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Building with Wood: Northern Ontario Has to Get into the Game

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On June 24th the Globe and Mail ran a puffy story about the overseas market for Canadian wood. It pointed out – as I have been pointing out for years – that there is a growing Asian market for Canadian construction materials. So why am I upset as a Northerner? Because we are missing the boat.global-wood00sr3

The line in the story by Kat Siniuk that I found especially painful was “Canada has become an expert in engineered wood products like cross-laminated timber.”

This is an exaggeration. Even noting that Quebec and BC have cross-laminated timber plants isn’t strong evidence that we are experts. More significant, Ontario does not have a single cross laminated timber plant. The Government of Ontario has failed profoundly to come up with a plan to shift northern production toward the newer and higher value-added products that are now demanded in China and India.

“The root of Canada’s rise to prominence as a leader in wood construction can be traced back to April 2009, when British Columbia became the first province to amend the provincial building code to allow for six-story midrise wood construction. Ontario followed,” wrote Seiniuk.

“Followed” is the right word. Bill 13, the Ontario Forestry Industry Revitalization Act, (Height of Wood Frame Buildings) was passed in 2013. The amendment simply says “The building code shall not prohibit a building that is six storeys or less in building height from being of wood frame construction.” While other provinces are aggressively pursuing advanced wood engineering, Ontario was dithering about whether to allow wood to be used in mid-high buildings. The bill was put forward by North Bay’s Vic Fedeli, by the way. Meanwhile Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture has submitted a proposal for a 35 story wood high-rise in Paris.

Peter Moonen, the national sustainability manager at the Canadian Wood Council has pointed out (a bit ungrammatically) that, “By being the first and best users of our own product, it really enhances our ability to sell it outside the province.” That one line explains in part why Ontario’s forest sector is lagging. Instead of insisting public building feature wood and use it in creative ways, Ontario has barely removed some of the out-of date restrictions. Ontario still has a building code that is bad for the North.

So here are two planks in The Northern Green Economic Development Strategy:

# Northern Greens encourage municipal governments and first nations in the North to insist that construction of public buildings use wood and engineered wood wherever possible.

# Northern Greens will work to expand the engineered wood sector in Ontario and especially to develop a cross-laminated timber industry in the province in order to add value, create jobs and position the North to be a major supplier to the growing market aborad for Canadian engineered wood.



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