After passing second reading in the House of Commons, Richard Cannings’ bill suggesting Ottawa seriously consider wood structures when constructing federal buildings is moving to the committee level.
Though he has previously had a bill he tabled be taken on by government as a policy, rather than going through the legislative process, Cannings, member of Parliament for South Okanagan—West Kootenay, said Bill C-354 was only one of two NDP bills to pass second reading in two years.
The bill saw support from all MPs outside of the Conservative Party, which voted entirely against the bill.
“I knew cabinet would be behind it, but I didn’t know how the rest of the caucus would feel, and I had quite a number of Conservatives lined up, but it turned out that they both whipped their vote in different directions,” Cannings said.
“It’s a nice feeling.”
Cannings said the natural resources committee, on which he sits, still has yet to decide whether they will move ahead with the bill quickly or sit on it, but he said he heard from cabinet that the governing Liberal Party would like to see the bill move forward, albeit watered down.
“The Liberal side and the parliamentary secretaries for public works and natural resources both brought up concerns about the strong language it has in there about giving preference and thought this might cause problems with international trade law,” Cannings said.
“I don’t think it does, because of the language around using this test of cost and carbon footprint cost. I think that would mitigate that. In British Columbia we have the Wood First Act, which does basically the same thing and no one’s ever complained about it.”
Cannings added Europe also has similar laws surrounding disincentivizing things like vinyl siding.
“If they can do it, I don’t know why we can’t,” he said. “We’re going to talk to people in the industry. The Forest Products Association of Canada is very, very happy right now that this passed.”
The bill would require the federal government to consider wood in federal infrastructure projects, while taking into account costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the House on Tuesday, Cannings made a final pitch for the bill.
“We are at the cusp of a significant change in how we construct buildings. For over a century, large building have been built with concrete and steel,” Cannings said.
“While that will continue for years to come,we have new engineered wood, or mass timber technology that can replace some or all of the concrete and steel in buildings.”
The Conservative Party took issue to the proposal, saying it distorted the market in favour of wood, but Cannings suggested the concrete industry had come to the government looking for similar treatment, and said the concrete and steel industries could compete with wood.
The bill, if passed, could support the wood industry in a time when wood’s future is still up in the air, as trade disputes, both surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement and, more specifically, softwood lumber continue between Canada and the U.S.
That might be of help, also, to spots like Structurlam in Okanagan Falls, which does construction projects using wood beams.
Cannings also sought to quell fears of fire hazards from wood structures.
“Those that have been built already have been designed with direct involvement and sign-off by fire chiefs,” Cannings told Parliament.
“Remember, we are not talking about stick-frame buildings here. Fire acts completely differently when it encounters a beam that is a metre thick than when it encounters a 2×4. It is like sticking a match to a big log.”