moved that Bill S-222, 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.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am happy and proud to rise in the House this morning to begin debate on a bill from the other place, Bill S-222. This is a small but mighty bill that would create beautiful, safe federal buildings, support our forestry sector during difficult times, spur innovation in the cement and steel industries and help us reach our climate targets.
What would this bill do? It simply states that when building federal infrastructure, the Minister of Public Works “shall consider any potential 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.”
I mentioned the bill came from the Senate, but, in fact, this bill started its life in the House of Commons, first as a Bloc bill more than a decade ago. I took up the bill in the 42nd Parliament where, as Bill C-354, it passed in the House of Commons, but died in the Senate when that Parliament ended.
I would like to take a moment to thank my friend, Senator Diane Griffin. Senator Griffin guided the bill through the Senate in 2018 and 2019 and when the bill stalled there, through no fault of her own, she reintroduced the bill in the 43rd Parliament. As many here remember, that Parliament ended prematurely due to an election, so Senator Griffin introduced it once again last year in this Parliament. It is through her persistence that we are seeing it again.
Senator Griffin retired last spring, so she passed the torch to Senator Jim Quinn, who saw it through its passage in the Senate earlier this fall.
The initial form of the bill over a decade ago was a direct ask of the minister to consider wood in the construction of federal infrastructure. It was modelled on the Charte du bois in Quebec and the wood-first bill in British Columbia. It was designed then to ensure that the federal government actually considered wood when building large infrastructure. Until recently, the construction industry had been totally geared to cement and steel when doing that.
My version of the bill was amended in committee to remove the overt preference for wood and replace that with preference for materials that had environmental benefits, in particular regarding the greenhouse gas footprints of the building materials. This amendment allayed a couple of concerns around the trade implications of potentially favouring one sector over another and also recognized the emerging work on making concrete and steel more environmentally friendly. I will speak more on that later.
I was initially inspired to take up this bill in 2016 because of a company in my riding, in my home town of Penticton. That company is Structurlam, and it has been at the leading edge of mass timber engineered wood construction in North America.
While Structurlam leads that sector, it still faces some of the hurdles that confront all innovative companies. It needs help to scale-up its production, and the easiest way for a government to help a company in that situation is to provide business through government procurement. That is one of the core benefits of this bill. It would help Canadian companies scale-up to maintain our dominant position in the engineered wood sector in North America.
Forest products, with their sequestered carbon, are obvious candidates for decisions under this policy. If we can use more wood in government infrastructure and grow the mass timber market in Canada, it will obviously benefit the forest sector overall.
These are benefits to a forest industry beset by challenges on all sides. Beetle infestations, catastrophic wildfires and a long history of harvests have all reduced access to fibre. To top it off, the softwood lumber dispute has brought illegal tariffs from our biggest trading partner, the United States.
Reduced fibre access means we have to get more jobs and more money for every log we cut, and that is what mass timber provides.
To make glulam beams or cross-laminated timber panels, mass timber plants use lumber sourced from local mills. That gives those mills a new domestic market for their products and it reduces their reliance on the United States. On top of that, we can sell those mass timber products to the United States tariff-free, so it is a win-win.
Just to reiterate, the bill and a rejuvenated domestic market for lumber would not mean increased forest harvest, as that is limited by other factors, but it will mean getting more value added out of the trees we do cut. There are benefits to using mass timber, benefits for the construction industry and benefits for the users of that infrastructure.
First, I will mention the construction process itself. Engineered wood is produced indoors in plant facilities. The building can be literally constructed indoors with no weather delays or complications, while the site is being prepared for construction. Then the building components can be put together quickly and delivered to the site exactly when needed.
Brock Commons, an 18-storey residence complex at the University of British Columbia, the tallest wood building in the world, was built in 57 days, two storeys per week. It is now home to over 400 UBC students. Because the component parts are built indoors, they can be constructed to very fine tolerances, within millimetres, and that means a lot when one is constructing the buildings of the future that will have to be built to passive energy specifications.
The buildings constructed in this way are beautiful. The exposed wood components are like furniture. Structurlam has an entire finishing plant devoted to smoothing and treating every exposed beam and wall panel as if it were a piece of massive furniture.
It is not surprising many of the early examples of mass timber construction were civic buildings meant to look good as well as be functional, buildings such as the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the Olympic speed skating oval in Richmond, B.C. and the Rocky Ridge recreation centre in Calgary. The Rocky Ridge facility has over 2,000 glulam beams forming its huge roof, and no two are the same.
I would like to also mention that Canada leads the way in engineered wood construction in North America. Structurlam has projects all across the continent and has recently opened up a branch plant in Arkansas. Nordic Structures in Chibougamau, Quebec was another pioneer of this technology.
Another major mass timber plant has recently opened in my riding just outside Castlegar. It was opened up by Kalesnikoff Lumber. I would like to give a shout-out to Ken Kalesnikoff and his son Chris and daughter Krystle for making this major investment that will pay off for the future of the West Kootenay and the forest sector in British Columbia.
One issue that often comes up when talking about tall wood buildings is fire safety. I hear from firefighters who just simply do not like the concept of wood buildings of any size. We heard testimony of that nature in both House of Commons and Senate committees. However, I need to reiterate that large infrastructure projects under this legislation would be constructed with mass timber. Firefighters I talked to are concerned about buildings constructed with traditional wood frame construction such as two-by-fours and two-by-sixes.
Mass timber is another thing entirely. When we have glulam beams a metre thick or cross laminated timber panels nine inches thick, those materials react to open flame in a completely different way. They simply slowly char instead of bursting into flame. Think of trying to light a log on fire with a match.
The National Research Council has conducted fire safety trials with mass timber and has found it is just as safe, or safer, than traditional concrete or steel construction.
More detailed studies are under way, including those at the University of British Columbia with Felix Wiesner. Dr. Wiesner has found, perhaps not surprisingly, that thicker components, say panels made with five layers of lumber versus those made with three layers, burn more slowly and that the type of adhesive that binds those layers also has an impact.
Suffice it to say, large buildings made with mass timber provide both occupants and firefighters ample time to exit the building in case of a fire and, as I said earlier, are just as safe or safer than traditionally designed buildings.
I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the other materials that might compete successfully in the government's analysis of environmental benefit. We have been hearing a lot about green steel production, and there are new cement products that sequester carbon dioxide to reduce some of that material's carbon footprint.
When I first put forward this bill, I heard concerns from the cement industry that the direct mention of wood might be unfair to the cement sector, which has made impressive advances in sustainability over the past few years. Those concerns were largely met by the amendments that were made in the committee in the 42nd Parliament and carried through to this version of the bill. I just talked to the cement industry last week, and it is supportive. It pointed out it is working with the federal government to provide data for life-cycle analysis of greenhouse gas footprints of building materials.
These analyses will be critical to the use of the legislation before us, as it will provide decision-makers with all the details they need. We will need similar full life-cycle data for steel and wood products, of course.
In recent conversations I have had with members of all parties around Bill S-222, I am heartened by the support I am hearing. Members of all parties know that this is the right way forward; that this bill will set us in the right direction when it comes to meeting our climate targets; that this bill will support the forest industry, a sector that has been beset with challenges from all sides in recent years; and that this bill will not discriminate against other building material sectors, such as cement and steel, that are working hard to innovate new solutions to make their products truly sustainable.
I hope that every member here will support Bill S-222 at second reading. I look forward to discussing it at committee to ensure that it will truly have the beneficial impacts that it promises. With this legislation in place, we can literally build a better Canada.