Mr. Speaker, it gives me no pleasure to rise in the House today to oppose Bill C-55.
The bill is the handmaiden of Bills C-33 and C-34, two pieces of legislation debated before the summer recess and passed despite the serious objections of many well-informed Canadians, including the opposition of the Reform caucus.
I am told that Bills C-33 and C-34 cannot take effect until we pass Bill C-55. I would like to be able to support all three pieces of legislation because I support the progress of native Canadians toward taking full responsibility for themselves and for their future. Unfortunately a number of concerns with this bill prevent my supporting it.
However, I wish to mention some positive aspects. First, given transportation problems in the north for so much of the year, I applaud the bill's provision that board members can attend their meetings by telephone.
Second, I was also pleased to see that this board can only intervene on matters brought to it by others and cannot just insert itself willy-nilly into negotiations which the parties are settling on their own.
Third, because delay of rulings can cause real hardship, especially due to the very short work seasons for mineral exploration and development north of 60, I was especially pleased to read section 27 which states:
An application before the board shall be dealt with as informally and expeditiously as the circumstances and considerations of fairness permit.
Fourth, faced with the probable administration nightmare generated by Bills C-33 and C-34, at least the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development consulted widely and publicly among the many affected groups and general public of Yukon as to how the expected conflicts of interest ought best to be resolved through new legislation in Bill C-55.
It is my understanding that 16 months ago some 11 interest groups were sent draft copies of the proposed legislation including the Yukon Chamber of Mines, the Klondike Placer Miners Association, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and two groups representing Yukon trappers and outfitters. Coupled with advertising in area newspapers, the government apparently has made a sincere effort to bring all parties immediately concerned into the discussions, a praiseworthy method of proceeding.
However, I also believe it is my responsibility in opposition to point out the shortcomings of these pieces of legislation and my firm belief that no native group should be granted self-government rights greater than those of municipal type governments. The very amount of land to be covered by Bill C-55 together with certain riches of natural resources involved makes the subject far too large for municipal type administration
It is my hope that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will listen and improve the process of dealing with what will be among the most long lasting and consequential actions of Canadian federal government for all time. I say for all time because these land claim settlements and dispute settling mechanisms will no doubt set precedent for the entire process of settling native land claims still outstanding, especially in the province of British Columbia.
In addition, they obligate Canadian taxpayers far into the future. This latest piece of legislation, Bill C-55, if we include all the lists and guides needed to find particular topics, requires some 64 pages to sort out the mess created when the government decided to hand over jurisdiction for many thousands of square miles of Yukon territory to be administered by the so-called First Nations.
I have great admiration as well as sympathy for Canada's native peoples. Moreover, as our native people demonstrated the readiness to take over the running of their own affairs, I strongly support dismantling the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and handing those rights over to the natives themselves.
Because I believe in full equity among all Canadians with special status for none, I also believe we must take great care to ensure that Canada does not create by this kind of legislation the very sorts of racial homelands and racial biases for different treatment of our people, which the government and people of South Africa have been struggling for generations to root out of their country.
Therefore, I also believe that any further federal responsibility that in any way differs from the way the federal government deals with each and every other Canadian should also stop, cease and desist at that point, when by passing legislation like Bill C-55 we hand over the running of native affairs to natives themselves in a reasonable and efficient manner.
However, these three pieces of legislation go far beyond anything I can call reasonable and efficient. The legislation also maintains special federal responsibilities to Yukon First Nations, including large cash grants and creating separate living areas and entitlements based solely upon race.
At the same time, the legislation package gives virtually all the rights and responsibilities of a full fledged modern nation to these groups whose total population is approximately 7,300 divided into 14 bands and scattered across some of the least populated land remaining on our planet.
Even Canada's smallest cities have populations larger than the total population of these groups, which are now to be considered nations. Nor can it be any secret to any citizen concerned about public affairs in their own municipal governments that cities like Vernon and Salmon Arm in my own riding of Okanagan-Shuswap often are hard pressed to provide the personnel and pay for the services their residents require.
It is more than ridiculous; it borders on the tragic to heap so much responsibility upon so few. The only thing making it possible is the ongoing financial support of all Canadian taxpayers; support for an inefficient administrative rat's nest, here boxed and wrapped as Bill C-55.
Bill C-55 creates a group to resolve land use conflicts certain to arise because of this government's decision to transfer responsibility for all "use, management, administration, control and protection" of some 16,000 square miles of land equal to about 75 per cent of the province of Nova Scotia to those 7,300 Yukon natives.
Included are natural resources, businesses, professional and trade licensing, responsibility for all construction, zoning and land development, sanitation and planning, operation and use of vehicles, prevention of pollution and protection of the extremely sensitive Yukon environment.
We all know that the Liberal government likes to brag about the number of jobs that Canadian citizens and entrepreneurs have managed to create in the year since the 1993 election despite federal government overregulation, mismanagement and overtaxation.
There can be no doubt that some of those jobs have been directly created by government. It seems apparent that native land claim settlements will become a big player in the job creation scenario because there will be administrative jobs for anybody who is not busy testifying about the many disputes likely to arise from changing the status of this parcel of land equal as I mentioned above to about three-quarters the size of the province of Nova Scotia, land now being divided into category A settlement land, category B settlement land or fee simple settlement land.
The major purpose of Bill C-55 is to create some group that would have the authority and resources to settle the many disputes springing to life when miners, trappers, big game guides and many ordinary Canadians suddenly realize that areas where they may have thought themselves previously legally entitled to earn their living now have been handed over from either federal or territorial jurisdiction to control by the First Nations.
That dispute settling body is to be called the Yukon surface rights board consisting of a chairman and from two to ten other members, a majority resident in the Yukon Territory, with half the members appointed on the nomination by the Council of Yukon Indians.
I note that neither being a member of the Yukon First Nations or having an interest in their land shall be considered as grounds for disqualification. I have some concerns that this Yukon surface rights board may become a nesting site for that well known political species, the patronage appointed bird.
I believe it is important in all government groups to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest, and so I hope that all concerned will take special care on that point.
Beginning on page 33 of the legislation, this act deals with mineral rights disputes on non-settlement lands. I must question the logic of this legislation doing so many things on the basis of race only but then granting authority over non-native lands to a board half composed of natives.
Additionally, because there are so many different pieces of legislation involved, namely the Canadian Oil and Gas Operations Act, the Yukon Placer Mining Act and the Yukon Quartz Mining Act, it seems that the Yukon surface rights board will have to develop some fairly sophisticated methods of weighing the various claims because virtually nothing is spelled out in Bill C-55.
What principles should the board apply to settle disputes? Is time of filing important? How long must a person have filed a mineral claim for natives to recognize it? What amounts of royalties will bands be allowed to request from proposed developers of mining property? What environmental protection bonds will be required? What percentage of band funds can be devoted to develop a mine that may employ natives?
I am sure that all of us hope that the Yukon chiefs and band councils are going to be fully responsible to their local band members in a democratic fashion. Where is the board's responsibility to either native or non-native people spelled out? Bill C-55 does require the board to make an annual report but it does not state in cases of conflicts of the best interests of natives with the best interests of non-natives whose interests should prevail. Can we today not envision such disputes lasting for many years?
Finally, I was somewhat surprised to see that this board has been given discretion regarding awarding any and all costs of hearings they undertake. It is all well and good to direct that the hearings shall be conducted on the native lands wherever possible and also that the hearings should be dealt with as quickly and as informally as possible.
Nevertheless, I believe past experience should warn us that hearings involving serious conflicts of interest with native land claims have been known to drag on for many years to the delight of lawyers and other hangers on of the Indian establishment. The legislation proposes no limits, for example, on the number of legal advisers or other so-called experts which either side to a dispute might wish to summon. To that extent I am afraid that we are once again committing taxpayers to sign and pay for a blank cheque.
Some people are saying that the majority of disputes will arise and be settled shortly after Bills C-33 and C-34 come into effect. However, as population increases and resources become scarce during the next century on this planet, I believe that the people of Canada and the Yukon First Nations may well see themselves tied up in virtually endless administrative wrangling over surface rights in Canada's north.
I sincerely hope that Bill C-55 provides an adequate framework for the settlement of such disputes. However I see no clear evidence to make me reasonably certain that peace, order and good government for all people of Canada, including other provinces and future generations, will be well served by passing Bill C-55. Therefore, I ask the House to support me in opposing it.