Madam Speaker, I am honoured to help close the debate on Bill C-354, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood). I also want to thank the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for putting forward this legislation. When I joined the natural resources committee just after Christmas, we were in the midst of a study on wood, and of course, it was well timed for his bill to come forward.
Let me be clear. The Government of Canada fully agrees with the spirit and intent of the member's proposed legislation. The proposed legislation aligns well with the government's goals of supporting the Canadian forest industry, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, these goals must be balanced with the government's commitment to a fair, open, and transparent procurement process for all suppliers.
I believe that the amendment to this bill that was passed by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources achieves the balance that we seek. That is why I am encouraging all members to support the bill with our amendment. Let me take this opportunity to explain a little further.
At second reading stage, we had occasion to highlight the importance of Canada's forestry industry. Our forestry industry helped build Canada, and it still makes a significant contribution today. Last year alone, it added $22 billion to our GDP. Forestry plays a leading role in the local economies of the more than 170 rural towns where sawmills, pulp and paper mills and other forestry operations can be found. The industry employs more than 200,000 Canadians and also represents 9,500 jobs in indigenous communities, making it one of the largest employers of indigenous people. This is why initiatives to support Canada's forestry industry like those in Bill C-354 deserve our careful attention.
That said, we were concerned that the bill as originally presented by the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay would contradict certain long-standing Government of Canada principles, policies, and obligations and lead to perhaps some unintended consequences. As a point of reference, the proposed bill had stated 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”.
The government is committed to fairness, openness, and transparency in the procurement process. These fundamental values of the policies of Public Services and Procurement Canada cannot be deviated from. Although Canadians expect their government to support a sector as important as forestry, they also expect the government to adhere to the basic principle of fairness in its procurement.
Depending on how the legislation is interpreted and enforced, it may well violate Canada's obligations under important trade agreements, such as the Canadian free trade agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Contract spinoffs have the potential to be significant, particularly in a sector that relies so heavily on access to export markets, mainly the U.S.
The Standing Committee on Natural Resources reviewed the bill. I would like to thank my fellow members of that committee as well as the parliamentary secretary for the careful review of the proposed legislation. In fact, we heard many of the same considerations that I have just reiterated.
I am delighted that my colleague, the member for Markham—Thornhill, who sits with me on the committee proposed an amendment so that the legislation would read:
In developing requirements with respect to the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, the Minister shall consider any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and any other environmental benefits and may allow the use of wood or any other thing—including a material, product or sustainable resource—that achieves such benefits.
Ultimately, the committee accepted this amendment and referred the bill back to the House. I believe that the amendment is very important and will help make this legislation more effective and ensure that our shared goal of supporting Canada's forest industry is on a sound footing.
Our discussion on Bill C-354 today also provides us the opportunity to reflect on steps the government is taking to help the forestry sector to embrace innovation and continue to be a vital part of our communities and our economy.
For example, the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change promotes federal, provincial, and territorial co-operation in order to encourage the greater use of wood in construction. Building codes will be updated to reflect that.
This will be encouraged in part by work that is under way to investigate the updating of the National Building Code of Canada. Currently, Natural Resources Canada and the National Research Council are conducting innovative research and development with a goal of updating our National Building Code to allow for wood buildings up to 12 storeys. Moreover, wood and wood products are important contributors to the Government of Canada's infrastructure needs.
Public Services and Procurement Canada policy requires contractors to propose materials that meet the needs of a project, including sustainability and performance criteria, and that conform to the National Building Code of Canada.
In fact, Public Services and Procurement Canada alone is spending approximately $160 million a year on average for office fit-ups and interior finishes, of which approximately 15% is directly related to the use of wood products.
I would also like to highlight the important work of Public Services and Procurement Canada in supporting the government's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The department is making government operations more sustainable through green building practices, including the use of sustainable materials, the move toward optimizing our space usage, and lowering the energy consumption of our federal buildings.
Buildings are a significant source of greenhouse gases and contribute 23% of Canada's overall greenhouse gas emissions. As we know, the government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from federal buildings and fleets by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.
As providers of accommodation to the Government of Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada is in a unique position to have a direct and significant impact on the greening of government operations. It is the first federal department to complete a national carbon-neutral portfolio plan that takes into account all real property-related greenhouse gas emissions and energy reduction initiatives that the government has undertaken to reduce greenhouse gases.
Take for example the investment we have made in the energy services acquisition program, through which we are modernizing the heating and cooling system that serves about 80 buildings in Ottawa, including many of the buildings on and around Parliament Hill.
In advance of this modernization effort, we are piloting and testing wood chips for use as a possible biomass fuel. The results of this pilot project will help determine the potential for expanding this option to other federal heating and cooling plants.
Similarly, Public Services and Procurement Canada continues to take an integrated and holistic approach to project design and construction, which includes the use of a variety of sustainable materials, such as wood, while giving environmental, social, and economic factors due consideration.
Its goal is to meet sustainable performance standards, such as leadership in energy and environmental design, commonly referred as LEED, and Green Globes. These performance standards encourage the use of products and materials for which life-cycle information is available, and that have environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life-cycle impacts. Projects involving Government of Canada buildings in Quebec City and Yellowknife are the latest ones to meet those standards.
In closing, Public Services and Procurement Canada will continue to lead the way in embedding environmental considerations, and specifically greenhouse gas reductions, into the design and approval stages of its proposed projects.
Bill C-354, as amended, will also support our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support our forestry sector. At the same time, it will support our commitment to an open, fair, and transparent procurement process. In short, the Government of Canada is committed to leaving to future generations of Canadians a sustainable, prosperous country. I would encourage all my colleagues to support this initiative.
I would also like to thank the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for his work in helping to craft important amendments to his original legislation that both preserve the original spirit and help further our government's plan to help support the forestry sector and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions.