April 14, 2010 (40th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Ed Komarnicki


Mr. Ed Komarnicki (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate on Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood).
Before discussing the government's position on this bill, I would like to commend the members opposite for their interest in the forest industry and forest sector.
Canada is the world's largest exporter of forest products. Last year alone, the forest industry contributed $20 billion to Canada's trade balance and accounted for about 1.9% of Canada's gross domestic product.
For Canadians, forest products are integral to our everyday lives and the great swaths of trees that sweep across our land mass are part of our nation's identity. However, for the 274,000 people directly employed by the forest industry last year, forestry is their livelihood. It is especially important in the approximately 300 rural and remote communities where it accounts for at least one-half of the economic base.
As we all know, global economic conditions have had a serious impact on the industry and on the sector. The reduction in new housing in the United States of America, for example, is one of the major factors hurting Canadian lumber exports.
I want to assure the hon. members that the government takes this matter very seriously. In January 2009, the Minister of Finance tabled a budget that launched Canada's economic action plan. He laid out full and comprehensive plans for many of the economic challenges we are facing as a country that included some very important measures to help the forest sector weather the storm, as well as allocating millions of dollars over two years to carry out these measures.
Let me help members recall some of the details. Canada's economic action plan provided $170 million over two years to Natural Resources Canada for measures to secure a more sustainable industry. The funding will help companies develop new products, processes and seek new opportunities in the global market place.
This included $80 million for the transformative technologies program administered by FPInnovations. FPInnovations is a not-for-profit forest research institute that focuses on the development of emerging and breakthrough technologies related to forest biomass utilization, nanotechnology and next generation forest products.
An additional $40 million is being provided in 2010-11 to develop pilot-scale demonstration projects of new products that can be used in commercial applications.
Canada's economic action plan also provided Natural Resources Canada with $40 million over two years for the Canada wood, value to wood and North America wood first programs to help forestry companies market innovative projects internationally. An additional $10 million is intended to support large-scale demonstrations of Canadian-style use of wood for construction in targeted offshore markets and non-traditional use of wood in domestic markets.
Since the release of the economic action plan, the government has also announced the creation of a $1 billion program to support environmental improvements for the pulp and paper industry. This will help pulp and paper mills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while helping them become leaders in the production of a renewable energy from biomass.
I am sure members will agree these are worthy measures in support of market diversification and innovation initiatives that will help the forestry industry and the forestry sector.
In addition, let us not forget the $7.8 billion worth of measures under the Canada economic action plan to build housing, encourage home ownership and enhance energy efficiency. These measures are intended to help a range of sectors of our economy, including the forestry sector.
Among the specific initiatives, for example, was the highly popular home renovation tax credit. As we all know, homeowners responded to this measure with great enthusiasm and the impact on sales of building supplies, including lumber and other forestry products, was substantial.
I have been describing some of what the government has done for the forestry industry in order to provide some context for this debate. Another area I would like to touch upon to provide some context to this debate is the extent to which the government already uses wood in federal buildings.
The federal government overall is an important user of wood and wood building products. Public Works and Government Services Canada, for example, spends an average of $160 million a year on office renovations of which about 15% is spent on wood products.
Under the economic action plan, Public Works and Government Services Canada has accelerated its plans for repairs and upgrades to its buildings and offices. That amount is about $323 million over two years.
All of this requires the purchase of wood-based products, wood and lumber for things like partitions, doors, panelling, mouldings and trims, as well as form work. Here are some examples.
Public Works commissioned the first LEED gold building north of the 60th parallel, the Greenstone Building in Yellowknife.
The series of innovative office fit-ups realized in the past decade at 25 Eddy and at 100 and 191 Promenade du Portage in Gatineau is making extensive use of exposed lumber for partitioning, wood fibre acoustic panels on ceilings, and hardwood framing and doors.
The recent rehabilitation of the Agora interior garden space at Les Terrasses de la Chaudière in Gatineau uses cedar wood for its terraces, and birch trunks as space dividers.
In addition to buildings, Public Works and Government Services Canada is also responsible for highways, bridges and dams. Under the economic action plan, funding for road and bridge projects has been augmented by $52.6 million over two years. This too requires wood and wood products for shoring and form work.
All of this is no doubt having a positive impact on the forestry sector.
I began by commending the member who put forward this bill. I have illustrated some of the many ways in which this government is supportive of the forestry industry.
Unfortunately, there is no getting around the fact that this bill would require the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to contravene Canada's obligations under the procurement provisions of our international and domestic trade agreements.
This bill would require the minister to give preference to the use of wood or wood producers when developing solicitations for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal immovables and federal property.
Under Canada's trade obligations, solicitation requirements cannot be biased in favour of or against particular goods or services, including those goods or services included in construction contracts, or in favour of or against a supplier of such goods or services.
This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Canada's trade obligations, both domestic and international, were entered into in a spirit of good faith and they therefore must be respected.
In conclusion, the forestry industry is well worth supporting and the government is providing support. We do have concerns about this bill with respect to Canada's domestic and international trade obligations, and these concerns are too sound and too logical to ignore.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Department of Public Works and Government Services Act
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