Too friendly?

When the government announced it wanted to build taller wood-frame buildings, it released a report that supposedly examined their seismic and fire safety issues. But even supporters of that controversial initiative thought the report read more like a sales pitch than a scientific paper, according to records exclusively obtained by Public Eye. In an email sent to government in July 3, 2008, an industry advisor with a non-profit wood research institute described the report as a "nicely done literature review." But she cautioned it was "quite 'friendly' to wood, which may cause a negative reaction by steel and concrete interest groups, who stand to lose if this code change is implemented."

And that's exactly what happened.

In a letter dated 14 days later, the Canadian Steel Construction Council slammed the report for "being written in a marketing style format." For example, "the author makes a range of statements using phrases like 'mounting evidence' or 'built faster' and words like 'exceed' to convince the reader that it is technically feasible to go higher with wood frame construction."

But, more seriously, the council warned the report lacked "objectivity and credible assessment of the risks involved" in building five and six-storey wood-frames"

The Cement Association of Canada had similar concerns. It questioned the credibility of a source cited in the report. And, according the association, "the lack of reference to the strength and weaknesses of other construction materials relative to wood leaves an unfortunate impression of bias in the paper."

But despite those concerns - as well as opposition from fire fighting officials - the Campbell administration went ahead and allowed construction of taller wood-frames earlier this year. The government has maintained those buildings are safe.

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