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Study on Current State and Future of Forest Sector

Honourable Senators, I am pleased to rise today to add my comments to the debate on the motion to adopt the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry's second report.

As speakers before me have indicated, the committee welcomed many witnesses who represented sectors from wood chip farmers, to pulp and paper producers, to manufacturers, to economists and educators.

In the course of our deliberations, we heard both very negative forecasts and very positive perspectives. I certainly came away cautiously optimistic that, with a tremendous amount of work, our forestry sector can return to its historically prominent position in Canada's economy and in our communities.

To this end, our government has made unprecedented investments to renew Canada's forestry sector. In fact, in the last two years, our government has put more resources towards Canada's forestry sector than the previous government spent in five, and it is bringing results. For example, today there are 13,000 more jobs in the forestry sector, and we enjoy a 600 per cent increase in softwood lumber exports to China.

The Government of Canada continues to address the challenges facing the forestry sector and the workers and communities that depend on it. Budget 2011, The Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan, provides $60 million over one year to support the transformation of the forestry sector. The government is focusing on the development of new markets and emerging technologies and products that will help improve the competitiveness of Canada's forest industry.

The measures included in The Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan complement previous and ongoing federal initiatives that are helping to ensure that Canada's forest sector can continue to provide high-quality jobs. For example, the $1 billion Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program lays the groundwork for a greener sector by providing pulp and paper facilities with funding to improve their environmental performance.

The Transformative Technologies Research Program supports the development of emerging technologies. The $25 million to continue the work of the past four years was recently announced.

The $40 million Transformative Technologies Pilot Scale Demonstration Program supports the development of emerging Canadian forest products and processes.

The $100 million Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program supports the commercialization of innovative technologies that will lead to a more diversified forest sector.

However, honourable senators, I cannot resist using a well-known adage: Sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees.

Last week, Senator Robichaud raised a particularly important dimension of our study, that of education. We heard over and over again from educators, researchers, architects and engineers that there is a huge gap in instruction on the use of wood in construction at universities all across Canada. This is especially true for non-residential construction.

While in Europe the use of wood in non-residential construction is commonplace, here in Canada it is rare and cumbersome. Part of the reason lies in lack of instruction in the use of wood at the university level. Part of the reason can be traced to building code restrictions, and another part of the reason is a direct result of prejudices and myths concerning wood held by the public.

The reality is that in Canada, building codes lag behind the times and the trends. Often authorities must be forced, kicking and screaming, into recognizing new building methods and materials that have long become routine in other jurisdictions. Add to that the fact that there are multiple tiers of building codes — one federal, twelve provincial and territorial, and thousands of municipal codes — so changing a code can require a Herculean effort.

One obvious way to resolve this problem in Canada is to foster a wood culture that promotes the use of wood and makes it attractive as a non-residential building material. This, in turn, would encourage the building industry to demand more flexibility in building codes that would permit such construction.

As the report points out, to successfully establish a true wood culture, the Canadian forest industry must address public doubts about the "tree killer" syndrome weighing on the industry. The industry must sweep away fears about the fire resistance of manufactured wood products and their inaccessibility to the general public.

Sadly, in an odd way, wood is one of Canada's best-kept secrets. Wood is a smart choice. Wood is a renewable and sustainable resource. The advantages of wood make it a very attractive construction material. Its characteristics from the standpoints of environment, physical resistance, versatility, fire resistance, aesthetic appeal, insulation capability and economic value are astounding. For example, did you know that one room built from wood sequesters an entire year's worth of carbon emissions from the family car? Therefore, the obvious place to start is in academe.

During the course of the study, I was surprised to learn that wood does not receive a lot of curriculum hours in schools of engineering, architecture and design. However, the fault is not all with universities. The concrete, steel and iron industries target university students with information campaigns about their materials. They hold special seminars on the use of their materials in construction. They actively promote their products and highlight improvements and new applications in the industry. Very little of this is done by wood manufacturers. There are no promotions, no seminars and no information campaigns.

It is for this reason that I support the introduction of multidisciplinary research chairs in the design and construction of wood buildings across the country. Once established, these chairs would attract national and international experts in the field who would widely disseminate their research findings.

However, as our report stresses, to truly develop a wood culture in the Canadian academic community, expertise in the construction of wood buildings must be developed outside forestry faculties.

Just two weeks ago, on November 3, the 11th Annual Wood WORKS! Awards were handed out a mere block from here at the new Ottawa Convention Centre. The vision of Wood WORKS! is to have a wood culture in Canada where wood is our first choice and best valued building material for all types of construction. Wood WORKS! is a national campaign to increase the use of wood in commercial, industrial and institutional construction. The Canadian Wood Council leads this program with funding support from the wood industry, the federal government and provincial governments across Canada. The forest sector enriches the economy of many regions in Canada. That is why this government has made unprecedented investments to renew Canada's forestry sector. In fact, in the last two years, our government has put more resources towards Canada's forestry sector than the previous government spent in five years.

Honourable senators, I am a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and I am very proud of the report before you. The study we undertook on the current state and future of the forestry sector in Canada was necessary and turned out to be fascinating. I encourage you to join me in supporting this important contribution to the debate on emerging issues in Canada's forestry sector.