magnificent new buildings at home but is opening up exciting new opportunities abroad. In Tianjin, China, a new eco-district covers almost two square kilometres and is built using Canadian lumber, ingenuity, and expertise. With its success, there are opportunities to reproduce it right across China.

These new building techniques and technologies also play a major role in combatting climate change. Most of us remember enough of our high school science to know that trees absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. What we might not realize is that the carbon remains sequestered even after it is turned into building materials, which means that wood buildings hold carbon for decades. Building with lumber also emits far fewer greenhouse gases than traditional building materials. It is no surprise then that the forest industry is a key part of the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change. Quite simply, increasing the use of wood for construction will help Canada meet its 2030 climate commitments.

Our government is supporting wood construction, including through our green construction through wood program, which invests nearly $40 million over four years to use wood in non-traditional construction projects. This program is expected to reduce carbon emissions by as much as six megatonnes by 2030.

For all of these reasons, any bill that encourages greater use of wood in construction is to be applauded for the jobs it creates, the markets it opens, and the environmental benefits it brings. The bill before this House seeks to increase wood construction, but while its aim is worthy, its wording is problematic. As other members have pointed out, it raises questions of fairness in procurement by giving preference to one building material over another. It also risks running contrary to Canada's trade obligations, including possibly discriminating against regions that do not produce wood, and by prescribing technical specifications related to design or descriptive character, it might be seen to create unnecessary obstacles to trade, contrary to trade agreements.

While these concerns are significant, they are not insurmountable and I believe could be addressed through amendment. I would therefore encourage hon. members to support this bill in principle so that it can proceed and the appropriate amendments made.

I want to again thank the hon. member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for all of his work on this initiative, on the natural resources committee, and what I know he will do in the future.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate on Bill C-354. It is a bill that seeks to encourage the use of more wood in construction. Up to this point in the debate, members have talked about their belief in the importance of the forestry sector.

A debate like this provides members with an opportunity to attest to their love for wood and their love for the forestry sector. However, what distinguishes our party is that when we were in government, we actually took action to support the forestry sector. When Conservatives were in government, it was not just a matter of words and professions but a matter of concrete steps that we took to ensure the health and vitality of Canada's forestry sector.

I had the pleasure of working as a political staffer for the then industry minister, a current member who is doing a great job still. In the context of the financial crisis in 2008-09, the work that he did and that we were able to do as his political staff to support Canada's forestry sector through those difficult economic times were a great credit to the last government. Frankly, the current government is far behind where we were in terms of understanding and appreciating the value of Canada's forestry sector.

When it comes to this particular bill, I generally do not like the words “virtue signal”, because I think they bring virtue ethics as a philosophical concept into disrepute, but they are often used when individuals want to signal their support for an idea, cause, or group but are not actually taking the right or necessary substantive actions to support them. There is an effort to send a signal but there are problems with the detail and a lack of action on substance.

The bill, in particular, would add language to the the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, which would say the following:

In awarding contracts for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, 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.

Now, there is not a huge amount of clarity on the mechanism, the way in which the minister would give preference, taking into account other things, but it certainly does seek to direct and in a certain sense limit the flexibility of action for a minister, who I think most Canadians would agree should be looking at the best value for taxpayers, the best long-term value, as well as taking into consideration the broader public interest issues like environmental well-being and impacts on communities. All of these things are and should be taken into consideration.

However, the bill in a way seeks to give preference for one kind of building material over another. Of course, there are a range of other building materials that are produced in Canada that benefit Canadian workers, families, and communities. Therefore, it is not obvious to me why we should write into legislation a requirement to preference one kind of building material over another.

Members have given eloquent speeches about the benefits of wood, and I applaud those members and I applaud those sentiments. However, certainly, given all of those benefits, a specific preference written into legislation is not needed. In recognizing those benefits, the environmental benefits and the benefits to the Canadian economy, when decisions are made on the basis of an objective criteria between different building materials, the best option should always rise to the top if there is an effective, dispassionate analysis of the merits of different types of proposals.

Our inclination would be to not introduce into legislation a particular preference for a particular kind of industry over another industry, especially recognizing our obligations in terms of international trade and recognizing that Canadians work in different kinds of industries. It is not for the government to be trying to pick who the winner and loser will be in that kind of competition. Rather, it is in the public interest for these evaluations to happen in an objective way.

Any time we introduce additional considerations, additional factors to consider, besides that clear objective public interest analysis, it adds potential costs and leads to a situation where, because of a presumed preference, an outcome might be different from what it would have otherwise been if the criteria had been a simple evaluation of which material makes the most sense in the context of this particular project. We in the Conservative Party strongly support the forestry sector, but we do not think that support has to involve hurting other sectors. We do not believe in what seems to be a bit of a tendency on the economic left to believe that wealth is finite and that if we give support to one person we have to take it away from someone else. We think that governments should develop economic policies that benefit all sectors rather than choosing one sector over another.

The kinds of initiatives that we undertook when we were in government to support the forestry sector were on that basis. We sought international trade opportunities that would benefit all Canadian sectors. We lowered taxes in order to benefit all Canadian sectors. We lowered business taxes. We lowered the small business tax. We cut employment insurance premiums. We sought to remove regulations that prevented all sectors from succeeding in this country.

We now have a government that wants to go in the opposite direction. The Liberals are nickelling and diming all sectors. They are raising taxes through their new national carbon tax proposal. The initial proposal was to raise the small business tax rate. Then they unbroke the breaking of that promise. Across the board we see efforts by the government to impose new regulatory as well as tax burdens on all sectors. I am sorry to say that it simply is not good enough for the Liberals to try to come back from that disastrous record and say to the forestry sector, “As much as we are overburdening you with new taxes, we are going to have an ambiguous section of this bill that is going to involve giving some preference to the forestry sector over other sectors.” I say let us work on policies that will mean a rising tide lifts all boats whether they are made of wood or not.

In terms of the specific issues that the government needs to address and has failed to address thus far, one of the clearest areas affecting Canada's forestry sector is the total failure of the government to effectively engage on the international trade front. Let us contrast that with the work done under the previous government. When Stephen Harper became prime minister, he immediately said to the Americans that addressing the softwood lumber issue was a core priority. He said that directly to the president of the United States, and within a few months they got it done. The then prime minister secured a good deal for Canada, and one that lasted a very long time, until we had a new government.

The current Prime Minister has thus far dealt with two different presidents in the United States, two presidents who, dare I say, are relatively different in their approach and outlook. The first president that the current government dealt with was President Obama. We heard a lot about bromance and “dudeplomacy”. Unfortunately, this “dudeplomacy” did not get us anywhere. The diplomacy part of “dudeplomacy” was totally missing from the Prime Minister's engagement with President Obama, so he did not get it done. In the infamous words of Michael Ignatieff, he “did not get it done”. Now we have President Trump, a different president, again with no progress or results with respect to the softwood lumber issue.

The government wants to try and send a signal. It is loading up this industry with more and more taxes. It is failing to stand up for its interests with respect to international trade. It dropped the ball with President Obama. It is dropping the ball again. Now the government is saying, “We have an idea. We will support this change to the procurement rules that suggests we might, in certain circumstances, give a preference for wood.” That is not good enough. The government should stop simply trying to send signals and should start doing its job by standing up for Canada's forestry sector.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today to reply to the second reading 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 want to begin by thanking all the members who have taken part in the debate. I really appreciate that engagement, and all the views that have been put forward.

This is a critical time for our forest industry and for our fight against climate change. This bill could play an important role in both those issues.

The bill is timely, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources said, because we are at the cusp of a significant change in how we construct buildings. For over a century, large building have been built with concrete and steel. While that will continue for years to come, we have new engineered wood, or mass timber technology that can replace some or all of the concrete and steel in buildings. This is a very small part of the construction market right now, but Canadian manufacturers of engineered wood are industry leaders in North America. They just need a foot in the door to maintain and grow that position.

We need to provide direction to the government to consider wood when building large infrastructure, since, until now, it has only had concrete and steel to look to. It is not used to turning to wood as an option. We need it to turn and have a look at wood when making those decisions.

This bill simply asks the federal government to put the project materials to two important tests. The first test is the overall lifetime cost of the materials. The second test is the impact those materials would have on the carbon footprint of a building. The bill seeks to balance those two costs, the dollars and cents cost and the environmental cost. It is very similar to the wood first bill, enacted in 2009 in British Columbia, and the government procurement policies in Quebec that promote the use of wood.

In answer to what the member for Gatineau said, the bills are very similar, and they have stood the test of international trade agreements.

Off the top, I would like to discuss the two main criticisms I have heard about the bill and explain why they should not be of any real concern.

One is that it picks winners and losers, as the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan alleged just now. People say that it distorts the market. It does not do that at all. It simply asks the government to look carefully at the real costs and climate costs when choosing the best structural products. In fact, the cement industry recently asked the federal government to use exactly the same dual lens, lifetime costs and greenhouse gas emissions, when choosing structural products for infrastructure.

The second concern I hear is about fire safety of tall wood buildings. The fact is that mass wood buildings are as fire safe, or safer, than those built with steel and concrete. Those that have been built already have been designed with direct involvement and sign-off by fire chiefs. Remember, we are not talking about stick-frame buildings here. Fire acts completely differently when it encounters a beam that is a metre thick than when it encounters a 2x4. It is like sticking a match to a big log.

What are the advantages of building with mass timber? Why should the federal government want to use wood as well as the conventional steel and concrete?

First, wood sequesters carbon, and tall wood buildings can play a significant role in reaching our climate action targets. Each cubic metre of wood in a building acts to sequester one tonne of carbon.

Second, wood buildings can be built economically and efficiently, since they are typically constructed off site, then reassembled on site as each section is needed. Each piece is made with a precision unattainable with normal structural products. Engineered wood products can be exported to the United States without softwood lumber tariffs, and as other members have said here, wood buildings are beautiful.

Climate action demands a lower carbon footprint for our infrastructure, the forest industry needs more markets, and the mass timber revolution offers a means to fill both those needs. Wood buildings are safe, cost competitive, beautiful, and they fight climate change.

I am encouraged to hear words from the government side about sending the bill to committee for closer study. I really look forward to that. I ask all members here to support Bill C-354 to foster the engineered wood sector in Canada and keep our forest industry sustainable and strong.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt this motion?