October 23, 2013
Concrete and steel industries unite at Converge 2013
A coalition of Canadian building material associations held its first meeting to promote dialogue and advocate for fair procurement practices in light of expanding Wood First policies and legislation.
“While there is little chance that preference policies will arise for any construction material nationally, there continues an ongoing threat that this is being promoted and legislated at state, provincial and municipal levels,” said Martin Vroegh, chair of the Coalition for Fair Construction Practices.
“If anything our vigilance in the protection of fair and competitive markets may require more effort and collaboration, and need to rethink our strategic approaches and tactics.”
Vroegh made this comment during his opening remarks at Converge 2013, which was the first meeting of the coalition.
It was held at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver, B.C. on Oct. 16.
The meeting brought together leaders from 28 members of the coalition, which represent national and provincial industry associations, corporations and unions.
The wood industry was invited, but didn’t attend.
“We have been meeting once a month by conference call for a number of years,” said Charles Kelly, president of the B.C. Ready-Mixed Concrete Association.
“Mostly it has been intelligence gathering and reactive to the practices that wood has been engaged in with respect to preference policies and dealing with building codes.”
Kelly said a lot of frustration and anger has been built up in the industry as a result of the passing of Wood First legislation, especially in Ontario.
He said people are outraged because the science and fact-based building code process was bypassed and violated using legislation.
For example, the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association ran a full page ad in the Toronto Star, in September, with a photograph depicting the Oklahoma tornado devastation from May 20, 2013.
The attack ads criticized Wood First initiatives in B.C., Ontario and Quebec for undermining the credibility and effectiveness of building codes.
In addition, the legislation was characterized as a barrier to fair and open competition because it favours one industry over others.
For this reason, Kelly said it is critical to have Converge 2014 next year to invite the wood industry into the discussion and focus on the areas that they have in common.
“In many respects, Converge is an experiment, as we move from a single purpose lobby coalition to a broader set of purposes and a higher level of cooperation,” said Vroegh, director of environmental affairs with Orlando, Florida-based Votorantim Cement North America.
“Unfortunately, many in the wood sector, who were invited to participate today have chosen not to. Their claim is that there is a lack of trust in the coalition to support wood industry objectives.”
According to Vroegh, the coalition was established six years ago in response to a Private Members’ Bill C-429, which was an act to amend the federal Department of Public Works and Government Services Act in favour of the use of wood in Federal Public Works projects.
The Coalition for Fair Construction Practices raised public awareness and educated Members of Parliament about the dangers of implementing a bill that would take the decision making power out of the hands of qualified designers and construction experts.
Opposition to the bill was based on the argument that materials should be selected based on sound construction practices and building science, not through legislation that blindly favours one product over another.
The bill, which was brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois, was defeated in the House of Commons in December, 2010 by a vote of 101 For and 174 Against.
B.C. has led Canadian provinces in efforts to promote the use of wood with the implementation of Wood First legislation in 2009.
The Ontario Wood First Act passed second reading in April 2012, but was hung in committee when Premier Dalton McGuinty resigned on Oct.15, 2012 and obtained a prorogation of the Ontario legislature. The Quebec government announced a wood charter to promote the use of wood in construction in the province. With the charter, the government will endorse the construction of 5 to 6-storey wooden residential buildings.
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