Department of Public Works and Government Services Act

Bill to Amend--Second Reading--Debate Adjourned

November 30, 2021

Hon. Diane F. Griffin

Moved second reading of Bill S-222, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood).

She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-222, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood). Some of my colleagues will already be familiar with this bill. I have introduced it before and I’ve also sponsored a version introduced in the other place by my friend Richard Cannings, an MP from British Columbia.

For the benefit of my colleagues who have recently joined our chamber, I will offer an overview of the bill and an argument as to its importance.

Engineered wood beams can be used in place of concrete and steel in the construction of tall buildings. These are large beams, so they are not a fire hazard. It’s like holding a match to the trunk of a 100-year-old maple. It just won’t light. These beams can be used to build huge structures.

For example, in 2018 the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry travelled to British Columbia on a study tour and went to see Brock Commons, which is a 17-storey student residence on the UBC campus. You were there, Senator Black; Senator Gagné was too. It was really impressive. My lasting impression, in fact, of that building is that it just didn’t feel like a university building. You know what I mean. Those big old buildings that are all steel, glass and concrete. Brock Commons had a warmth to it. Not only were the wood beams used in its construction an excellent carbon sink, but they made a much more pleasant environment for those who live and work in them.

This weekend I was talking to my dear friend Dr. Ann Howatt about this bill. Ann spent her career in artifact conservation and worked for years at the Canadian Conservation Institute in the Glenbow Museum in Calgary which, by the way, is currently undergoing a renovation. A core project goal of the renovation is sustainability. The term is “utilizing the existing ’bones’ of the building and repurposing the assets that [they] already have, while improving the mechanical systems to ensure [their] future building will be efficient and environmentally responsible.”

Ann also pointed out to me that mass-timber buildings are built in accordance with green architecture. In a 2016 paper entitled Green Architecture: A Concept of Sustainability, Amany Ragheb and others described green architecture as architecture that:

... produces environmental, social and economic benefits. Environmentally, green architecture helps reduce pollution, conserve natural resources and prevent environmental degradation. Economically, it reduces the amount of money that the building’s operators have to spend on water and energy and improves the productivity of those using the facility. And, socially, green buildings are meant to be beautiful and cause only minimal strain on the local infrastructure.

This is certainly what I observed when we visited Brock Commons.

Last week Senator Omidvar and I discussed this bill, and she mentioned the agreement that Prime Minister Trudeau signed at the recent COP26 climate summit agreeing to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. This is a pledge I wholeheartedly support. Our forests are an excellent renewable resource but one that must be nurtured. Our forestry industry is doing a good job. According to Natural Resources Canada:

Since 1990, Canada’s low annual deforestation rate has declined even further, dropping from 64,000 hectares per year to about 34,300 hectares per year in 2018,

and “Canada’s overall deforestation rate is expected to decline even further over time.”

Natural Resources Canada is already monitoring this indicator to ensure our compliance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

If we continue to manage our forests properly, engineered wood has huge potential to reduce the carbon intensity of our buildings. In 2018, Mr. Gérard Beaulieu of the Quebec Forest Industry Council told the natural resources committee in the house that:

One cubic metre of wood emits 60 kilograms of carbon, compared to 345 kilograms for the same volume of concrete and 252 kilograms for steel.

We have a fantastic opportunity here for a made-in-Canada solution to one of our more carbon-intensive industries.

So where does Bill S-222 come in? The bill would require Public Services and Procurement Canada to consider any potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental benefits of materials, products or sustainable resources used in the construction, maintenance and repair of public works. This doesn’t tie the department’s hands but would instead remind it that engineered wood is an available option that may be desirable for use in its projects. This, in turn, could lead to the construction of more buildings like UBC’s Brock Commons, which could start to change the industry norm of using only concrete and steel.

Colleagues, changing this norm would lead to a meaningful reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions, to more jobs in our forestry sector and to the increased use of materials whose environmental impact we can meaningfully measure because they are grown, harvested and processed here in Canada. It would give our forestry industry a win in the face of repeated trade disputes with the United States. Changing this norm would start the process of changing the norms in the building industries as a whole so that other innovations like green architecture and passive environmental controls would change from the exception to the default.

In fact, just this morning I was speaking with maritime representatives from the Canadian Construction Association, and Vivek Tomar from Nova Scotia mentioned that the new academic tower at the University of Toronto will be constructed using engineered wood. I’m thrilled to see this leadership.

Honourable senators, I hope you will join with me in supporting this bill and getting it to committee so that we can hear from expert witnesses in the new year. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker

Senator Griffin, would you take a question?

Senator Griffin


The Hon. the Speaker

Senator McCallum, do you have a question?

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum

Yes, I do.

On First Nations’ lands — and not even First Nations’ lands — harvesting has been done with no replanting of trees. When I’m back in Manitoba, I can see large areas that are hidden, so when you drive on the highway, you can’t see what’s happening.

Would there be protection of old growth in preventing the lumber industry from harvesting old growth like they were trying to do with Avatar Grove and Fairy Creek in B.C.?

Senator Griffin

Thank you for the question. This bill would not do that, but other things have to do that. A lot of national resources, of course, fall under provincial jurisdiction, and most provinces have either a natural areas act, a wilderness areas act or an ecological reserves act. There’s the Nature Conservancy of Canada and various provincial nature trusts.

There’s a lot of work being done by a lot of people across the country on this, and all of this has to come together and hopefully be coordinated on a national basis. That’s why groups like the Nature Conservancy of Canada are important, because they’ve developed a plan where they’re trying to protect all the representative features of our natural resources across the country, whether they be wetlands or old-growth forests.

There are a lot of groups and people that have to play the role of protecting these areas. First Nations, of course, have to look after their lands in the same way.

One thing I’m really pleased about is the partnerships that are starting to evolve with Parks Canada, First Nations, and with First Nations and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. So there are a lot of people and groups that have to play a role in this.

But I’m not pretending that this bill is that kind of a comprehensive bill. It has more to do with sustainable use of the forests, which has to be backed up by policy to not only ensure sustainable use but to ensure that prime, protected areas like old-growth forests remain for the future. Thank you.


I move the adjournment of the debate.

The Hon. the Speaker

Just a moment, Senator Mercer. Senator McCallum, do you have a supplementary question?

Senator McCallum

I will make a comment.

I went to Avatar Grove and Fairy Creek to look at the forest. When I went to Fairy Creek, the people were forced to put up a protest group. The RCMP was there, and we went there.

They have to act to protect the lands. The provinces don’t work with First Nations, so there are a lot of existing problems right now. I’m worried that the lumber companies would see this as “we can do this,” because right now, the province has jurisdiction over it and does not consider First Nations issues.

So I’m just concerned about that. Thank you.

Senator Griffin

We’re in agreement.