Madam Speaker, I rise in the House to oppose Bill C-354, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, use of wood.
I have always been a strong supporter of using wood in the construction of public buildings. As a former mayor of Fort St. John, B.C., I always pushed for the use of wood products in the development of new municipal buildings, and I was proud that my council supported similar actions.
For example, Fort St. John was one of the communities granted a Olympic legacy project by the British Columbia government. We decided to build what we called the Enerplex, which was completed in 2009, and was designed to reflect the community, create a lasting legacy, and continues to shape the city. It is a large recreational facility that promotes sport, community, and personal wellness, as well as provides an attractive venue for events.
Our council focused on building a facility that would have a low carbon footprint, and the city continues to take measures to improve the facility's environmental operations.
The Enerplex has exterior building panels that are rated very high in efficiency, the electrical motors were designed with energy conservation pony motors, and the entire facility employs a computerized building control to help control and minimize energy consumption. Everything was considered, right from the lights in the ceilings down to motion sensor sinks. The complex even has the ability to capture 75% of its waste heat, which is used to heat the domestic hot water and spectator areas.
To reflect our economy and the beautiful forests surrounding the Peace River region, we had wooden columns and arches added to the front of the building as a design feature. This was inspired, in part, by the Beijing Olympic facility where the Canadian teams were housed. British Columbian wood was used to highlight Canada's landscape and to honour our forestry industry. I have been there and it is a dramatic piece of design architecture.
We made sure Fort St. John's Enerplex was built with the best, cost-effective and efficient materials available to us in our specific region of Canada. Had we been located in southern Ontario, I am sure the design and materials used would have been very different.
Bill C-354 would amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to require that in the awarding of certain federal contracts, preference will be given to projects that would promote the use of wood. Do we really need an act to mandate the use of wood in the construction, maintenance or repair of Public Services real property?
While I completely support the forest industry, there are a number of problems associated with the bill. It disregards the fact that there are large regional differences across Canada. What makes sense to use for building material in one region might be completely unviable in another. For example, I notice that there are far more houses built with brick in Ontario, yet when I fly back to Alberta, I see lumber used in our construction.
Bill C-354 would favour the economies of certain regions over others. It is a direct contravention of the mission of Public Services and Procurement Canada, which is to apply an open, fair, and transparent procurement process to obtain the best possible value for the government. It could result in job losses in the concrete and steel industries, which would be an economic substitution. There may not necessarily be new growth, but other sectors could lose contracts and be unable to continue working in the construction sector as concrete, stone or steel is discarded in favour of wood.
The provinces of British Columbia and Quebec have adopted “wood first” policies, British Columbia in 2012, and Quebec in 2013. I was glad to see that, as it made sense for those regions. Approximately, 40 Canadian communities, with strong economic ties to the forest industry, have also implemented their own “wood first” policies.
This decision must remain at the local and regional levels. When we apply this kind of sweeping mandate to the federal level, it pits regions against each other, as well as disrupts the National Building Code.
Speaking of the National Building Code, which is a model building code that forms the basis for all of our provincial building codes, it would certainly be impacted by the legislation. For most construction under federal jurisdiction, the National Building Code of Canada is the applicable code.
These properties include military bases, federal government land, and airport properties that stretch right across our country from coast to coast to coast. Bill C-354 does not take into consideration these far-reaching implications, and makes no attempt to identify or remedy them.
The bill also does not address any safety issues that might arise from giving preferential treatment to wood over other construction materials. Most wood building construction is limited to low to mid-size structures mainly for reasons of fire safety and overall stability.
As stated by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, this bill would “limit and undermine “the freedom of design professionals and experienced contractors to select the most appropriate construction material for its intended function and service”.
I strongly support our forestry industry, and I appreciate the enormous value it provides to the Canadian economy. In my own riding of Yellowhead, which is situated partly in the northern boreal forest of Alberta and into the Rocky Mountains, forestry is one of the leading economic sectors. It employs hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Hinton, Drayton Valley, Edson, and the surrounding areas. I continue to fight for action on the mountain pine beetle that is spreading across the Rocky Mountains and into Alberta destroying the forests along the way.
I am fully aware of the economic value of the forestry industry and the efforts necessary to protect this renewable resource. However, “wood first” policies should, again, be left up to regional governments to implement where it makes sense for them. The federal government should not be pitting one economic region against another. Instead, it is the duty of the federal government to ensure openness and fairness in its procurement policy approach to all industries.
Furthermore, Bill C-354 would contravene Canada's obligations under its international and domestic trade agreements, such as NAFTA, WTO, and the Agreement on Internal Trade. Favouring one sector of the construction industry over another with explicit ministerial preference runs counter to the free market economy and fair bidding processes supported by Conservatives.
Under the former Conservative government, investments were made to improve the environmental performance and competitiveness of Canada's forest industry by focusing on innovation and new product development to expand market opportunities for Canadian pulp and paper related products.
We also introduced the expanding market opportunities program in 2013, which was designed to help create a thriving forest sector by growing international markets; promoting Canadian forest products as an environmentally responsible choice; expanding wood use in North American non-residential and mid-rise construction; and by demonstrating that Canada is a world leader in sustainable forest management and a preferred source of sustainable forest products. At the same time, we have always been fully supportive of the free market and fair federal project bidding processes.
We understand that policy interjections by the federal government to tip the scales in favour of any one industry can have damaging effects on other sectors of the economy. What has the Liberal government done? It let the softwood lumber agreement, which provided stability and predictability for industry on both sides of the border, expire in October 2015. Now our forestry companies continue to be harmed by U.S. countervailing duties on Canadian softwood products.
There are always ways the Liberals could step up to the plate and assist the forestry industry, but Bill C-354 is not one of them. The federal government should not mandate the use of wood over any other industry. This would be the same if the government wanted to mandate steel over wood.
We should leave it up to regional, provincial, and municipal governments to decide, rather than forcing an expensive and unnecessary regulatory review of each province's building codes, not to mention the potential legal challenges from non-wood construction sectors that would pile on additional government costs.
In closing, all things considered, I do not support Bill C-354, and I urge the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay to seriously re-evaluate the impacts this bill would have on Canada.