Economic development for Northern Ontario means learning to add value to the resources we export. I have heard a Conservative candidate say that by building pipelines we add value, but this is a deep, deep misunderstanding. Pumping oil out faster is not adding value. To add value you have to do more to the resource before you ship it out.
Wood is one of the two major export products for Northern Ontario. There is a major opportunity to add value to that wood that we are passing up. Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is a building product that will be in huge demand, and we have the resource and skill needed to produce it. This is an example “low-hanging fruit” for Northern economic development.
The easy way to think about CLT is to imagine taking lots of the 2x4s we already produce, gluing them into solid slabs, and machining all the edges so they snap together like lego blocks. We have added value, so we have more jobs in Northern Ontario. We have made a relatively low value product into a premium building material, so we get more money per tree. Value added. Jobs.
CLT is an advanced building technoloogy, already produced in Europe, Quebec and BC. Ontario lags, and this not only hurts the Northern economy, it hurts the National economy. Here in Sudbury we have one of Ontario’s first experiments with CLT in the Laurentian School of Architecture. In Quebec, Nordic Structures, a construction firm, already has a beautiful 13 story condo on the drawing boards. Quebec has a more advanced building code and a better economic development strategy for its wood sector than Ontario.
CLT has been promoted by Woodworks, an initiative of the Wood Products Council, and FPInnovations, Canada’s principle research organization supporting the Canadian forest sector’s global competitiveness. This is a proven technology.
What makes CLT one of the building materials of the future? First, it is a superior building technology – fire resistant, beautiful, fast to build with. Second, it is a carbon store. Solid wood stores carbon, CLT is a nearly permanent and even reusable carbon store. Producing competing building materials – steel and concrete – releases large amounts of CO2. Concrete also requires large amounts of sand and sand is becoming a scarce commodity. Sand mining has already caused over 100 Indonesian islands to disappear.
Climate change models suggest that a great deal of our forests will be destroyed by fire and bugs. Salvaging the trees attacked by the mountain pine beetle depressed the price of lumber for years. Dimensional lumber is a crowded market, however. CLT is a growing market. We can salvage much of the forest and turn it into CLT without hurting the less advanced producers.
I have been arguing for years that Ontario should be energetically promoting CLT. I pushed to have CLT in the new Architecture building. If I were elected as the Federal representative for Sudbury I would obviously be an effective promoter for this important economic initiative.
But this is an issue for all the Northern Mayors, and all our representatives right now. They have been too busy trying to catch smaller fish. It really is time to take the blinders off and work together to create jobs for Northerners in this new industry.