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Wood ‘first’ policy for federal projects

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by Shannon Moneo

Earlier this month, a private member’s bill asking that wood be the preferred construction material for federal projects briefly held the parliamentary floor for second reading and debate.

Earlier this month, a private member’s bill asking that wood be the preferred construction material for federal projects briefly held the parliamentary floor for second reading and debate.

Known as Bill C-429, the bill was brought forward for first reading in June by Gerard Asselin, Bloc Quebecois MP for Manicouagan and the Bloc’s deputy spokesman for regional development.

It will receive second reading in April.

The exact wording of Bill C-429 is: “Before soliciting bids for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal immovables and federal real property, the Minister shall give preference to the concept that promotes the use of wood, while taking into account the cost and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Bloc Quebecois MP Robert Bouchard, representing Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, and also Bloc spokesman for industry and small business, supported Asselin’s bid to make wood the building material of choice.

Both men live in ridings where forestry is a key industry.

“We know it (wood) produces much less greenhouse gas than steel and concrete production. We can kill two birds with one stone by using more wood in the construction and renovation of non-residential buildings, that is, commercial, industrial and government buildings,” Asselin said.

“This would keep sawmills busy across Canada. We are not reinventing the wheel here. This is being done in several other countries, particularly in Sweden and France... and in British Columbia.”

Bill C-429 comes on the heels of B.C.’s Wood First Act, which last October put into law that wood be considered as the primary building material in all new publicly-funded structures such as schools, libraries or sports facilities.

The province recently raised the height limit for wood-frame construction.

B.C.’s Building Code now allows wood structures to reach six storeys, up from the previous four storeys.

While the Canadian Construction Association isn’t opposed to the use of wood, it isn’t supporting this federal bill.

“We don’t like to be told we have to use one material over another,” said Bill Ferreira, the CCA’s director of government relations and public affairs.

“Either wood is the right material or it’s not. In some cases concrete is better.”

Not long after B.C.’s announcement, the B.C. Ready-Mixed Concrete Association fired off a letter to B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Pat Bell.

“Giving one building material prominence over another goes against decades of decisions made by professionals and the marketplace.

“Making one product ‘first’ artificially increases the usage of product at the expense of the other. Any economic gain in one sector will be offset by an economic loss in another,” the letter said.

During the second reading debate, Conservative MP Richard Harris said that some building codes and standards could prevent the implementation of Bill C-429.

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