Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 10 - Evidence - Meeting of October 29, 2009
OTTAWA, Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:10 a.m. to study the current state and
future of Canada's forest sector.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning. I declare the meeting in session. Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
My name is Senator Percy Mockler and I am from New Brunswick. I am chair of the committee. I would like to
start by asking the senators to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Fairbairn: I am Senator Joyce Fairbairn from Lethbridge, Alberta.
Senator Meighen: I am Senator Meighen from Toronto.
Senator Poulin: I am Marie Poulin, and I represent Northern Ontario.
Senator Mahovlich: I am Senator Frank Mahovlich from Ontario.
Senator Mercer: I am Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Rivard: I am Michel Rivard, and I represent Quebec City.
Senator Eaton: I am Nicole Eaton from Ontario.
Senator Plett: I am Senator Don Plett, from Landmark, Manitoba.
The Chair: Thank you. As we know, the forest plays a key role. We look at it as having a three-pronged importance,
with ecological, social and economic roles in Canada.
The committee is continuing its study on the current state and future of Canada's forest sector.
The subject of today's meeting is the use of wood in non-residential construction.
Witnesses, we welcome you this morning. We are honoured that you are here to participate in this study of forestry,
the magnitude and mandate of which is unprecedented.
This morning we have from the Architectural Institute of British Columbia, Ms. Maura Gatensby, Director of
We also have André Bourassa, Architect and President of the Ordre des architectes du Québec.
As an individual architect, we also have Mr. Michael Green. Thank you for accepting our invitation.
I would now invite you to make your presentation. It will be followed by a question period. I have been informed
that we will start with Mr. Green.
Michael Green, Architect, as an individual: Thank you very much. It is a real honour to be here. I am very impressed
with the proceedings and the decision to follow through on this kind of thing. It is inspiring.
I come from North Vancouver, B.C. My firm is McFarlane Green Biggar. I have prepared about a 10-minute
presentation. I will take you through a few different things, however I would like to give some context.
My practice is kind of unique as a Canadian architect. I work all around the world. I spend a lot of energy looking
to find places to put Canadian wood in my designs in other countries. I do so because I am a believer in wood for a
whole host of reasons. Most of all, I think it is the most appropriate structural material to build with from a
sustainability point of view. I am also a believer in promoting my own community and the economy of my own
community. Of course, as a resident of B.C., it means I think that way. However, I am from Ottawa originally and I
have a little anecdote to tell you about to explain that.
I will start and show you two projects to give you a bit of an anecdotal context about what it is like to practise and
deliver wood into commercial buildings. This is Prince George Airport. I did not design it. It was designed by the
federal government about 30 years ago in northern B.C., which is of course a lumber area.
I was asked to expand and redesign this building. When I was asked, there was an interesting moment because the
mayor of the town said, ``Let's start building with wood.'' It was the beginning of a momentum shift, where political
decisions are actually influencing the choices architects make and the materials they choose. Of course, I was a very big
supporter of that choice.
This is what I turned that same building into in a short amount of time. This is the new Prince George Airport. It
gives you a sense of the transformation that wood has in buildings. The interesting thing about this project is that it
very much changed the way the community felt about themselves because they were finally seeing the resources that
they created used, and used in a way that they felt very positive about.
This is what the inside looked like, and this is what we transformed it into.
The reason I brought that little airport project up is because I wanted to talk briefly about my experience designing
the Ottawa airport. I was the lead design architect for Ottawa. I designed the building that probably most of you use
fairly often, for good or bad. It is my fault or my responsibility.
That is very much actually how I feel about it, because I put this image up to tell a bit of a story about wood. As I
said, it was about 10 years ago. I was a fairly young architect to be doing a building of this scale. It was my hometown
and it was an honour to be able to do it. I have designed big airports all over the world, so that was how I got the
project in the first place.
I wanted to change the way airports worked, and I spent a lot of energy changing the how this airport functioned.
When it came to the structure, I wanted to build it in wood. I sat down with the board of directors, the airport
management team and the consultant team and talked about how we could make this large wood structure.
A room of 30 or so people looked at me and said, ``You know, that is insane. Why would we ever build a building of
this scale in wood?'' And they said, ``You are from B.C. You are just promoting a B.C. product. Forget it; we will not
I feel very much that it was a missed opportunity. Being from Ottawa, I know that Ottawa itself was a lumber town;
that was our heritage here. I wanted to implement it in this building. If you are out of the Ottawa airport and looked at
these big trusses and thought they are like the canoes that hang in the carports around this nation. I wanted that to be
the expression of our national airport. Therefore I was unsuccessful.
I went out and started my firm six years ago. We are a young firm. We are 32 people now, and we were offered the
expansion of the Ottawa airport that finished a year ago. When I came back, I said, ``How about wood?'' and
everybody said, ``Absolutely.'' That showed me that there has been an enormous shift in the last six years or last seven
years in the way we think about wood as a major building material in the nation.
No longer did that group say, ``This is a B.C. species.'' They saw it as being something that was very much Canadian
and very much brought the desired warmth and character to a commercial building. I will just flip through a couple of
That has taught me that our ability, as architects, to choose materials is influenced very much by the perspective
clients come to and their anxieties about it as a material. It also has to do with the sense of regionalism that I think
exists in the country. I am hoping we slowly erase that idea and start to realize that our nation was built on wood, that
our buildings are unique historically because of the implementation of wood, and that the rest of the world sees us as a
wood nation. Despite that, unfortunately, we rarely express wood in our buildings.
I will just show you a couple more images and then I will go into what I think the real challenges are.
I must apologize. We were invited fairly recently and I have not had time to translate. I do understand French but
my French is unfortunately no longer good enough to speak. However, I will try to read the words just so that they can
be translated for those that need it.
There are a whole host of traditional challenges. I think the intent was for us to speak to some of the traditional
challenges architects face when choosing wood. Some of those are building code limitations. There are height limits
that the code sets. There are types of buildings permitted that are restricted for using wood. There are fire concerns.
There are new products coming to market that are not addressed by the building code.
Many of these traditional challenges are real, but truthfully, as an architect, I feel those are our responsibility to
solve. I think there is a much bigger challenge that we face as a nation around the implementation of wood in our
buildings, and that is ambition.
I would love to see our nation move to a sense of ambition, of world leadership and dominance in the way we
express wood and the way we build with wood. We are wonderful at cutting down trees but we still export them and
hope others use them well. We have to learn how to celebrate our own material in the architecture we do. There are a
number of ways we can do that and a number of shifts that are necessary for us to be able to make that change happen.
As mentioned with Ottawa International Airport, I think we have to put wood on the national agenda. From
province to province, you see completely different attitudes towards how wood is used. Although, thankfully, in my
particular project at the Ottawa airport, we were able to make that change, it is still a change that is hard to make in
certain corners of the nation. It was disappointing for me to feel that people looked at wood as being a B.C. product.
Obviously, we have amazing timber markets across the country, and I think we have an opportunity to actually grow
timber markets across the country and encourage its use everywhere.
One of the biggest problems we do face is the building code. I believe we need to move to performance-based
building codes in general, because the building code does create some unique conditions that prevent innovation. It is
the great mediator of mediocrity at times and does not encourage excellence or innovation.
The example I will give is this: Recently in B.C., there has been a lot of buzz because our code has allowed us to
move to six-storey wood-framed buildings, and there is great enthusiasm. I happen to be in Japan with my eight-year-
old when I received the news that the change had gone through, and all that enthusiasm came through from my office
in an email.
I responded to say that I had just walked out of a building in Nara, Japan. In 2009, our new code allows us to build
wood-frame buildings 50-60 feet tall. The building in I had just walked out of was 187 feet tall, built in the seventh
century and made entirely of wood with very few metal connectors. We were constructing buildings 1,400 years ago
that are more than three times the height of what our new code, and all the enthusiasm about our new code, allows us
to do today.
I reflect on the reality that until the Eiffel Tower was built, the tallest building in the world was the Great Pyramid in
Egypt. You can only imagine if height restrictions were applied throughout our history, how few tall buildings would
exist. If our building codes cannot keep up with what was done 1,400 years ago and do not allow us to innovate at that
level, we obviously have a problem.
That is a problem that lacks ambition. We need to have the ambition to encourage people to think on a much larger
scale, the way our forefathers thought. We need to expand the concept of what a code's purpose is. It should not hold
back people. It should encourage people. Certainly, when it comes to wood, we should have much bigger ambition
than what has been talked about today.
The problem is the way we have been building to date is the same way we built for 1,000 years. Wood has not made
a dramatic shift in 1,000 years. In my profession, the major milestones in architectural change happened in the
Industrial Revolution, with the introduction of concrete and steel.
Steel was an interesting one; our big skyscrapers were created by steel. In the beginning days of steel, early
skyscrapers were made with wrought iron; and then slowly they transitioned into being made with steel, which allowed
us to build bigger and bigger.
I feel like our wood industry is still in the wrought-iron era. It has not jumped to where steel jumped to. The one
structural system that has not seen a momentum shift is wood. There are lots of reasons for that, but there are also lots
of things we can do. I think it comes down to our ambition as a nation to lead, not follow.
Regarding solutions, a big component of this is encouraging Canadian fabricators and industry to innovate. The
challenges they are seeing are that we are still behaving like a resource economy and losing the perspective of how
leading in the innovation of our products will encourage selling more of our natural resource.
As an anecdote, there are a number of companies around the world, mostly in Europe, making big panels, like those
shown in the top right-hand corner there of my image. They make large structural panels. In North America, we chop
those panels up into little pieces. That is because we try to make wood act like two by fours, the way it has always
acted. We try to build it with two by fours, what is called stick frame. We should be keeping these panels in large scale
and thinking bigger, building larger buildings by changing our attitude toward the way wood and engineered wood
products actually work.
The reality is I cannot buy these products in North America. I cannot innovate like this because the companies do
not see an incentive to not chop them up, to effectively spend less money making their product.
They do not see that because, again, we have not had this sort of momentum shift that is coming. I think we need to
be, as a nation, first to market, and we are losing that opportunity very quickly to other countries.
The problem is how do you get an industry to move? How do you turn the ship that is so big? I do think there is a
way to do it and that there is a huge potential in reconsidering where our marketplace is. The fact that I work around
the world makes me think more globally than domestically, and I believe this is a huge issue for the Canadian
I am supposed to speak to commercial buildings. However, if we look at how to move the ship of industry and get
more products and innovation in my field, then we can start to consider the world's biggest market. That market is the
1 billion people in the world who live in slums and substandard housing. This is the world's biggest building market,
and yet no nation currently looks at this huge market potential.
There is an altruistic component in this, but it is ultimately a business model that allows us to build an industry
around addressing the world housing shortage on a large scale. It is not one-off houses, like we do today, and not
exporting two-by-four technology. The world is not interested in two by fours. The world is interested in much bigger
buildings that are faster, cheaper, easier to build and built with the technologies that their building traditions demand.
This is the issue. We try to export North American building technologies. Other nations do not really understand
them. Two by fours are North American and exporting products for foreign building traditions is the issue, I think.
I travel a lot around the world to timber nations. I have spent a lot of time in Austria, at the University of
Innsbruck, talking to wood innovators. Places like Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia and Japan are where people are
looking at innovation.
In Austria, for instance, they look at how to turn wood products into building materials that relate to the local
building traditions. If you are exporting your wood to a country that builds out of concrete blocks, you turn wood into
being blocks and bricks. That is what the right-hand side image shows. If you are exporting to a country that builds in
concrete, you find a way to adapt wood to a concrete solution. These are the innovations that sell our products and
vastly expand our markets.
I think the way to solve this issue comes from funding and education. I am happy to talk more about it, but the
Canadian Wood Council, in particular, has been a incredible influence on architects in a positive way. They do a
fabulous job lecturing to architects and engineers and trying to make a shift.
Supporting their role, and maybe understanding their role and their relationship with the United States, is
something that I would recommend considering. They spend a lot of our money in the States, which can be good; but it
also challenges our ability to be first to market with new concepts that I think are important for us to get the lead on.
Partly, it would be a lovely thing if we could find a way to encourage innovation through vehicles like the TED
Prize. There are a host of prizes — the space race is a good example — that encourage innovation. This is something
that we should consider as a nation. Why not find a way to encourage people to reinvent, to turn wrought iron to steel,
to turn wood as we use it today into the next generation of wood?
Sustainable forestry practices are an absolute. If we want to sell our wood, we better get on board with this across
the board. There is no room for us not to have the best sustainable forestry practices in the world because, thankfully,
the world has shifted in the direction of understanding the importance of this.
Part of that is, again, this issue of innovation. We cut down trees that are 50-to-70 years old today. We need to learn
how to cut down trees that are 10-to-15 years old. Forestry is really farming. It needs to become farming and we need
to start communicating that to the communities that thrive based on their forestry industry.
Equally, we need to start to understand that what we have as a nation is fibre. Trees are fibre, and bamboo and
other plants are fibre. We want to be on top of the fibre industry, more than the forestry industry. We need to ensure
that as innovations come to other markets in the world, we are also contributing to them.
That may mean growing bamboo forests, because bamboo grows so fast, and getting on top of those kinds of
opportunities that we otherwise will miss out on.
Another solution is to use market shifts to provide the economy of scale to make profound changes.
The issue to me is how do I, as an architects working in a small practice of 32 kids on the West Coast, end up
changing a world market? It needs an enormous amount of teamwork across the industry. The only way I can convince
people to make the change I would like to see is for them to consider the scale of the biggest building demand out there.
I have open-source solutions that I am trying to share with the industry about how to do that.
Export the building industry, not just the natural resource. This is a huge issue. We are great at selling wood, but
what we really should be doing is selling actual buildings. Ikea has transformed the Swedish economy, and there are
enormous similarities to what we can do. What they have done with furniture, I believe we should be doing with
I believe that rather than sending two-by-fours to other nations and asking them to learn how to use the skill saw
and hammer, which is not in their building tradition, we should be flat-packing large-scale buildings and shipping them
around the world. This creates a value-added business in our local markets.
Forestry is not just about our own forests. We do a good job of promoting the companies that are building airplanes
and so forth. We should also be encouraging our fabricators to look at other forestry markets around the world and
providing leadership in those markets. It is great that we have such an incredible resource. We also have an
opportunity, much like our mining industry does, to fabricate in other nations and create leadership within those other
One of the requirements for that to happen is federal support to link cross-industry innovations. The biggest
challenge for those of us on the architectural end is that we are a very small player in the economy. We have very little
influence. We choose products, but we largely cannot make massive change happen. We cannot convince big
companies like Weyerhaeuser to build new products. It takes a huge amount of time for little guys like me to be able to
make that happen. The federal government has a role in helping create some cross-innovations between application,
fabrication and resource harvesting.
FFTT is this open-source concept that I have to build large-scale flat-pack buildings. FFTT stands for ``finding the
forest through the trees,'' which I really think is the issue. We need to think bigger.
Basically, it is not a technical discussion at all, but I am encouraging the concept that we build with fewer building
pieces. That lowers costs. Having lots of two-by-fours requires lots of nailing and connections and it costs more money.
Fewer and bigger pieces equals less labour and less erection time, which means lower costs, and it becomes a viable
It is quite simple. It is basically prepackaging, pre-engineering, pre-designing and fabricating in the small towns, in
the source communities, actually creating fabrication plants and exporting. Exactly the same as selling Ikea furniture:
It comes out at the other end and you build a building. That building is not just a house, but it is a house for 20
families. We can do that and effect real change.
The engineered products that exist today allow us, quite easily, to build nine-storey buildings. Why are we
celebrating six-storey changes in the building code when we already know how to build nine-storey buildings without
any special engineering, using our own wood products? However, our code does not allow it.
This system is a tilt-up wood system. If you have ever heard of tilt-up concrete, it is a very inexpensive way to build.
This is the same system using wood, with very few parts, very large parts and constructing very big buildings. It is a
much better export, and obviously domestically too.
We are encouraging system designs like this that are not about architecture and not about what they look like. They
are adaptive to world architecture needs, so they can change stylistically in different countries.
Concrete and steel changed our industry. Now it is time for wood to change our industry.
The other component of that is building and exporting for disaster relief, in which we can play a major world role
using our wood products.
The Chair: Mr. Green, thank you very much. No doubt senators will have questions for you.
I will move now to Mr. Bourassa.
André Bourassa, Architect and Present, Ordre des architectes du Québec: Mr. Chair, committee members, good
morning. My presentation will be in French, because I am not proficient enough in English to go as quickly as I would
like to on a subject I feel as passionately about as the use of value-added wood in construction and our economy.
As President of the Ordre des architectes du Québec, I will tell you right off the bat that the mission of the Ordre des
architectes du Québec is to protect the public, and that does not simply mean preventing a roof from collapsing on
someone's head, but it also means protecting the general and economic heritage and society.
Given how important forests are to our country, we feel we are in a perfect position to speak about the use of value-
added wood in construction.
As part of its mandate, the ordre is involved in any topic of interest to the profession that can influence the quality
of architecture. I have been a practicing architect for 25 years, and have been involved in issues concerning sustainable
development and wood construction, and I have had the pleasure of having a great number of plantations, so I have a
very practical interest in this topic.
For a number of years, the ordre has been focused on the appropriate use of materials. Something very important,
that I love to say is: the right material in the right place. This saying should not be ignored if we want to have efficient
buildings. Obviously, ``the right place'' can be interpreted in many different ways.
Of the materials we deal with, wood is very important. For several years already, the ordre has been involved in
various technical missions in Europe. We organized a conference on wood with forest engineers; as my colleague said,
it is extremely important for all architects to ensure that forests are managed ecologically. If they are not, there is no
point using wood; we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
Obviously, although wood is quite abundant in Canada, it is not used as much as it is elsewhere. I think there is
potential to make much more.
The ordre has organized some events, study trips and training sessions on wood. I know that some ministers have
claimed that architects were not ready for wood construction, and I would like to clear that up. There is so much work
being done, when it comes to training and the development of supply and demand. Those go hand in hand.
I have had the pleasure of giving many conferences on this subject. What is good quality architecture? We must not
overlook this point; my colleague gave you a number of examples. Good quality architecture is harmonious, functional
and durable. If it is not all of these things, it is not good quality architecture; it may be a good design or construction,
but that is not architecture. This is nothing new, obviously; people have been saying this for thousands of years before
me. It is also responsible and economically viable architecture. We cannot forget that either.
We must also remember that running a building, for the duration of its design life is a fundamental piece of
information in terms of the building's economics. We talk about these figures, the ``1:5:200'' ratio. The 1 represents the
investment to design the building; the 5 represents the costs of building the building; the 200 represents the amount of
money spend throughout the duration of the useful life of the building. If we are cheap on the design, we could quickly
end up with a cost of $0.95 instead of $1.25 on the design; the construction will then cost $7, and the heating and
operating costs will cost $250.
We cannot claim to be a society that believes in innovation and knowledge, if it all boils down to saving as much as
possible on building development and design costs. I must stress that when we talk about building design, I do not
want you to think simply about over-the-top architecture; that is very important.
It is very important to think about this, and now, when we talk about wood, we are really talking about a
fundamental design step, because we are changing some paradigms.
I will quickly mention the fact that wood stores carbon; a number of people here have mentioned that already. I
think you also know that wood has some huge advantages in terms of energy efficiency, and also in terms of thermal
mass. This is particularly important in that buildings are responsible for a very significant portion — some say up to 48
per cent — of greenhouse gases. It does not matter if it is 45, 48 or 52; what matters is that it is a significant portion.
What obstacles are there when it comes to using wood? Wood certainly suffers from an outdated image, associated
with an outdated tradition. Others think that architects and engineers are poorly trained. Others think that innovative
products are unavailable. My colleague spoke about what is being done in Europe; I could talk to you about that as
well, about all the innovative products they are looking to import right now, obviously the ultimate goal would be to
then create them here.
Think about the building industry; to give you an idea, think about the plastic foams we use in building, think about
how we first use non-renewable resources when we could replace many of these products with wood-based products, a
renewable resource. Just that, aside from structural issues, should be enough to convince us.
Information on the technical characteristics of wood is also harder to come by and can always be improved, and, I
must say, some wood buildings have not aged well. That is one of the challenges now of working with wood.
I understand that this committee is currently looking at promoting the use of wood in non-residential construction.
From the beginning, you know that the Ordre des architectes du Québec is also a member of the Coalition Bois au
Québec, which was created by the Quebec ministry of natural resources. We are very involved and very concerned, and,
from the beginning, since the objectives of the Coalition Bois Québec are the same, to promote the use of wood in the
non-residential sector, I stressed the fact that if we exclude residential building, we would be shooting ourselves in the
We must not forget about residential construction. And not just because 85 per cent of residential buildings in
Canada are built out of wood. Why? Those of you who have a wood-framed house, can you tell me how many square
inches of wood you see in your house? It is completely covered in drywall, walls, ceilings, all over. If you do not see the
wood, you cannot truly understand its advantages. I am not saying Canada should start building cabins again, that we
should return to log cabins; we must move on from that style. But we should think about wood architecture in
Scandinavia or Japan; it is extremely modern, and younger generations have an appetite for light, modern architecture.
Even if you and I are happy living in neo-manors now, I can assure you that that is not what younger generations are
looking for right now in terms of architecture.
A year ago, I spoke to a trade commissioner at the Canadian embassy in Paris, who told me, ``You know, Mr.
Bourassa, Canada is a leader in exporting wood-framed houses;'' I responded, ``No, look at what is being done at wood
trade shows in France; we are behind.'' Six months later, he started to listen to what I had said, because we are really
behind the times when it comes to architecture. I am also a trainer for the CMHC; I have been a trainer in a number of
sectors related to building, and I can tell you that now, residential wood architecture, between polystyrene on the
exterior and polyethylene and drywall on the interior, so this mix of different materials, in addition to being
indestructible—that is a given when it comes to sustainable development—there are too many different materials
So, we must absolutely not disregard this research and must also focus on residential buildings. As Michael Green
said earlier, if we want to continue to export to foreign markets, we cannot keep falling behind like we are now.
What the federal government can do, obviously, is to pursue basic research on the characteristics of wood; that is
extremely important. In Europe right now, this might be some technical jargon, but the notion of a perspiring wall is a
basic notion; wood and wood products are some of the best materials to achieve these objectives.
To give you an idea, I will simply say that often, we see winter coats made out of GORE-TEX or similar materials,
which are made to let humidity out better than our houses can. There is a huge amount of work to be done in this
respect, on the hygroscopic nature of wood, on how wood helps stabilize humidity rates. You know that humidity, in
our cold winter climates, is very important.
Wood is not currently used as an insulating material. It is not considered very insulating, but this material, with its
lower insulating factor, along with its superior thermal mass, has some very surprising results in terms of energy
efficiency. This is not really put to use because of all the sawmills that produce construction timber. Do you see what I
am saying? They are not asking any research centres to do studies on this, and it is very important.
Finally, we must continue our fundamental research on fire resistance. This is one of the most important things. We
must nevertheless remember that in intense fires, a steel-framed building melts and collapses very quickly, while a
wood-framed building—from timber; I am not talking about 2x4s or 2x6s, but large timbers—the frame may char, but
it will hold up and allow the occupants to escape, which is very important.
Even in Europe right now, they are using wood casings to protect steel columns from fire, while here, we still have
the impression that wood is a higher risk for fire-resistant buildings. Obviously, you need skilled building professionals
to build with these materials. I am not trying to tell you that anyone can do anything, that is for sure.
Another area where the federal government could help a lot, I think, would be to help structure a pan-Canadian
wood industry because, as it has been said many times, no one knows what is going on from one town to the next;
people are very isolated. We must remember that the wood industry in Canada will flourish with the large lumber
companies that build large wood structures, but will also flourish locally through small sawmills, small companies that
will use what I call locally grown wood.
It is not true that we can just take wood from British Columbia and then export it for projects in Ontario or Quebec,
or vice versa; that makes no sense. We must also focus on what is being done locally in terms of wood processing.
Another important thing I think that the federal government could do to help; in Canada right now, we have a
whole pulp and paper industry that is looking for direction. And you and I both know that when it comes to newspaper
and readership, the Internet has become inescapable, and the pulp and paper industry — for newspaper at least — will
never get back to how it was 25 years ago. We can do more with pulp and paper than just making newspaper that will
be thrown into the recycling bin. We can make lasting works with pulp and paper.
I know that this is a serious paradigm shift for the pulp and paper industry, but with pulp and paper products, we
can make insulating products, structural products, plenty of very interesting building materials because it is renewable.
We would use much less plastic foam in building. Plastic foams have their place in very specific uses. But think about
the transformation of the pulp and paper industry, what I am telling you may sound rather disjoined, but it is perfectly
feasible and positive. Some specialized pulp companies already have construction material divisions.
I spoke about the technical aspects, but we must absolutely not forget about the aspects of building design and wood
products, so that they will once again be attractive to new generations, and so that we do not return to the times of
``neo-granola'' or ``neo-log-cabin-Canada''. Of course, we will always be someone's ``neo-granola.'' There will always
be someone who is more ``granola'' than we are.
I think it would be very important to structure the network of Canadian manufacturers when it comes to
information and Internet communications.
We must also think about how the network of large and small companies are not contradictory, but complement
each other, and think about the fact that the steel industry and the wood industry are not in opposition. The Ordre des
architectes is now very involved in using aluminum products. That is a very important industry in Quebec.
Once again, it is all about the right material in the right place. But who are the major players in Quebec right now
when it comes to integrating wood components that come from abroad? It is the steel industry. But a car dealer can sell
cars and trucks at the same time. Someone who creates building structures could very easily build wood and steel
structures at the same time; Groupe Canam in Quebec is in the process of starting up a wood division. I came from
France with people from the steel industry on a technical mission on wood, and they are very interested in this; they are
able to build frames that are very strong and precise. That is sometimes not always the case with the 2x4 and 2x6
So once again, we must not see opposition there, or claim that the steel lobby will try to prevent the return of wood.
I do not believe that. People have already seen the benefits. The main products in Austria, the most innovative
products, are imported by steel companies in Quebec.
Now, when it comes to using wood, we must absolutely avoid what I call wood washing. Using wood for the sake of
using wood is not something I believe in at all. Personally, I will prioritize the use of wood in interior and protected
spaces, since on the exterior; there are materials that do demand as little maintenance as possible. I am not trying to tell
you that we cannot make buildings with wood exteriors. I have been making them for 25 years. But I am trying to tell
you what is appropriate.
I am giving a conference on the image of wood in Austria, in Switzerland, where they are seeing aged wood, wood
that is turning black or grey, something they are not used to seeing. I am not trying to tell you whether or not it is
pretty. I am saying that it is a way of using wood that we are not used to. So make sure your client is comfortable with
that. If you build an office building covered in wood that has turned grey and black after five years, and the architect is
very happy because that is the look he was going for, but that is not what the client was looking for, then there is a
There are several ways of doing this. Obviously, the federal government has already discussed this, but funding this
learning is very important. No one sees it as a primary interest. I think this investment is very important, that the
government has a duty to set an example, obviously, in the buildings it designs. I know some fellow architects
responsible for federal government buildings, and they are waiting for the government to take the stand that it is
comfortable with using wood.
The highest wood building in the world is being built in Norway, and will have 17 floors. I should point out that we
were talking about the steel lobby earlier, obviously, fire safety lobbies in Quebec are perhaps less comfortable with
wood construction because it is not their trade, and they are used to wood construction with 2x4s and 2x6s. We must
also focus on this negative image of 2x4s and 2x6s. I am talking about small buildings with two or three floors, that do
not always age well because drywall cracks, because the foundation shifts, this is not the kind of structure we are
talking about here.
In France, since 2006, the government has required all public buildings to incorporate at least 20 centimetres of
wood per square metre. Sometimes, that might only be wood for cosmetic reasons, sometimes it might be for framing,
but it has led to some serious development in the industry, while maintaining well-managed forests, of course. That is
British Columbia passed legislation requiring architects and engineers to include wood in some buildings. Once
again, aesthetically pleasing wood buildings that are functional and durable, that is important.
It is important for professionals to upgrade their skills. Quickly, when it comes to architects, what we hear most
often is that our structural engineers, in Quebec at least, have a lot of work to do when it comes to using wood frames.
The costs are a bit higher lately, because of delivery difficulties. Supply is greater than demand. Nevertheless, if you
want to build a wood arch to support something 120 feet wide, which is very big, that will cost less than building it out
of steel. That is no small matter.
I think it would be good to restructure the building code to take out any elements related to wood construction. It is
very spread out in the Code right now, and after meeting the president of the Régie du bâtiment du Québec this week, I
can tell you that we will be working hard. But there is a six-floor building being built of wood in Quebec as we speak,
and this is possible because the Régie du bâtiment took a number of administrative steps, which is not possible for
When I spoke about locally grown wood, and when I spoke about the construction of smaller wood buildings in the
regions, with the way the codes are now, even with some small buildings, in some specific uses, we must install
automatic sprinklers. But in the regions, the water system is sometimes not able to feed an automatic sprinkler system.
So that would automatically exclude the use of wood in regions, where wood is most accessible, because of these
standards. I will remind you that in Europe, the use of automatic sprinklers is nothing like it is here. There are much
fewer constraints, and their buildings have been around for a long time.
We have talked about responsible management. Certification, something the federal government could be involved
in, a national certification on the smart use of wood in construction could be implemented in a desirable way, I think.
In conclusion, I might have gone over my time a bit, I believe that the challenges of using wood for construction are
more psychological than real. They are manageable and much smaller than we might have thought. No dramatic
revolution needs to take place, but yes, we must set examples, must produce examples in all kinds of buildings, in many
regions. But this must also be done quickly. The examples that have been given must be done quickly, and this is very
important, in the first trip we made to the area of Paris where they were repairing wood buildings at the site of a wood
promotion organization, it was very interesting because we saw beautiful buildings on the website, and then went to see
them in real life, and I can tell you that we could see the difference between good and bad design. In good design, the
buildings aged well, while others were quite dilapidated, and we do not want to see that in Canada when it comes to
wood construction. We want buildings that age well. It is very important to support revising the Building Code and to
support basic research.
The aspects I mentioned earlier, you have no idea about the insulating factor of wood, of its hygroscopic factor, no
one is asking for studies because it does not benefit anyone in particular. A sawmill will not study the insulating factor
of its wood.
As an anecdote, there is currently a wood building being built, where the frame was planned out of softwood. The
supplier made it out of red oak. An oak frame, I can tell you, even if it has been done, nowadays it is not very common.
You have no idea what they had to do to use the characteristics of oak as structural timber. Although much
information is needed, publication of books, Internet sites, to move things along and to convince elected officials,
senators, members of Parliament, elected municipal officials, about the quality of wood construction, it is a high-
quality construction that is remarkably fire resistant.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Bourassa. I take full responsibility.
Maura Gatensby, Director of Professional Services, Architectural Institute of British Columbia: I ran an architectural
firm in British Columbia for 18 years, working primarily on commercial and industrial buildings. I am currently the
director of professional services for the Architectural Institute of B.C. That encompasses providing practice support to
architects and also professional development.
How does a building come to be constructed of wood, as opposed to steel or concrete, in Canada? How do we make
The prime factor is cost. There are many other things in there, but a building will be built of the lowest-cost material
for the structure that it can be. Apart from personal preference or similar considerations, it will be the lowest-cost
building that can be built within the regulations and the functional use of the material.
If wood works economically and within the regulations, it will be used. This is as a primary structure, apart from
architectural choices with respect to aesthetics.
If economics drives wood in Canada — and in British Columbia, in Western Canada, it very often is the lowest-cost
material. That is why, until we get to the code limitations, wood is the first-choice material in British Columbia.
The building codes in Canada and the U.S. restrict the use of wood, because of its combustibility, in both the height
of buildings and also in the area of buildings — the footprint of buildings. This is a very good thing because they are
trying to protect the public interest. They are trying to keep people safe when a building is on fire.
The limits can be increased by the use of sprinklers. The limits come out of public safety. They are not coming out of
any lobby, or any dislike for wood or any predominance or belief that steel or concrete are better structural materials.
The structural limits of wood do not come into play until you are dealing with a building of perhaps 20 storeys.
The existing wood standard CSA standard on the design of wood, 086, permits a height of 20 storeys without doing
anything different. It is the fire protection concern for wood that is the limitation. It is entirely possible to build 20-
storey buildings in wood. The issue is how you deal with an emergency of a fire in a building of that size. That has two
aspects to it. One is people exiting the building, and the higher the building, the longer it takes. That is the great
difficulty. It is the challenge in every high-rise building, and that is why the high-rise building is dealt with as a very
special case in our building codes. It is the fact that you cannot get out in a very quick time. We would be out in the
street in this building in a few minutes, but you would not be out on the street in a few minutes in a 20- or 30- or 40-
The second challenge to firefighting in tall buildings is their equipment. They can fight the fire with their equipment
in the street if it is in a building up to three and four storeys traditionally, but now up to six storeys. In high-rise
buildings, they must enter the building, and must be protected when they enter the building to deal with the emergency.
These problems are not insoluble, but a great deal of research would need to be done in order to address these
limitations of wood in very tall buildings in excess of six or eight or ten storeys.
One of the items mentioned by my colleagues is automatic sprinklers. In all of the larger wood buildings, we are
using automatic sprinklers as fire suppression already. That is the basic case. Even though this is an extremely effective
system, there is some need for caution when it comes to larger buildings. There have been major high-rise fires in non-
wood buildings that resulted from the failure of automatic sprinkler systems.
Going to the six-storey building is permitted in British Columbia now and we have a number under way. One of the
challenges is that architects do not have the internal resources in their firms to do research and to develop best
practices. We do our best, but we are not large organizations. We need research support from government in order to
develop best practices, as well as to do the research Mr. Bourassa mentioned.
They do a tremendously better job in Europe of doing research into the use of wood products and the development
of better practices and so forth. We do not have that support. So even though we have the six-storey building now
permitted in the B.C. building code, there is a natural caution among architects. They want to build durable and
successful buildings but do not have enough information on how to deal with the specific challenges of using wood in
Collectively, it brings about a caution, even though all of the issues that have been identified are relatively minor.
They are not major, but they still have to be dealt with — issues like shrinkage and so forth — because they can lead to
building failures. Many of those building failures are not total collapses, but they cost money to owners down the line.
It makes owners reluctant to choose a wood building in the mid-rise category because they do not want these problems
down the line.
We need help in the development of research. We need research and education to communicate best practices and
appropriate detailing for higher wood buildings. The private market is bringing about some of these six-storey wood
buildings. We also would like to see some government support of case-study buildings, so we can look at them and
monitor them and see how they perform in the field.
The structure might of a wood building might represent perhaps 20 per cent of the cost. In addition to the use of
wood as a structural material, however, there are further limitations on the use of wood as an interior material with
respect to fire, and it is a different issue than we see in the high-rise building. It relates to the spread of fire across the
material and people being prevented from getting out of the building because the fire spreads too quickly along the
surface of wood. The way it is dealt with technically is different because wood can be treated with chemicals to prevent
this. Again, architects do not have the capacity to develop chemical solutions for this. They have to find things in the
existing market. We need additional support in the development of products so that we can use wood as an interior
Similarly, using wood as cladding on the exterior of the building is for the most part limited to three- or four-storey
buildings because of the risk of fire spreading to adjacent buildings. This is especially critical in urban situations where
buildings are closer together. In order to use wood, we need assistance in the development of a greater variety of
intumescent products that can be used to treat wood so that fire does not spread as readily to adjacent buildings.
There are a whole bunch of relatively small and soluble problems out there that we need help in solving because
individual architects have difficulty doing that, but, collectively, all of these little problems reduce the use of wood in
Very few buildings in Canada cannot be built of wood for a functional reason. Those are where, for example, the
processes inside the building create too much moisture so that wood becomes inappropriate. That is a very small
percentage of buildings. Schools, office buildings, commercial buildings, stores and so forth are all most suitable for
the use of wood.
I will complete my remarks there.
The Chair: Thank you very much, and we will begin with Senator Eaton to be followed by Senator Mercer.
Senator Eaton: Thank you very much; all your presentations were so interesting.
At our last committee meeting we heard from a witness who ran an architectural organization that the trouble with
wood is that there is little education for architects in the use of wood and that the concrete people had come with post-
grad courses telling and teaching architects how to use prefab and concrete.
I believe it has to start in schools, so that when I want to build a building, you can say to me that we can use wood
inside, but you have to feel comfortable using it.
Do you feel that way or not?
Mr. Green: In the schools across the country, there are different attitudes about education in the use of wood. UBC
is connected with their forestry school and does try to encourage it.
Senator Eaton: This architect came from Vancouver.
Mr. Green: That is interesting. I have noticed in the last 10 years that the Canadian Wood Council's program and
various others in B.C., Alberta and Ontario have promoted education to architects. They run seminars and are part of
our professional development. We get accreditation for it, and, certainly, in B.C., they are by far the biggest attended
seminars that I have seen. I typically see the majority of architects show up.
I have ended up lecturing a great deal in the United States for the Canadian Wood Council and doing the same
thing for other professional organizations, and it is a very good mechanism. As Ms. Gatensby said, it is hard for us
who are practicing in our small businesses, and we are all small businesses, to find the time to get away from our
businesses to be educated.
The reality with many students is that they are not quite ready in university, truthfully, to be able to take their
education and apply it. It needs to go to the business leaders. They are the generation that needs to be educated to have
them encourage the use of wood in the buildings. It is very hard to have the junior people introduce it.
In summary, the Canadian Wood Council is the best mechanism to get the professional course development out
there for us. Requiring us to do professional development as the Architectural Institute of British Columbia does has
made a big difference in that.
Mr. Bourassa: In general, architecture schools have made efforts to become more practical. I think that is something
that all architecture schools in Canada have in common, both English and French ones. There is a lot of work to be
done. They are trying to focus on education about wood now. I can say that in architecture competitions, we see that in
recent years, architects have come up with wood buildings. That is for sure.
But there is still work to be done. Out of buildings that are often presented as international architecture, wood
buildings still represent a much smaller percentage, even though it is better than it used to be.
But the distinction is not always made between using wood and using wood effectively. Between seeing a wood
building and seeing a wood building that is designed well, based on the climate, is not always easy. Work is being done,
but we still have some work to do in terms of education.
Senator Eaton: Is it also the image of wood? If a client comes to see you, is it up to the architects to direct them to
use wood, inside buildings, let us say?
Mr. Bourassa: I think that a good professional is one who goes beyond what is being asked and who makes
suggestions. To the point that they can suggest that the client buy certain things and not others. But for professionals
to suggest things that are appropriate and relevant, they must know what they are talking about.
If you ask me to build a shopping centre, I could make it for you covered in wood, but because I have seen at least
four shopping centres remove the wood a few years later, that is not the first recommendation I would make. I would
tell you to do something else.
Senator Eaton: But maybe on the inside?
Mr. Bourassa: Yes; the right material in the right place, absolutely.
Senator Mercer: I believe it was a witness from one of the wood councils who spoke to us about cross-laminated
lumber. The things that impressed us all about the cross-laminated lumber, and he had an example with him, were its
strength and ability to resist fire. It would burn, but it is difficult for it to burn and would answer some of the questions
that you raised.
None of the three of you talked about cross-laminated lumber, CLT. Is that because we are still at the early stages in
its development, or is it because of the lack of availability in this country?
Ms. Gatensby: I was speaking collectively about all wood products and not stating a difference between CLT, sawn
lumber or whatever.
From an architectural standpoint, when we talk about wood as a structural material, we do not confine it to one
sector of the wood industry. In the larger spans, we always use composite products. The limitation on sawn lumber, as
a structural material, is about 20 feet. We have seen a number of innovative new buildings in British Columbia — rapid
transit stations, the Richmond Olympic Oval and so forth — which have very long spans using various wood products.
However, they are manufactured as opposed to sawn lumber.
Mr. Green: I could add to the CLT conversation. CLT has been heavily used in Austria. There is a new nine-storey
building in the U.K. that is quite beautiful for which CLT was used. It is a great product.
My caution is that it uses an enormous amount of material to achieve something that our marketplace is not used to,
which is a solid wall. In markets like Austria, where the wood industry represents 20 per cent of the residential market,
they are trying to design products to break into their residential market. It has to compete with mass-wall construction,
such as concrete or block, that holds on to the heat. Therefore, they have developed wood products, like cross-
laminated timbers, that will turn wood into a thermal mass.
It makes an enormous amount of sense where they are competing in that marketplace. However, I think Ms.
Gatensby is absolutely right in terms of when we are trying to compete. The costs of structure are really a fundamental
concern for most of our clients. It is very hard to encourage clients to move to solid wood panels and away from two by
fours, which are far cheaper construction.
The reason I give this caution is because it is effectively a pretty old technology, and I think it uses fairly mature
trees to make. They do not have to be as strong as other trees for glued laminates and so forth, but they do have to be
significantly mature trees to harvest.
There are new products coming online that are probably a lot better for us in that the trees are less mature. They are,
therefore, more renewable, and I am a big believer in that as far as promoting the communities that grow trees having a
more renewable resource.
Mr. Bourassa: Since this happens quite often with new products, like KLH, particularly with the cross-laminated
wood slabs that are imported to Quebec from Austria by a company that wants to manufacture them in Quebec, but is
first importing them to use. The Forintek research centre has tested the heat resistance of the adhesives in these
products, and once again, what stands out is that it is a steel company that will be the first to import KLH wood
products to Quebec to use them in buildings. Once again, the steel industry and the wood industry are not at all in
I did not bring pictures of buildings, but it definitely gives a completely different look. When we spoke about basic
research and research applied to buildings, as understood now in our building code, these slabs, you have seen their
resistance to heat, but we need to add drywall on top of them and make modifications that make no sense if we want to
see the beauty of these slabs. There have been office buildings done entirely like that, and it is fantastic. It is a matter of
Senator Mercer: Finally, two of you mentioned Austria in a positive way. What are they doing right that we are not
doing? You both mentioned them.
Mr. Green: They are investing an enormous amount in education and research.
Mr. Bourassa: They also have a fantastic forest, compared to the size of trees we can have in Quebec. If we talk
about the region that, in Austria, has been the main leader in terms of wood architecture, it is Vorarlberg, the poorest
region in Austria, and young architects were leaving the region because there was no construction to be done. They
have now returned to Vorarlberg with innovative wood designs, with very high energy efficiency. It is now one of the
most popular architecture tourist destinations in the world. Busloads of architects go to Vorarlberg. If you are
interested, I invite you on the 10th to Montreal and the 11th to Quebec City, where I am giving a conference on energy
efficiency in the architecture in Vorarlberg. Hydro- Québec helped us. We were going to Vorarlberg for energy
efficiency, but the wood is what caught our attention because the work was truly spectacular.
In Switzerland, Austria and Germany, they have a culture of investing in building that is different than here. It costs
Senator Eaton: Regarding the use of wood in Austria, is it used on the exterior and interior?
Mr. Bourassa: Both, really. They use wood in ways that are very different, very surprising and disturbing to the
average North American, that is clear. But there are people who want that. In interior design, in interior structures, it is
spectacular. We are not just talking about prestigious buildings, but schools that the group of architects I was with fell
in love with.
Senator Eaton: If you have pictures, could you send them to our clerk?
Mr. Bourassa: I would be happy to.
Mr. Green: In Austria, there is a different and interesting aesthetic about the use of wood on the outside. It is very
well accepted that wood weathers to a grey colour. In North America, we see these buildings as looking very
weathered, but it is a patina that is quite acceptable there. It is quite a different cultural appreciation of wood, and that
comes from what you see in the high mountains and throughout the Alps. It is just a long-standing tradition.
The Japanese and the Norwegians have an interesting technique on the outside of buildings where they actually pre-
char the wood. This is a centuries' old tradition of protecting the wood from the weather by actually burning it. It turns
it into a black surface. It is an incredibly beautiful thing. At first glance, to a North American who is not used to seeing
it, it seems horrifying that the building is burnt. It is actually a good tradition. However, cultural impact is enormous.
That goes to promotion and example. I think Ms. Gatensby brought it up. Having examples of buildings and
prototype research of structural systems, as well as cladding systems, and showcasing them is where the federal
government can play a very major role. It is very hard to get a commercial developer in North America to jump on
board with some of these innovations.
The Austrians are a world leader. It is frustrating that we have to import products. We imported the glass system
from Austria for the Prince George Airport project I showed earlier, because we could not buy glass in North America
that would be equivalent to that from Austria. The Austrian government virtually gave that product to Prince George
because they wanted to showcase their innovation. We are way behind the Europeans here.
I do not want to buy products from Europe. I want to buy them from Canada, but it requires a lot of effort.
Senator Eaton: Thank you.
Senator Rivard: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I must congratulate the three presenters we heard from this morning. It was
extremely interesting, and definitely encouraging. I congratulate you on going to see what is being done elsewhere. We
have always said, what is good elsewhere can be improved. If there are good ideas, we import them. This is very
promising for the use of wood in residential and commercial building.
Is the current lifespan of a wood frame long enough to be compared to the lifespan of other materials, like concrete
Is the lifespan of wood frames for commercial use long enough to be compared to the costs?
Ms. Gatensby: I do not think that is a limitation in any way. The life of buildings in North America, particularly
commercial buildings, is set by their use. A wood frame will last the 30 to 50 to 70 years that is a typical building life in
North America. Properly done, it will last indefinitely. As Mr. Green noted, there are a number of buildings in Japan
that are made of wood, which are well over 1,000 years old.
Wood is very forgiving. It is easy to replace parts and so forth and that makes it easy to maintain a building over
Mr. Bourassa: It is said for many types of materials that to be efficient, buildings must have a good hat and good
boots, to protect them from bad weather from top to bottom; that is extremely important. We can say that in general,
if there is good durability, if the building is designed well, then yes, except architects have bad habits. For example, if
you expose a steel frame, even if you put on all the galvanization treatments in the world, it will eventually rust. If you
look at the Biosphere on Saint Helen's Island, if had not been built out of aluminum, it would have collapsed a long
time ago. Steel, wood, anything, it would have collapsed. I believe that good wood frames are protected from the
outside. I know that my colleagues do not always agree, but having had to change the columns in some schools that
rotted from top to bottom, I would say that protecting the skeleton is the best strategy.
Senator Rivard: My other question has less to do with what you said about the use of wood, especially inside, not
exclusively, so if I said why should we use wood products on the exterior, for example replacing brick with shingles,
whether it is on the side of the building or on the roof, I get the impression that you are not much in favour of that for
weather, ecological or aesthetic reasons.
Mr. Bourassa: In the case of shingles, no matter what kind of cedar shingle siding, I have done a lot of buildings with
cedar siding; it ages well, it is light, easy to use, and makes it possible to do curves. You can have a lot of fun with it.
But if, for whatever reason, you have three sheets of cedar siding to change, that is not the same thing as if the structure
is affected. If a structure is visible and has large roof overhangs and was designed well, and the structural columns are
able to drain properly and are not pressed against a concrete floor, that means that no matter what, the frame will age
well. This is basic knowledge, and it is not a matter of using wood for the sake of using wood.
Senator Rivard: The building you spoke about, that has problems with the Régie du bâtiment, is it the CSN
Mr. Bourassa: I am not saying that there were problems with the Régie du bâtiment, but that it was a long process
because of the objective-based codes to get this building approved.
Senator Rivard: But construction on the building is progressing reasonably well and is going according to standards?
Mr. Bourassa: Absolutely.
Senator Rivard: Work has not been stopped.
Mr. Bourassa: Not at all.
Senator Rivard: I am very happy to hear that.
Senator Mahovlich: I want to apologize to our witnesses. Our chair is only allowing us two questions and we have
You mentioned the airport. I have a dear friend, Frank Gehry, the architect, who has done a number of buildings. I
believe he has broken laws; he has taken on city hall. When you look at his buildings, you walk away in awe because
they are so beautiful. When you read a book about him or if you know him, this man had to claw and scratch and
crawl to get these buildings finished the way he wanted them. He stuck to his guns and now Bilbao has a museum
where 650,000 people a year go just to see it. It brought that city back to life.
For the airport in Ottawa, did you want to put a roof on there similar to the one that is in Vancouver on the
Mr. Green: Different, but yes — a wood structure. I wanted to do a glue-laminated structure at that time.
Senator Mahovlich: There is timber in British Columbia right now where the beetle has taken over. That wood can
be used; that is what they used in Vancouver on the Olympic Oval.
Mr. Green: Yes.
Senator Mahovlich: Something like that could have been used very economically.
Mr. Green: It is just the difference in 10 years. I designed that roof 10 years ago and it was not in our vernacular to
consider that. Everyone looked at me with this puzzled look.
Senator Mahovlich: You have to stick to your guns when you take on these people.
Mr. Green: I totally agree. One thing I rarely see — and when I talk, a lot of people respond to — is very few
architects say here is a building I totally screwed up. That is how I feel about it; and people look at it and say, ``It is a
great airport, what are you talking about?''
It is; it has good things. I feel like I let down myself with that building because I think it is the duty of the architect to
see a project through and solve the problems that lie in front of them. That is our job and responsibility — and not to
blame others for something that was not successful.
I look at that building's roof every time I arrive. I look up and say, ``I should have pushed harder.''
Senator Mahovlich: From now on, when I go through that building, I will look up there and think the same thing. I
will think, ``What a mistake we made here; this should have been a wooden roof.''
Mr. Green: Luckily, by the time I went back and expanded it, they let me use some wood. I was in Bilbao two weeks
ago, and it is an amazing thing when a culture invests in quality architecture. Bilbao is not a city that was on the map,
and it transformed itself into a world destination as a result. That is a model we need to consider in our Canadian cities
— the investment in important architecture.
The one thing I would add to that is we need a belief that we have the capability to design those buildings inside
Canada, and do not necessarily have to go outside to find other architects. In Vancouver, we are looking to do a new
art gallery, as an example, and the desire is to hire a star architect from around the world.
I had the pleasure of working with Frank Gehry for a while. I would like us to encourage Canadian design, and
believe in ourselves enough to know that we can achieve that on a world stage and not have others design with our
Senator Mahovlich: Good for you.
Ms. Gatensby, when I was a young boy, I worked up in Northern Ontario in the gold mines, although not
underground. My dad got me a job in the timber yard. I spent the summer peeling logs and treating them with a
chemical so they would not rot. If you go up to a gold mine that is 50 years old up there and it is closed, if you go
underground, those timbers are still there. They are still good and still holding up the tunnels.
I cannot believe that in this day and age, we have not discovered a chemical that will stop fire from burning wood in
buildings. Have we not reached that point yet?
Ms. Gatensby: There are things, but they are not as readily available as you might hope. The properties of wood are
different. The timbers you are talking about are larger. Whenever you have a larger piece of wood, bigger than six by
six, it is the nature of wood that it will only burn for up to one inch or so and then it is self-extinguishing.
The problem with wood is the smaller pieces, the two by fours and so forth, which will completely burn in a fire. We
have buildings in Vancouver of heavy timber, with 12 by 12 or 18 by 18 columns, that have been on fire. They put the
fire out and just covered up the charred timbers and kept using the building. The buildings are still there, even though
they have had major fires in them, because of this self-extinguishing quality to large timbers.
Mr. Green: This is a very important point. The scale of the material of what we develop allows us to push the limits
of the size of buildings. Thicker material that does not burn allows us to change the building code, and that is an
important distinction. There is a big difference between two-by-fours and heavy timber, and what we are allowed to do
today and should develop in the future.
Ms. Gatensby: That is true of both sawed timber and composite materials like Parallams and so forth.
Mr. Bourassa: It is clear that there is a lot of work to be done to convince the lobbies and representatives from fire
services. We must remember that the fundamentals of building safety, the fire resistance that is required between floors,
and so on, is not to save the building, but to allow occupants to escape if there is an explosion somewhere. But the
building is more resistant to fire with large timbers than with steel, it is so clear, but it is hard to convince the fire
lobbies, who swear only by fire-resistant materials and sprinklers.
In the history of explosions in Canada or North America in the past 150 years, there have been so many serious
cases where wood buildings simply did not have basic safety features, which led to devastation, and we have had a hard
time coming back from that, but building science has evolved.
That is something very important, which is the heritage issue; I cannot speak for the rest of Canada, but in Quebec,
heritage churches are very big challenges. Every town has its church, and in a town, in general, there are not 15
churches, but one, and usually it is made of wood. If we want to transform these churches into something else, a simple
meeting centre, for example, it is very complicated. At minimum, the inside of the church would have to be covered
with drywall. So in terms of heritage, that is sad to see.
Using and understanding the systems certainly applies to what is to come, but we must also realize — I remember
having to demolish four-story convents built of wood because at the time, it was not possible to transform them
according to the Régie du bâtiment. That has changed now, and there are still changes to be made.
Senator Plett: I must honestly say for myself this is been the most informative three presentations I have heard in the
last month. Thank you for coming; it has been great for me personally.
I would strongly recommend to the forest industry that they hire Mr. Green as a lobbyist. He did a wonderful job.
My questions are not necessarily to you, Mr. Green, but both of my questions are related to things you said.
In your presentation, you talked about pre-fab. Pre-fab is not something new; we have done pre-fab housing for
years. Why is that not taking off in a bigger way? Your presentation was marvellous about that, and I believe it is a no-
brainer to pre-fab houses and send them around the world.
Mr. Green: The reason it has not taken off is that we have targeted the wrong market. We tend to build small, single-
family houses. In the last 10 years, there has been a huge interest internationally in pre-fab. A lot of house magazines
that you pick up at the airport talk about it, but it tends to be pre-fab of cottages or one-off buildings. The image is of a
process which is so expensive, ultimately, that it is not really serving the purpose of pre-fab. Alternatively, it is the
mobile home family of buildings. What is missing is the opportunity to think about building buildings that are 20-unit
buildings or 40-unit buildings rather than one- or two-unit buildings.
Senator Plett: Why are we not doing that?
Mr. Green: The structural system in wood is not understood. Doing it in steel probably does not make sense in
Canada. To do that in woods two-by-fours does not really make sense. New engineered wood products allow us to
open up those ideas. In Europe, they are exploring it now. Ikea is building large panel, large scale buildings themselves.
No one is doing it in the residential market yet, which is why I am anxious to get the message out that we should be
jumping on it. The challenge is convincing our manufacturers of large panels not to continue to chop them up and sell
them as beams, but to keep them whole. It is a challenge to bring together a huge group of people to get momentum
I truthfully do not know how to do it myself; I am trying, but I do not know how. It is a very holistic thing, a change
in the industry. It is new engineering and new products. Canadian manufacturing of those products is not happening
now, and it is involves some changes in the kind of trees we are cutting down.
Mr. Bourassa: In a way, a steel structure is always pre-fabricated. So a large wood structure always arrives pre-
fabricated as well, that is clear. Especially since we do not want to leave wood products exposed to bad weather during
the construction process. So a good building made of wood, a large building made of wood would, in these days,
usually be pre-fabricated. But as my colleague mentioned, for small buildings, like mobile homes and small bungalows,
the industry that originally pre-fabricated, simply built the same house inside to then be taken outside.
Now, the Société d'habitation du Québec, which takes care of social housing, and so on, works very hard to put
architects in contact with pre-fabricated housing industries so that they can both benefit from each others' experience,
and so we end up with a product that is more efficient and certainly more competitive on international markets, where
we are very behind in terms of exports possible, but we are getting there.
Senator Plett: Good luck in that, I think that is a great idea, and we should pursue that.
My other question is about bamboo forests. We should be planting more bamboo, but why are we not doing it?
Where can we grow it in Canada?
Mr. Green: It grows well in B.C. There are two major timber bamboos, namely, the Chinese timber bamboo and the
Japanese timber bamboo. They grow incredibly quickly at six feet or ten feet a year, which is huge growth. Within four
years, you can harvest a product that you can turn into a structural or cladding material. We are not doing it currently
because no one is thinking about it.
You need the foresight to realize that this is the future. We need to be 10 years ahead of ourselves, and we are not
thinking that way now. We are sitting on all this beetle kill now, which is an interesting paradox, because there is an
enormous amount of extra wood we can be using that we are challenged to figure out how to use. When the beetle kill
is over, we will need that next generation, and some, but not all, of those forests are good forests to consider for
creating plantation bamboo. I guess it requires someone who wants to jump on the initiative of creating it, but right
now it is not something anyone is thinking about.
There are some researchers taking fibre from wood and incorporating it into concrete to get the good quality
properties of concrete and of wood. Bamboo can do the same thing. There are many fibre-based products that we use
in wood. Bamboo will be the same. It will become a competition for us if we do not jump on catching up. I am worried
that China, in particular, will have an enormous capacity to produce wood fibre, and if someone invents a wood fibre
structural material, it can leapfrog us quickly, so we should think about these opportunities now and not lose sight of
Ms. Gatensby: If we specify bamboo floors, which are a popular sustainable product, they are not sourced from
Canada. It is difficult to find a source of it in Canada. We get it elsewhere. As architects, our first choice would be to
get it locally, but we cannot. The vision of the forestry industry in Canada, or the agriculture industry in Canada, has
not included that as a product and it is not being grown and manufactured here.
As architects, we can come up with great ideas for prefabricated products, panels and so forth, but we cannot build
a factory. I did a project where we had to import wood panels from the United States because we could not find a
Canadian supplier of them.
Senator Plett: I think our efforts have to go into education as opposed to other areas. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Before moving on to Senator Grafstein, Senator Mahovlich has a supplementary question.
Senator Mahovlich: How does bamboo burn? Does it burn as well as pine; is it susceptible to fire?
Ms. Gatensby: It is combustible, but I do not think its properties are that much different from any other wood.
Senator Grafstein: I share our colleagues' enthusiasm about this panel. I found it fascinating, interesting and
thought provoking. Thank you all for that. It was refreshing to hear a strong Quebecer talk about federal regulation. It
was delightful to hear he would welcome federal regulation because this is not something we hear from Quebec very
often. We will be debating this in the next few days in the Senate but thank you for that. I will be quoting it.
I tried to list very quickly the barriers you are facing and I would like to sum them up: Federal-provincial and
municipal codes; possibly the unions; educators; the wood producers themselves who do not have ingenuity; the
builders who are consumed with cost; the safety lobby, which is always present; questions of neighbouring building
lots; architects themselves; engineers; and even the question of shrinkage.
Does that sum up the barriers you have to face?
Mr. Green: Yes.
Senator Grafstein: Let me see if I can cut the other way and answer Mr. Green's question: How do we break this
down quickly? We are in a race here; it is an economic war because our manufacturing products have sunk and we still
do not have a sense that our political or business leaders understand that we are in an economic war to preserve jobs
for our country.
There are some ways of dealing with this, and let me suggest one. First, the federal government in the last year has
spent $85 billion buying all the CMHC mortgages from the banks. If I recall my earlier legal career, I spent some time
looking at building codes that were prepared, in effect, by CMHC. They have an overlay of building codes. You
cannot get a CMHC mortgage unless it is CMHC approved and there are CMHC building codes built in.
Have you talked to the CMHC about this? Maybe we should call CMHC, because the federal government has just
spends $85 billion buying all the mortgages from all the banks. The federal government now holds $85 billion of
CMHC mortgages and maybe they should involve themselves in this process.
Let one hand deal with the other hand. That is a question.
Mr. Bourassa: In the past, as a trainer for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, for example, I can tell
you that in a training, it was explained to First Nations communities how to use less wood. Obviously, that was five or
six years ago, and we would probably say something different today, but that shows how quickly mindsets can change.
It is clear that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is involved more in residential building. So with this
question, you are supporting my comment that the mandate of the Senate committee and the committee of any
organization that promotes wood should absolutely not exclude residential building, since when it comes to improving
techniques for integrating wood, there is a lot of work to be done.
Another other thing that the federal government can do is to contribute more to pilot projects. I should say that
Energy and National Resources Canada is already supporting pilot projects, but if memory serves me right, there are
five for all of Canada. That is not very much
When I talked about locally grown wood in the regions, the focus on using wood must be on museums and major
public buildings, but it must also be in small communities, a mayor of a small town who wants his building project to
be made of wood. We must not forget that.
But I can tell you with absolutely certainty that as for the CMHC, there is a lot of work to be done, because the
techniques that are being proposed seem to need some updating.
Senator Grafstein: I appreciate that and will come back to demonstration projects in a moment because that was
part of my question.
The second area to look at, and this again deals with Mr. Greene, is that the fastest way to get the federal
government off its rear on this issue is to go to CIDA. CIDA should be called to this committee, too, Mr. Chair. It has
billions of dollars that we spend trying to demonstrate around the world that we have Canadian products and things
that are excellent. I do not see why CIDA should not, in effect, lead the way, as other senators have suggested, to
ensure that we have previous prefab homes available. I love the six-storey thing; that is fantastic.
It is part of CIDA's mandate. The money is there; we have the money. It is just the political will we lack. Therefore,
Mr. Chair, I suggest you call CIDA. How would you feel about a demonstration project in the favelass of Brazil with
Canadian wood? I have walked through the favelas; I did business down there. You are right: It is a huge market.
Mr. Green: It is huge. I think that would be an incredible thing for us to do. Right now, if you put our made-in-
Canada products next to the products of what is happening in Europe, we currently do not shine. We need to find the
right products to put out there and start showcasing to the international market. That is a challenge.
Senator Grafstein: We did do a showcase project. We built Canadaville. I was involved in that in Louisiana after the
New Orleans flood. We sent Canadian wood and carpenters, and built a village made of wood. I named it. Therefore,
we have a demonstration project that was all wood. However, no one here knows about it.
Your final suggestion, Mr. Bourassa, I think is a brilliant one: The Canadian government leading the way in
demonstration projects. Let me combine two ideas. There is a good friend of ours — Senator Mahovlich knows him
quite well — named James Oberstar. He is the chair of the U.S. Congress transportation committee. and a good friend
of Senator Mahovlich's and mine. We have been involved with him for a decade. He is a ``Greeny.''
He said to the federal government: ``I want to build green buildings. If you want to come here to my committee for
an appropriation, you better put in the appropriation 'a green building or two.'`` The federal government in the United
States is the largest owner of buildings in America, which no one really knows. It is the same with the Canadian
Therefore, why is it we do not go to the Canadian government and recommend building a series of commercial and
high-rise residential demonstration projects out of wood, using our existing resources. This does not require new
money. This is taking money out of Public Works to do that. I suggest, Mr. Chair, you call that. Is that a good idea?
Mr. Green: I think so. One thing has occurred to me. Because I lecture in the States, I was approached by the
architects for the U.S. military. One of their biggest building programs, and what their biggest need is for, is easy-to-
erect transportable, large-scale housing. They have the money to make things happen, and it is money that they will
spend either way. For that particular system, it is actually a good vehicle to roll it out. However, I would much prefer
for Canada to roll it out than the United States.
That is just one showcase example. We have many different typologies we should be developing. When I speak, I
typically say, ``Here is one idea.'' I would like to see about 40 great ideas coming from different corners of the country.
How do we create the momentum to get more ideas like that?
Senator Grafstein: You have pre-empted my last suggestion. The Canadian government spends hundreds of
thousands of dollars developing water plants that we ship overseas but we do not have water plants for our Aboriginal
Therefore, the question I have for you — and you have already answered it — is why can we not ship prefab
buildings to Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever soldiers are located, as part of our permanent installations? We could have
permanent installations around the world as demonstration programs.
Have you called the Department of National Defence on that?
Mr. Green: No.
Senator Grafstein: Should we call the Department of National Defence, Mr. Chair? Those are my suggestions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Senator Grafstein. There is a time factor in our committee. I would now ask the
deputy chair to ask her questions.
Senator Fairbairn: I will be very quick.
I was interested in your comments about the wood, the fire and all of this kind of thing. I think that is an extremely
good thing to have for the work we are doing here.
In British Columbia, you are facing a terrific event coming up at the beginning of the new year. I am speaking of the
Olympic and the Paralympic Games, and all of the extra building that has taken place in order to do this, for us and for
the world. I was interested and very pleased when you spoke about the Oval. It is outstanding.
There was an effort done in building it with sense of protection against fire in that area. There are probably other
places up closer to where the rest of the events are taking place. Did we, as a country, get some of the suggestions and
thoughts of how best to do that from any of the other countries who have already gone through Olympic and
Paralympic Games, or was it all right, ready and waiting?
Obviously, we had to use some wood. There are many people roaming around during these events, and I wondered
whether you got any special suggestions, particularly with the Oval, but others as well, in terms of keeping fire away.
Ms. Gatensby: B.C. building code consultants were used for the Olympic Oval and the new public buildings. We
have a number of excellent firms in B.C. that specialize in innovative designs and allowing architects to do things
outside the code by utilizing fire protection engineering. They do fire modelling and exit modelling and so forth, as well
as advanced research, to address this fire issue.
Going straight by the code gives you a basic small town arena. If you want to do something more innovative, it is
almost essential that you have a building code consultant or a fire protection engineer. You can do new things that way
and have the equivalent level of safety for people.
Senator Fairbairn: That is great. It is good news.
Ms. Gatensby: It is challenging to deal with these fire protection issues. However, I am confident that anything out
there meets the mark. That is the great thing about so many of the new buildings they have put up for the Olympics.
They have used wood in them. It was mandated by the government, but they have addressed a number of these
questions in these buildings. Other architects can see this and piggyback on those ideas.
Another building in which you see innovative use of wood in a type of building where you do not usually see wood
used, is the new Vancouver Convention Centre, which is a giant building. There are all kinds of interior walls made of
wood. They are very beautiful, and they have addressed this ``flame spread'' by using products on the wood so that it is
not a problem. This new building is a very B.C. — very Canada — wood building that we are showing off, even though
these buildings are almost universally concrete and steel. Now it has a very ``wood'' feel to it.
Senator Fairbairn: That is very good to hear because we have both our Olympians and Paralympians. With
Paralympians, you have others issues with wheelchairs and that kind of thing.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Before closing, I would like to ask the witnesses a couple of questions. You could
probably answer us by written answers. I have one question about cost efficiency. I am looking here at this wonderful
book from the Ontario Association on buildings across Canada. If you could provide us with figures on cost efficiency
using wood versus traditional techniques, that would be great.
We talk about sustainable forest practices. The committee, for your information, will be visiting northwestern New
Brunswick next week, where we will see some sustainable forest practices in order to help grow the wood basket in
Last, we have a program announced by the federal government called Wood First. Please make yourselves aware of
it and make recommendations to us so we can bring it to the attention of our present government.
I agree that we should be talking about ``green gold;'' our forests. That said, we want to sincerely thank you for
appearing. You have been very informative. There is no doubt that we will be following up on many of your
Thank you, Mr. Bourassa, for your comments. I think you have set an example. Through this cooperation, we can
see what needs to be considered and recommended for municipal, provincial, territorial or federal governments.
Thank you, witnesses. I now declare the meeting adjourned. Thank you very much and have a good day.
(The committee adjourned.)