Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me here this morning.
My name's Tim, and I own a business in the south end of Ottawa called The WoodSource.
I love everything about wood, I love everything about forests, and I am passionate about what happens in Ottawa and Canada. I travel a lot. We purchase wood from all over Canada, North America, Africa, and South America. Most of the wood we purchase is purchased in Canada. We are a remanufacturing plant, so we take wood that has been sawn from the log form and turn it into finished products. That could be everything from a door frame for a building like this to desktops to baseboard, flooring, or trim.
We work a lot with companies like Maibec. We are the last operating mill in the city of Ottawa. If we had been here 100 years ago there would have been dozens of mills in Ottawa and probably tens of thousands of people working in the wood industry.
The wood industry in Canada has been slow to innovate and automate. A couple of things in recent years that have helped us innovate and automate are what I would consider unfair competition that hit us late in the 1990s and early in the 2000s, with material from overseas—mainly from China—that arrived here. It was manufactured in plants where there were no labour codes, no environmental rules, and people working in absolutely terrible conditions. This material arrived overnight and put many small businesses like ours out of business. These were businesses that had been around for generations,
Those that survived invested heavily in automation and technology to be able to reduce their cost to produce product, and a lot of them have rebounded and been able to respond to the markets, allowing us to thrive in a business that wouldn't otherwise be easy to operate in.
Other things that have affected us include the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with the United States. One thing businesses like is consistency. Over the last 20-25 years, this dispute keeps raising its ugly head. It makes it very difficult for businesses like ours to know what's going to happen, and it negatively influences our business. We have a fair bit of export business to Europe and the United States, and it just throws a wrench in the works when these countervailing duties get thrown in, such as anti-dumping and so on. It messes up the market and confuses everything.
Interestingly enough, some of the things that help our business are things that other governments are doing. Companies like Maibec, Cape Cod, and Fraser—pre-finished siding companies—benefit greatly from, in particular, European countries that provide a disincentive to use sidings made out of vinyl or aluminum. There's a great export market for us in Europe, because homeowners, builders, and contractors who choose to use wood benefit from not being taxed, whereas they're heavily taxed for products that are made out of aluminum and vinyl. It's interesting that what other countries are doing is benefiting our industry here.
In Ontario, we struggle as a remanufacturer. We have high electricity costs in our plant. About 10 years ago, we doubled our capacity, and it took three or four years to get permission to build. It took hundreds of thousands of dollars in studies to get the building permits in place, and when it was finished—from the time we started that process to the time we finished—the cost of our electricity had almost tripled. Part of our plan was to use all our shavings. We create several tons of shavings every day. We wanted to turn that into fuel, but the cost of electricity was so high that we were unable to do that.
Whenever we are looking to improve in technology, we have to go elsewhere, because we can't find technology companies in Canada that are interested in innovating in machinery that helps us. This morning we were in touch with a company called Homag. Two big German companies, Homag and Weinig, as well as a big Italian company, are excellent in woodworking machinery. We have to go overseas to get any high-tech machinery that's going to help us innovate and reduce our costs. It would be nice to see more of a hub in Canada.
In fact, sometimes I think, if you've heard of the economic historian Harold Innis and his staples theory, that we tend to still be hewers of wood and drawers of water. We aren't doing nearly as much as we could in this country to keep jobs here and to take our national resources to a completely finished stage and then export them to the world.
We are also very interested in innovation in the housing market. The housing market is still doing the same things it has been doing for 60 or 70 years. If you take a drive in the west end or east end of Ottawa today, you'll find people trying to nail shingles onto roofs. You'll find people trying to frame, trying to scrape away a bit of the snow so they can stand up walls. We end up with poor-quality houses.
We are very interested in the panel business. We prefabricate components of homes, allowing you to install and finish a home in three or four days, once the foundation is in place, instead of in two or three months. There is very little of this happening in Canada. We see, in working with a number of builders, that this is a very great opportunity for Canada to innovate again and develop a very interesting industry around that. There is a company in Edmonton called Acqbuilt that's doing this, but it's about the only one.
We want to see innovation in that building market. It will also help us develop net-zero homes, which we're trying to achieve but haven't been very successful in doing.
We do everything in our business, from selling a small piece of trim to customers renovating their houses to exporting 100,000 or 200,000 board feet of reclaimed lumber to a company in Europe. We're just finishing a major project in Portugal, where we've been exporting reclaimed lumber. We have a reclaimed component of our business that takes old buildings and reuses that wood. We sell that all around the world. The market for that is far bigger in the United States and Europe than it is in Canada. The CFIA has been very helpful in helping us with that export, and we're grateful for that.
I think that's about all I have to say to introduce myself. We would love the federal government, provincial governments, and municipal governments to work together more in these areas. There is a lot of confusion between the different levels of government. For instance, with regard to the Species at Risk Act that's coming into effect, they need to get together with some of the provincial ministries of natural resources and make sure they're working together. I was just chatting with one of our colleagues out in B.C. who runs a large cedar mill, and they're very worried about things like that.
In my business, we used to get all our wood from British Columbia by train. About 15 or 20 years ago, CP shut down the only track coming into Ottawa. We had a siding off that line. The government wasn't able to think far enough ahead, and the City of Ottawa didn't take that rail line. It's now a recreational pathway.
As I was driving in from that end of town this morning, I realized that it would be nice to have a train taking people downtown so they don't get stuck in gridlock. It took me an hour and a half to get here from Greely. There was a train line that used to have trains going to Ottawa in 10 minutes. That train line is gone. We now have to have hundreds of super-B trucks transporting cedar and fir from the west coast to here on our highways, taking very large loads. We would like to see more automation in the trucking industry. We don't think the railway industry is going to come back in a great way for businesses like ours.
One of the fears I have is.... Several times I've had to call the police when a truck has arrived in our yard and the truck driver was so exhausted. He was completely panicked to get unloaded because he needed to get to Montreal to pick up some steel and head back, and he was obviously doing stuff to help him stay awake. That industry scares me. We need automation. We need more regulation in the trucking industry to try to make the roads safer.