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Local MP’s bill to encourage building with wood closer to law

It has had a difficult path, but a private member’s bill brought by a local MP to encourage the use of more environmentally-friendly building materials in public buildings may still stand a shot of being adopted.

South Okanagan-West Kootenay NDP MP Richard Cannings says a bill he introduced a few years ago that passed in the House of Commons but died in the Senate is making a comeback and will be debated anew this fall.

Cannings says its genesis started a decade ago with a Bloc Quebecois bill that called on the public works minister to consider using wood when building federal infrastructure, similar to existing legislation in B.C. and Quebec. It aimed not only to give Canada’s timber industry a boost but to recognize that wood captures carbon.

However, he says it was criticized by some in the cement industry, who were developing new types of concrete that did the same thing. Cannings avoided that debate in his bill by simply asking the minister to use products with environmental benefits.

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“And mass timber, made entirely of sequestered carbon that could easily remain intact for centuries, is a good candidate for that quality,” he says.

Cannings says the bill, introduced in 2016, would require government to assess building materials for environmental benefits, including their carbon footprint, before approving design contracts for federal infrastructure.

“The bill is trying to point out that alternative exists. It doesn’t force the government to build every building and bridge out of wood, but it says you must consider that.”

Cannings says he was initially inspired by a Penticton company leading the mass timber sector. Since then, Kalesnikoff Lumber has opened up a similar plant in South Slocan, and is now carrying out an expansion.

“It offers our forest industry an opportunity to open up new markets,” he says. “The sawmills in the B.C. interior sell two-by-fours and two-by-sixes to these plants, where they get value added. They have more jobs and we can also sell these materials in the U.S. without tariffs.”

The bill initially passed in the House of Commons in 2018, but “unfortunately got caught up as an innocent bystander in some wrangling in the Senate,” and died there when parliament ended the following year.

Senator Diane Griffin then offered to table it again in the Senate, where it has passed third reading and returned to the House of Commons. Cannings has introduced first reading and expects it to be debated in November. If it passes, it could become law next spring.

Cannings says mass timber is becoming a popular choice for large buildings around the world, with France having pledged to build 30 per cent of such buildings that way.

He adds the rising demand for mass timber won’t increase the overall harvest, but will allow the forest industry to get more value out of each tree.

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