moved that Bill C-55, an act to establish a board having jurisdiction concerning disputes respecting surface rights in respect of land in the Yukon territory and to amend other acts in relation thereto, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the House on Bill C-55, the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act.
My hon. colleagues are very familiar with the issues relating to Yukon, particularly to the rest of the native peoples of Yukon. The House passed legislative initiatives in June that will shape the political and economic future of the territory today. We are being asked at this time to ensure that those efforts were not in vain by putting in place the final legislative building block to allow implementation of the land claims settlement in the Yukon.
Just before the House recessed this summer we dealt with two important pieces of legislation: the Yukon First Nations Land Claims Settlement Act and the Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act.
Hon. members will recall that the first act when proclaimed into force will establish a territory wide framework for the implementation of land claim settlement agreements with each of the 14 Yukon First Nations. It will give effect to four final agreements under the framework.
The second act will give effect to the Yukon First Nations self-government agreements which are successfully negotiated. Self-government agreements have been negotiated with four First Nations for final land claims agreements: the Vuntut Gwich'in First Nation; the First Nation of Na-cho-ny'a'k-dun; the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations; and the Teslin Tlingit Council.
Those two bills were approved by Parliament. They have received royal assent and are now awaiting proclamation into force. Before that can occur however and before Yukon residents can begin to benefit from the certainty their land claims agreement will bring, the government must establish a new surface rights regime in the territory which is what we are doing today. Bill C-55 will do that.
With the new surface rights bill, Canada is delivering on its commitment set out in the land claims settlement agreements which as hon. members know were signed by the federal and territorial governments and the Council for Yukon Indians in May 1993. That is after 21 years of negotiations.
The umbrella final agreement as it was called required separate legislation to enact a new surface rights regime which is why Bill C-55 is now before the House. Separate legislation will also be required within two years to establish the Yukon development assessment act which will evaluate the environmental impact of development proposals.
It is important for the House to be mindful of the changes that are occurring in the Yukon in order to fully appreciate the need for a new surface rights regime.
Over the coming months and years large tracts of lands in the Yukon will be confirmed as lands held exclusively by individual First Nations as their final agreements are implemented. This will signal a significant change for the territory and its residents as most land is currently held by the crown. In future the Government of Canada will no longer be calling the shots or laying out the ground rules for use of land throughout Yukon. More and more crown land in Yukon will become private land owned by either Yukon First Nations or by private citizens as is the common situation in much of Canada.
Under the land claims agreement Yukon First Nations will have title to both the surface and subsurface mines and minerals on some of their settlement lands known as category A lands. On category B lands the First Nations will own the surface but the crown will retain its interest in the subsurface. However, to get at minerals below the surface, companies will require access over the surface.
As hon. colleagues know from our debate on the Land Claims Settlement Act, we anticipate that mining and petroleum companies will be eager to begin developing Yukon subsurface resources. In fact the desire to establish certainty of land
ownership and rights so that resource developments can go forward is one of the driving forces behind the land claims settlement agreement.
The government must do everything in its power to support economic development while respecting and protecting the rights and interests of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Yukoners. That means looking ahead, preparing for change and working with the various parties to ensure fair and reasonable treatment.
Years of uncertainty concerning land title in Yukon will now end with the completion of the land claim. The surface rights bill concludes the package necessary to bring the land claim agreement into effect.
The bill will require people to attempt to negotiate agreements before bringing a dispute before the board. It will also establish a process to obtain access to private and public lands that will put in place a mechanism to deal efficiently with disputes between the surface owners of the land and the owners of the subsurface resource.
The bill is important. It is procedural but it is important because without this bill the other two bills will not come into play. It is our responsibility not only to do the first two bills but to ensure that all the bills we undertook to bring in are brought before the House.
The Yukon First Nations land claims have been discussed in Yukon for over 21 years and it is going to take me another year to get all these bills through. The Council for Yukon Indians submitted its claim in 1973.
The bill in particular is the result of extensive consultations with representatives of the First Nations, the territorial government, the mining industry, including the Chamber of Mines and the Klondike Placer Miners Association.
Sometimes I think all they do in Yukon is discuss these bills. I keep referring to the same people. If they are watching on television they must be getting a chuckle out of this. Consultations have taken place for more than a year and many of these parties have been directly involved in drafting this legislation.
Under Bill C-55 the surface rights board will be given a range of powers, including the power to establish terms and conditions of access on both settlement and non-settlement land, and the power to award compensation for access and for damage resulting from that access.
There are a number of instances in which the surface rights boards might become involved in dispute resolution. For example, if a new mineral rights owner and a First Nation or surface rights holder cannot reach a negotiated agreement-and there must be an attempt at negotiation or they cannot get to the board-permitting access to the land and minerals, the operator can apply to the Yukon surface rights board for a right of entry order. In such a case the board might issue an interim access order while compensation and other issues are addressed either by the parties or by the board.
The board could also award partial compensation when issuing an interim access order. It would establish an entry fee to be paid to the Yukon First Nation on settlement land before the access order could be finalized. There could be no entry fee for access to non-settlement land.
Bill C-55 will provide that an order of the surface rights board will be enforceable through the Supreme Court of the Yukon territory. The board may review its own decisions if it believes there has been a change in the facts or circumstances.
Decisions made by the board may be appealed to the Supreme Court of Yukon on limited grounds such as bias or a lack of procedural fairness, much the same grounds that are prevalent on any board. It is a procedural appeal on bias, fairness or lack of cross-examination, those types of appeals, but not on fact finding or things of that nature. Our objective is to keep surface rights issues out of the courts as much as possible. Litigation is costly and time consuming for all parties.
Hon. members should also be aware that resolving disputes through the surface rights boards will be used only as a last resort. People will be required to attempt to negotiate agreements and possibly to seek mediation before bringing a dispute before the board.
The surface rights board is not adding another layer of government in Yukon; in fact the opposite is true. In other words, we are not creating more government; we are helping to build better government. We are ensuring that all sectors of Yukon society will have a respected voice and direct participation in the decision making process that in the past has been exercised by government alone.
This is clearly a time of change in Yukon, but change that is properly planned and managed. Bill C-55 is part of the process of managing change. I am confident that the surface rights regime will work to the benefit of all Yukoners.
It is time, as has been pointed out in the red book, that we devolve jurisdiction to Yukon. This was our commitment; this is what the Prime Minister said. There is a series of initiatives and legislation that will come before the House this fall. Hopefully within the term of this government Yukon will have all the powers that a normal province would have.
The leader of Yukon wants to proceed. I talk to him on a fairly regular basis. He really has an idea of where he wants to go. With the DIAND employees he wants to be fair. He is trying to befair with us, dealing with the federal government, even though we do not have the same political stripe. He is a very fair
leader. Within three or four years this will be done and Yukon will fulfil its destiny.
We hear so much about Yukon. We read so much about Yukon. We run Yukon from Ottawa. I do not think it is right and I do not think it is something that we want. This is one more building block to do exactly what the Prime Minister and the party said in its red book, to evolve Yukon and let it take its destiny into its own hands.
The Government of Yukon, the First Nations of Yukon, the Chamber of Commerce in Yukon and the rest of them we are consulting with on a regular basis.