House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was yukon.

Topics

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

December 3rd, 2001 / 12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Devillers Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-37, the claim settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) implementation act. I am pleased to be presenting this legislation for a third and final reading.

I want to begin by thanking hon. members for supporting Bill C-37 at second reading, when members from all parties spoke in favour of the legislation. I also want to thank the standing committee for its thorough examination of Bill C-37.

First nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, with the full support of the government, want to move forward. It is time to fulfill Canada's treaty land entitlement commitments and implement specific claim settlements agreements in these two provinces.

Bill C-37 would facilitate this process by expediting the acquisition and transfer of lands to reserve status in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

As hon. members will recall, we currently have a backlog of about a million hectares, or two million acres, of land that has yet to be added to reserves as a result of claim settlements in these two provinces, and even more commitments are expected in the future.

Members will have realized that this bill deals mainly with administrative matters. Nevertheless, it will bring changes which we expect will yield important improvements in the implementation of claim settlements.

For example, the existing additions to reserves process simply was not designed to accommodate such a volume of work in an expedient or efficient manner.

In addition, today many of the lands first nations are selecting to add to their reserves have third party interests, such as leases or mineral rights, that need to be addressed.

Although a number of mechanisms exist in federal law for accommodating third party interests, these are not currently available for the purposes of adding lands to reserves.

Changes are needed, progressive changes that will allow the government to meet its commitments to first nations people, as we promised to do in “Gathering Strength”, our response to the royal commission on aboriginal peoples, and in the recent Speech from the Throne.

Changes are needed that will allow us to get the job done quicker, while respecting the rights of everyone involved and providing new opportunities for first nations to build their economies and create jobs in their communities.

Bill C-37 passes the test on all accounts. It would protect and even enhance the rights of other parties. It would speed up the process for first nations and give them access to a broader range of lands that have existing commercial interests and development potential.

I would like to quickly review the key elements of the bill so that hon. members can appreciate what we are trying to do and why they should support the government and first nations in this process.

First, Bill C-37 would empower the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to grant reserve status to lands that are selected by Alberta and Saskatchewan first nations under claim settlements. This would replace the current process of obtaining an order in council. We expect this change will shorten the time needed to approve additions to reserves which in turn would allow any economic benefits associated with the lands to be realized more quickly by the first nations. More importantly however, Bill C-37 would streamline the process for dealing with third party interests in lands selected for additions to reserves under claim settlements.

This will be achieved by giving first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan pre-reserve designation and permit granting powers that will allow them to agree to continue an existing third party interest or to negotiate a new one in selected lands before the lands become part of a reserve, and even before the lands are purchased.

Under the existing process, any such interests must either be bought out or otherwise accommodated before the land can be transferred to Canada and granted reserve status.

As I noted a moment ago, this improved pre-reserve designation power will give first nations access to a broader range of lands that have development interests or potential. Because these lands can be selected and acquired more quickly, any third party interests associated with them will contribute sooner to economic and social progress in the community.

First nations will not be the only ones to win from these new mechanisms. All concerned parties, including private sector developers, landowners and people, companies or institutions who hold interests in land in Alberta and Saskatchewan, will benefit from the higher level of certainty that will result from Bill C-37.

For example, the proposed legislation would provide businesses and investors in Alberta and Saskatchewan with certainty of tenure for any third party interest they might hold in lands to be added to a reserve. It would also provide the certainty, stability and predictability first nations and businesses need to negotiate new commercial arrangements and economic development partnerships.

Facilitating the transfer of lands to reserve status is the main object of Bill C-37, but I want to remind hon. members that the legislation also proposes to amend the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act of 1993. In the case of the Manitoba bill the amendments would make minor language improvements to ensure its consistency with Bill C-37.

Hon. members will recall that part 2 of the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act already has put the new regime in place for claim settlements in that province. In fact it served as a model for the legislation currently before the House. The changes to the Saskatchewan legislation are more substantive but their purpose is equally straightforward.

Clause 12 would confirm in law any release of the province of Saskatchewan from its obligations under the natural resources transfer agreement of 1930 to provide unoccupied crown lands when that obligation otherwise has been met as part of a treaty land entitlement settlement negotiated since 1993 or in the future. As well, clause 13 would establish clear rules for determining whether the pre-designation power provided in Bill C-37 or a similar power in the Saskatchewan legislation applies in different circumstances.

I am pleased that Bill C-37 has enjoyed the support of all parties because the legislation demonstrates real progress in fulfilling Canada's historical obligations to first nations people.

Let me remind hon. members that some of the treaty land entitlement settlements that will be facilitated by this legislation resolve grievances that go back more than a century.

At long last, more than 30 first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan will receive land that was promised when their forefathers signed treaties with the crown, but that was never fully delivered, lands that will meet their needs today and in the future.

I am especially pleased for the Alexander First Nation and the Loon River Cree First Nation in Alberta, whose treaty land entitlement settlement agreements included commitments by Canada to recommend legislation to streamline the additions to reserves process.

I am also pleased for those first nations whose specific claim settlement agreements will be facilitated by Bill C-37. Looking to the future, these provisions will be available for all future claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan that involve additions to reserves.

In other words, what we are putting in place here is not a short term fix, but a long term solution to assist a process that could be ongoing for many years, as more claim settlements are negotiated by Canada. As we gain experience with this new process it may serve as a model for the entire country.

I am pleased with the flexibility that is inherent in Bill C-37. While I believe this new approach would be a great improvement over the existing additions to reserve process, it may be that some first nations will not agree. Bill C-37 would therefore give them the option of either electing to adopt these mechanisms or to continue under the current process.

As hon. members were advised during second reading debate, the opt in decision would apply only on a settlement by settlement basis. In other words, any first nation that has both a specific claim settlement and a treaty land entitlement settlement must make a separate election for each settlement agreement and it would be free to make a different election in each case.

Whatever choice they make, I can assure hon. members that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will continue to work closely with first nations to fulfill any commitments to expand reserves.

Consistent with our government's approach to doing business, Bill C-37 was developed in close consultation with the affected stakeholders. First nations and treaty organizations in both provinces were consulted and have endorsed the approach set out in Bill C-37, including the Alexander First Nation and the Loon River Cree First Nation.

The proposed amendments to the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and to the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act have also been endorsed by the affected parties. Bill C-37 also has the full support of the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Clearly this is good legislation that would improve Canada's relationship with first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Just as important, it would strengthen the capacity of first nations governments to make decisions about their lands and communities and allow them to more effectively pursue economic development opportunities.

Bill C-37 also meets the needs of other parties who have an interest in lands in those two provinces. This is a win-win bill for all who will be affected by it. With that in mind, I invite hon. members on both sides of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-37.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me today to rise to debate Bill C-37, the Alberta and Saskatchewan claims act. The official opposition, the Canadian Alliance, recognizes the need for the legislation and therefore will be supporting the bill.

Let me take just a moment to discuss and summarize the intention and purpose of the bill. The bill's summary describes the act as a mechanism:

—to facilitate the implementation of those provisions of first nations' claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan that relate to the creation of reserves or the addition of lands to existing reserves. The new Act empowers the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to set land apart as a reserve, and allows for the accommodation of third-party rights and interests in that land during the process of setting it apart as a reserve.

In short, the bill rightly addresses aspects of legitimate treaties that have not yet been fulfilled in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Where these errors and omissions have occurred over the years, for whatever reason, all the parties need to move quickly and efficiently in an effort to bring prompt resolution to them.

I want to categorically state that we in the Canadian Alliance believe that all treaty obligations should be met and that it is a moral imperative that we do so. Members in this party believe in honouring treaties.

I would like to note that during both the departmental briefings to the Canadian Alliance and the departmental presentations to the standing committee, the question as to why the bill was necessary was brought up. I found it interesting that the consistent answer to that question was that the current system was both cumbersome and unable to contend with the backlog of approvals.

Currently the governor in council must approve all reserve additions. The process is a cumbersome, four step process and at times it seems the approval process is longer even than the negotiation process itself, which boggles the mind. However, those of us who have been around the bureaucracy long enough know very well that these things can certainly take place.

We therefore know that the bill is intended to speed up the implementation process of additional reserve lands under the treaty land entitlement, or TLE, program in both Alberta and Saskatchewan.

I am pleased that Bill C-37 addresses the previous concerns that have been brought forward by third party interests. In the past, third party interests have been a major stumbling block to proceeding with the settlement of outstanding treaty land entitlements. Under the bill, third party interests may choose to opt into the regulations introduced through Bill C-37 or they may choose to continue with the old method. It is anticipated that the majority, if not all, will choose to opt in.

I would encourage the government to move quickly and decisively in the settlement of the remaining treaty land entitlement claims in Alberta and Saskatchewan. To procrastinate further serves no positive purpose for anyone. To continue the slow, grinding process is financially costly to all the parties and certainly provides no economic certainty to the aboriginal community or to the non-native population either.

We know that only too well in British Columbia and in the region which I serve as member of parliament where uncertainty in the treaty process has led to a great loss of investment in the province and is certainly one of the factors in our near recession like conditions in B.C. these days. These things must change and I believe Bill C-37 would bring us along the road to positive change in this regard.

One of the biggest questions I had going into the committee discussions surrounding the bill was the position that the respective provincial government had. I was pleased to hear that the provincial governments have been actively involved in the consultation and draft development of the bill and therefore feel that their previous concerns have been met.

The government official from the province of Alberta, for instance, mentioned that the bill was long overdue. It is something for which officials in the province of Alberta have been asking for a long time. Now that we have it I know they are very pleased.

They also made the observation that although negotiations are often long and drawn out, the waiting time for the governor in council to rubber stamp and finalize the agreement is often even longer. That has led to a detrimental situation in that province.

While I do not generally relish the thought of adding more powers to any of the ministers of the crown, I am supportive of any move that would reduce the waiting time due to an unacceptable bureaucracy. The Canadian Alliance endorses any move to minimize government interference in the daily lives of Canadians. Therefore, the bill is in keeping with our current policy.

The Canadian Alliance also recognizes the legitimacy of signed treaties as legally binding agreements and therefore we believe all obligations must be met under these treaties. In the cases where obligations have not been met, then our party will support the efforts to resolve them as quickly as possible.

The slow process of government bureaucracy should not stand in the way of settling these land claim submissions and therefore we support the bill.

Although it is not exclusively an economic bill, we again want to say that we believe the bill would assist some bands to realize economic opportunities in a more timely manner. The recognition of third party interests under the bill is key in order to achieve it.

I believe we must proceed quickly and ensure that bands are able to achieve those kinds of results within their own sphere of influence, not at a cost to others but in a fair and open market. Bands and band members must be given equal opportunity to achieve economic prosperity just like all other Canadians across this great land.

In conclusion, the Canadian Alliance will be supporting the bill. We are very glad it has been brought to the House.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address Bill C-37 in the spirit of co-operation that the Bloc Quebecois always displays when the bills proposed are good measures and, more importantly, in a spirit of friendship, since Quebec sovereignists are allies of the various aboriginal nations.

It is in a spirit of help, support and friendship that the Bloc Quebecois takes a stand on all aboriginal issues. We often offer our assistance to them, always in a spirit of co-operation between nations.

Bill C-37 before us today is intended to facilitate the implementation of territorial agreements reached between the federal government and the first nations.

As we saw in committee with the speeches that were made, the bill is very technical. In fact, this is in stark contrast with the approach which the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development seemed to have adopted and which generated controversy every time he wanted to introduce a new government measure, as was the case, for instance, with the governance bill.

Incidentally, it is unfortunate for the minister that this attitude impacts negatively on the federal government's relations with first nations. One example is, of course, the rather drastic and unacceptable cuts imposed on the Assembly of First Nations by the federal government.

Such decisions and actions will not help improve relations between the federal government and first nations, and this is very unfortunate for all Quebecers, Canadians and first nations.

In fact, there are even rumours on the other side of the House and in the newspapers that the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development may lose his job during the next cabinet shuffle. It sure must be difficult to work with this dangling over one's head.

But let us not get distracted by the internal problems of the Liberal Party. Let us get back to Bill C-37.

The Bloc Quebecois is proud to contribute to the quick passage of this legislation since it includes constructive measures for first nations.

The Bloc Quebecois' position on the study of this bill is entirely consistent with our party's position on the right of first nations to self-government.

Incidentally, I am sorry that the federal government left aside the political framework suggested in the Erasmus-Dussault Commission report and that it is using different mechanisms, a piecemeal approach, when a clearly defined path has been laid out, a path that we as well as a majority of stakeholders in the aboriginal community and others support.

The Bloc Quebecois has demonstrated that we are open to first nations and we have also demonstrated our sincere concern for them on numerous occasions.

Bill C-37 implements land claims agreements which are the result of long and often difficult negotiations for increased self-government and accountability for first nations.

It is important to remember that this legislative measure applies exclusively to the result of negotiations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Similar legislation was passed approximately one year ago for Manitoba.

Bill C-37 will considerably reduce the time required to grant the lands negotiated real reserve status. Aboriginal people in these areas will be able to use this legislation to accelerate the land transfer process.

This is a key element of the notion of self-government, as it will allow first nations to benefit sooner from the natural resources on their lands. Their economic space will be strengthened, and everything seems to indicate that the legislation will have a positive effect on these communities.

I could go on for much longer, but in order to be brief, in conclusion, I reiterate that the Bloc Quebecois will support Bill C-37. We invite our colleagues from all political parties to do likewise.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Montion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-39, an act to replace the Yukon Act in order to modernize it and to implement certain provisions of the Yukon Northern Affairs Program Devolution Transfer Agreement, and to repeal and make amendments to other acts, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Yukon Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Yukon Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Yukon Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, Yukoners stand today on the threshold of a dream that many have had for decades, the possibility that northerners would be able to make their own decisions on their own land in the north. With the freedom to make those decisions comes a responsibility for us to be wise stewards of our magnificent land for future generations.

It is very gratifying to stand before the House today to advance Bill C-39 at third reading surrounded by hon. members from all over the country who clearly recognize its merits. As pleased as I was by the positive response to the legislation received from all parties at second reading, I was even more delighted by the tremendous reception the revised Yukon Act received when it went to committee. It was most rewarding to have earned the unanimous approval of committee members present and to experience the tremendous spirit of co-operation and support for Yukon from all parties in the House.

I want to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources and all my hon. colleagues for their strong support and valuable insight as this bill has worked its way through this place. This legislation is a testament of what we can achieve together when we work in partnership.

I would like to thank the minister for all the time and effort he has given to Yukoners, especially for land claims and for the devolution transfer agreement. I also thank him for allowing me this historic opportunity to present the bill both at second reading and at third reading, speeches the minister would normally give. I reserve my greatest praise for the people of Yukon, whose patience, hard work and persistence for years in pursuit of a fair deal for territorial residents have resulted in this historic legislation.

One of the strengths of this devolution initiative and Yukon Act is that at the beginning of the process several years ago, the time was taken to ask the people of Yukon what they wanted. In fact, one of the most persuasive arguments for supporting this legislation is that the modernized Yukon Act and the devolution transfer agreement that underlies it are the result of several years of extensive negotiations. Yukoners have outlined their expectations, something which has made this initiative even stronger.

The premier of Yukon told members at committee “We appreciated the opportunity to participate in this process and despite the occasional frustrations on either side, the final text is all the better for this collaboration”.

We have worked closely with our partners in Yukon to make sure that we would address the needs and interests of various parties and to ensure that the act truly represented local priorities. We recognize that people at the grassroots level are far closer to both the challenges and solutions so we attempted to reflect their ideas in this legislation which affects their lives and their livelihoods.

Before we began drafting the bill, the Yukon government carried out extensive public consultations in Yukon. Based on the input gained from these consultations, it made a number of recommendations. The bill in front of us is based upon this body of knowledge. Successive drafts of this bill were discussed with representatives of the territorial government and the first nations through the years 2000 and 2001.

During the negotiation process on both the transfer agreement and the bill, these representatives in turn provided progress reports to their constituents. The draft bill was also shared with the Gwich'in Tribal Council and the Inuvialuit Regional Council, as both organizations represent first nations which have signed land claims and have interests in Yukon.

Public opinion polling conducted by Ekos in April 2001 confirms that a large majority of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents support the transfer of specific authorities from the federal government to northern governments.

This is one of a number of devolutions of provincial-like powers to the Yukon territorial government that have occurred over the years. As in any such transfer, there will always be those who wish it went faster or slower, with more powers or fewer powers. About half a dozen individuals or groups have approached me in Ottawa with such suggestions.

Most of these suggestions, such as the fact that several first nations would have preferred to have their land claims completed before devolution, were noted during second reading and/or in the premier's comments before committee. I will review some of these points.

One individual brought forward the following suggestions: finalizing the offshore boundary in the Beaufort Sea, transferring title to all public lands, ensuring more clarity of the commissioner's role after 10 years and providing more consultation.

One first nation that would have preferred its land claims to be settled first is the Kaska band. It has elaborated on this with several points.

First, it does not believe the package before parliament is consistent with the agreement between it and the territorial government concerning devolution.

Second, it believes the agreements provide that devolution would not apply to traditional Kaska territory in Yukon without the band's consent in the event devolution is completed before its claim is completed.

Third, it believes the Yukon government has not provided safeguards for the protocol of lands and resources in the traditional territory for Yukon first nations and transboundary claimant groups.

Fourth, it believes that because of the Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory order of 1870 the Government of Canada cannot transfer responsibility before a Kaska claim is settled over lands in traditional Kaska territory without upholding its fiduciary responsibility to protect Kaska interests.

Finally, the Kaska band feels that in conjunction with the Yukon government's involvement in transboundary claims as defined in the umbrella final agreement it would be much harder to obtain a fair settlement of its land claim.

The French community would like to ensure it is acknowledged and its rights are protected. One day perhaps the federal government could provide a stronger acknowledgement and recognition of the municipal order of government in Canada.

We are working with first nations and the Yukon government to settle outstanding land claims as a matter of highest priority. Moreover, due to the types of concerns I have outlined, the devolution transfer agreement contains measures to protect Yukon first nations who have not yet completed land claims agreements. There are numerous safeguards and conditions to ensure the rights of first nations would not in any way be compromised.

First nations would directly benefit from the package being considered today. While first nation interests are reflected in numerous provisions in the transfer agreement and the bill, among the most significant accomplishments of the initiative is its commitment to closer co-operation and enhanced communication between the Yukon government and first nations. The initiative would strengthen intergovernmental relationships in Yukon.

Decisions about sustainable development that are made in Whitehorse instead of Ottawa would invariably be more sensitive and responsive to the concerns and priorities of different groups of Yukoners. Minority populations in the territory would have their interests safeguarded under the legislation.

For example, Bill C-39 upholds the protection of minority linguistic rights in the Yukon. The Yukon government recognizes its obligation to provide communications in both of Canada's official languages.

According to the devolution transfer agreement, after the transfer, service delivery in both official languages of Canada must satisfy the criteria set out in the Official Languages Act.

The Yukon government has made a commitment to incorporate the standards of service consistent with the Official Languages Act into territorial legislation governing lands and resources management programs.

The legislation would be a fair deal for all affected federal employees. Under the terms of the devolution transfer agreement each of the affected 240 federal employees working for the northern affairs program in Yukon would receive an offer of employment from the Yukon government no later than six months prior to the date of devolution.

The offer would be for a position whose duties and responsibilities match as closely as possible those of the person's federal position. The salary of any federal staff member who accepted a position with the Yukon government would be equal to the employee's base federal salary plus the environmental allowance and cost of living allowance components of the federal isolated post allowance.

The terms and conditions set out in the devolution transfer agreement not only meet but in some cases exceed the requirements of the alternative service delivery type 2 transfer the federal government negotiated with federal employee unions.

While the initiative has carefully balanced the rights and interests of stakeholders, what is most exciting about it are the unprecedented opportunities it would create for Yukoners.

Once approved by parliament, Bill C-39 would transfer significant new lawmaking powers to the Yukon legislature. It would transfer to the Yukon government land and resource management in the territory including forests, mines, minerals and water rights. This would give Yukoners real decision making authority over matters fundamental to the well-being of the territory. This long awaited development is welcomed by a majority of Yukon residents.

After devolution takes effect on April 1, 2003, the Yukon government will have the necessary financial resources to carry out the work. It will receive the funds currently utilized by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to carry out the responsibilities plus significant one time funding to ensure a smooth transition.

In addition, the agreement would ensure the territorial government received a net fiscal benefit from the new resource revenues it would collect. The Yukon government would be able to keep the first $3 million raised from resource revenues with no impact on the territory's formula financing grant. These revenues would be over and above the proceeds the territorial government already receives from an earlier agreement on oil and gas.

Bill C-39 acknowledges that the Yukon government has taken on increasing levels of responsibility and proven its capacity to administer territorial affairs. The bill recognizes that there is responsible government in Yukon and that it has a system of government similar in principle to that of Canada.

Bill C-39 would place resource management decision making in the hands of northerners, the people most knowledgeable about local conditions and most affected by the consequences of those decisions. These powers would rest where they rightfully belong.

This is in keeping with our government's conviction that the key to building strong, prosperous communities is to foster local solutions to local challenges. It is equally a reflection of our government's commitment to renewed federalism.

We have before us a progressive and necessary piece of legislation that deserves the House's endorsement. It is progressive for Yukoners and all Canadians. There is widespread support for the agreement. The changes before us have been long in the making and are long overdue.

I hope I can count on the support of my hon. colleagues to help us move the legislation through to the Senate for final approval. We can then contribute to our common objective of building a more self-sufficient and prosperous Yukon that can make an even stronger contribution to our great Canadian federation.

Yukon Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to rise to speak to Bill C-39, an act to replace the Yukon Act. I am pleased to state that, after careful consideration and listening to the debate and the principal stakeholders who would be affected by the bill, the Canadian Alliance will be supporting this piece of legislation.

I applaud my hon. colleague from Yukon who in his first term of office has done the work of an MP to help steer the bill through the House of Commons. He has been a strong advocate for his people. Regardless of party affiliation it is important that all of us as members of the House model what it means to be a good MP. It only increases the respect Canadians have for us as MPs.

If I might digress for a moment, for far too long in Canada we have been in confrontational situations in the House that have not always led to the betterment of Confederation. Some of us are now learning that we need to be far more consultative and listen far more to each other so we can do the work for Canadians that needs to be done. I applaud the member for Yukon for modelling that in this situation.

The principle of devolution of power to the Yukon territory is one the Canadian Alliance has long supported. Early in the debate I stated that we had questions and concerns which required answers from the minister, departmental officials and, most important, representatives from Yukon.

I am pleased the devolution transfer agreement has been agreed to by the Yukon government, the first nations of Yukon and the federal government. This is the key to a successful transfer of power from the federal government to a territorial government. The devolution agreement is consistent with the longstanding objective of past governments to transfer provincial types of programs and responsibilities to territorial governments.

I had another concern. I wanted to be assured that with the transfer of responsibilities to the Yukon government the appropriate authority and accountability would be transferred.

One of the problems we have had in Confederation, whether at the time of the formation of the country or later in our history, is that once authority has been passed on to provincial governments there is often a temptation for the federal government to keep meddling and keep its finger on things.

If our Confederation is to work we must have a clear definition of responsibilities between provincial and federal governments. We ought to allow each other to take responsibility to do the jobs we have been given under the constitution.

Upon listening to officials from both levels of government I am confident this has taken place in the Yukon agreement. It would not be in the best interests of the federal government to withhold authority from the Yukon government because it is the one that is closest to the people of Yukon.

After meeting with and listening to elected and departmental officials I am confident the tripartite agreement signed by the Yukon government, the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Canadian government would adhere to the principles of responsible government. I was pleased to hear Yukon Premier Pat Duncan refer specifically to this in our private meetings with her and at the standing committee hearings.

Simply put, responsible governments must first reflect the people to whom they are responsible. They are and must be responsible to those whom they govern. Under the bill these would be the citizens of Yukon, Yukon first nations and Canada respectively. The citizens of these three jurisdictions are the voters and taxpayers for each of these levels of government. Without the respect of citizens, governments have no jurisdiction or authority.

Accountability must be the primary issue for a responsible government. Accountability may be discerned in many ways, including financially and electorally. For a government to be accountable to the people it must be transparent. The decision making process must be clear for all to see and follow.

This does not mean everyone will like the final decisions. It means that the way we arrive at decisions will be clearly seen and the process clearly understood.

I believe that all hon. members in the House know that many of the decisions we face are difficult ones and not easily understood by the general population. Canadians need to know we have taken sufficient time to study the issues and allowed input so that the results of our deliberations may be lasting and have the desired good effect upon the population.

This is a large bill and I do not mean that in the physical sense. It is a long and complicated bill. I joked with the member for Yukon at the Vancouver airport yesterday that he loves the legislation and carries it under his arm wherever he goes. It is a large and important bill. It would have an effect on every person living in Yukon. It would affect the employees of the northern affairs program and the Yukon government.

I was pleased to hear of the discussions and negotiations between the respective governments and their employee union representatives. I hope the employee transition will be a smooth one.

There are many positive aspects to the bill. I am pleased the powers granted under the bill would resemble provincial powers as outlined in the Canadian constitution. I can think of nothing better than to work toward the independence of Yukon as a province in due time. It would be wonderful for us to gather again in the Chamber at some future date and pass legislation that would bring Yukon and other northern territories into this great Confederation as full partners, as provinces. That would be a great day.

I am pleased the devolution of power under the bill would cause the cessation of operations of the northern affairs program in Yukon. The Canadian Alliance believes that over time the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development should take on a substantial reduction, perhaps even be phased out, as we move toward giving independence in many matters to our native peoples. This move in Yukon is a promising first step toward that.

Furthermore, the bill specifies that the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development would consult with the executive council with respect to proposed amendments in the future. This is all good and well because it shows the depth of co-operation for which the levels of government are wishing.

I am particularly pleased to see that there is a goal to settle all Yukon land claims before the devolution of power to the Yukon government is implemented. There is a need to move these settlements and their negotiations along quickly as the current plan is to implement the new Yukon bill by April 1, 2003. There would be sufficient time to reach this goal but negotiations should not be delayed by any party.

I encourage all parties involved to actively pursue this goal while keeping in mind the need to reach a settlement that is affordable, achieves finality and meets the needs of all parties and their respective citizens.

I note that all members of the standing committee had correspondences from the Kaska first nation. We duly noted its concerns in committee. I feel certain that the current process, timeline and the bill itself would allow it sufficient opportunity to successfully negotiate its land claim and be heard when the bill is presented in the Senate.

In our meetings with Premier Duncan of Yukon we expressed our party's support for the bill. In turn I was pleased to hear that the Yukon government was also fully supportive. The concerns and questions the Canadian Alliance had with regard to the bill were addressed to our satisfaction. While there is always room for interpretation, my party will continue to watch over the implementation process.

The bill is a positive step forward. It gives me a great deal of pleasure on behalf of the official opposition to say that we will be supporting the bill. We look forward to Yukon, with the great hope it has for our northern areas, taking its place as a full and equal partner in the Confederation of this great country that we all love.

Yukon Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise at third reading of Bill C-39 on the revision of the Yukon Act.

I would like to take a moment to highlight the work done by the member for Yukon, who has always co-operated and listened to what we have to say. He truly is an advocate for the people of his riding, his territory. I think he deserves to be commended by the members of the House. He also deserves congratulations from his constituents when he returns to his riding next weekend.

The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources had the opportunity to hear from a number of witnesses during its hearings on Bill C-39. We had the privilege of hearing from the Hon. Pat Duncan, the premier of Yukon, who made a special trip from Whitehorse to share with us the positive impact this bill would have on the administration of her territory.

The Bloc Quebecois and I believe that this legislation could loosen the grip that this paternalist federal government has on aboriginal communities and the people of Canada's territories: Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

The main focus of Bill C-39 is to modernize the political and democratic institutions of the Yukon Territory. However, the bill does not make Yukon a province, as its constitutional status will in no way be changed with the passage of Bill C-39.

The bill replaces the current Yukon Act, by, among other things, recognizing the existence of a system of responsible government in Yukon. The bill goes on to change the name of certain public institutions in keeping with current usage and also gives the legislature of Yukon additional legislative jurisdiction over public real property and waters.

Thus the bill changes the word council and calls the legislative branch of Yukon the legislative assembly of Yukon. The commissioner in council becomes the legislature of Yukon and the ordinances become the laws of the legislature.

However, as the current Yukon Act provides, the Auditor General of Canada will remain the auditor of the Yukon government, although the Yukon government will be able to appoint its own independent auditor.

The enactment also includes a preamble stating that Yukon has a system of responsible government that is similar to that of Canada. It also establishes and clarifies the relationship between the commissioner and the executive council. As Yukon does not enjoy the same constitutional status as the provinces, a musty holdover in Canada, the commissioner of Yukon, appointed by the federal government, will retain his executive duties as representative, consistent with the current conventions of government.

As I mentioned at the start of my remarks, this bill will permit the modernization of the deplorable regime, which might be called colonial, of the Canadian territories not enjoying provincial status. We consider it a step in the right direction in decentralizing the powers of the federal government in the day to day administration of communities that are so distant from Ottawa and whose legitimate aspirations are at the mercy of the failing political leadership of the federal government.

Finally, as this bill appears to reflect the desire and wishes of the government and people of Yukon, the Bloc Quebecois will not oppose its passage at third reading.