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.