moved that Bill C-34, an act respecting self-government for First Nations in the Yukon Territory, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak in support of Bill C-34, the Yukon First Nations self-government act, and to urge the speedy passage of this important and historic piece of legislation.
This act, together with the Yukon land claim settlement act which is also before the House, will usher in a whole new era of stability and opportunity for the Yukon Territory. It will provide Yukon First Nations with the power to govern their own affairs to a degree not heretofore possible. It will strengthen relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Yukoners and it will create an atmosphere of certainty which will encourage investment, development and jobs in the territory.
For these reasons this legislation has the strong support of not only the Yukon First Nations but of all sectors of Yukon society. The council of Yukon Indians was one of the very first aboriginal groups to request claims negotiations following the decision of the then Liberal government to settle land claims in areas where no previous treaties or agreements were in force. That was more than 20 years ago and the road to claims settlement and self-government has been a long and sometimes arduous one.
In 1986 the decision was taken to incorporate self-government into the negotiating process. Yukon is the first to come forward in Canada with both claims and self-government agreements. This has made the negotiations more complex, but in the long run I believe it will prove beneficial to settle both the land claim and self-government issues as a package so that we can begin to move ahead quickly on all points.
With this legislation we are on the verge of bringing to reality the hopes and dreams that had been nurtured by Yukon First Nations for more than two decades. In scope and complexity this is the most ambitious self-government arrangement negotiated to date. The legislation is unique in a number of respects. It is the only self-government legislation to apply to First Nations representing seven different aboriginal language groups in 14 communities. It is the only one that covers all the First Nations within a single province or territory.
Under the terms of an umbrella final agreement signed last year by the federal and territorial governments and the council for Yukon Indians the government is committed to negotiate individual self-government agreements with each of the 14 individual First Nations. In fact, four of these First Nations signed self-government agreements at that time. These were Champagne and the Aishihik First Nation, the First Nation of Na-cho-ny'a'k-dun, the Teslin Tlingit Council and the Vuntut Gwich'in First Nation.
Self-government for these First Nations which cover about 36 per cent of the total Yukon aboriginal population will take effect immediately with the passage of this legislation.
The government is currently engaged in active negotiations with an additional five First Nations. I am optimistic that several of these will be completed by the end of this year. I hope that the government will also commence self-government negotiations with at least some of the last five First Nations later this year.
Overall, we expect to have completed self-government agreements with all 14 First Nations within five years.
Before reviewing some of the main features of this legislation, I would like to make clear to the House exactly what we mean by self-government in the context of this bill.
These agreements were negotiated under the previous government's community based self-government policy. They make no reference to the inherent right of self-government and they will not receive constitutional protection as treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act upon passage of this bill.
I have indicated to the council for Yukon Indians, however, that I will consider this matter very seriously and once I and my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources, have finished our consultation on the implementation of the inherent right we will be reporting to cabinet and back to the council of Yukon Indians.
The principles embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution of Canada as a whole will continue to apply. First Nation constitutions will also provide protections for the rights and freedoms of First Nation citizens.
Although the council for Yukon Indians has long held that Yukon First Nations have an inherent right of self-government and have lobbied long and hard to see it recognized, it was their strongly expressed wish that we proceed quickly with this legislation rather than delay the legislation pending the outcome of the inherent right of self-government.
I believe this was a wise decision on their part. By proceeding now on the basis of the current policy they will begin to reap the benefits of self-government at the earliest possible date.
At the same time, the agreement provides that the Yukon First Nations will in no way be precluded from benefiting from any rights or entitlements that might arise from the discussions I am carrying out at present with the aboriginal, provincial and territorial leaders on the implementation of the inherent right of self-government.
I would also like to comment at this time on the very constructive role played by the territorial government in these negotiations. They were tripartite negotiations throughout and indeed much of the work of implementing self-government will involve interface, co-operation and compromise between the First Nations and the Yukon government.
The territorial government has been very supportive throughout this process and the Yukon legislature has already passed self-government legislation which will come into effect as soon as this act is proclaimed.
Turning to the main points of the bill, one of the most important features is that it establishes First Nations as a legal entity with the power to enter contracts, to acquire land and to form corporations. This is a very important step in empowering the First Nations to manage their affairs and to plan and carry out their economic and social development.
The Indian Act will not apply to the First Nations or their citizens or settlement land with five exceptions. First, the Indian Act will apply for the purpose of determining which Yukon First Nation citizens are Indians within the meaning of the Indian Act.
Second, the Indian Act will continue to apply to reserves outside Yukon held for the use and benefit of a Yukon First Nation predecessor band. There are four such reserves held for two Yukon First Nations.
Third, the application of the Indian Act to reserves in Yukon is subject to negotiation.
Fourth, the minister's authority under the Indian Act to administer individual Indian money, which the minister currently holds, will continue.
Fifth, section 87 of the Indian Act which provides for a tax exemption for Indians will cease to apply to all Yukon First Nations and Yukon Indian people three years after the legislation comes into force. The First Nations will have the legislative power to enact laws. Yukon self-government legislation grants law making power in four main areas. These include laws relating to internal management and the administration of certain rights and benefits received under the land claims agreement.
They also include laws of a local or private nature which apply on settlement lands, laws relating primarily to the provision of programs and services to First Nation citizens, and laws relating to the First Nation power to tax interest and settlement land and other methods of direct taxation of First Nation citizens on settlement land.
By agreement these taxation powers will not be exercised for at least three years unless the First Nation and government agree otherwise. The First Nation power to tax does not limit the federal government power to tax. What this means is that the First Nation as a government will negotiate with the governments of Canada and Yukon to ensure co-ordination of First Nation tax laws within the existing system.
In the long run this taxation power will enable First Nation governments to use taxation of its citizens and of use of their settlement lands as a revenue source for providing local programs and services which the First Nation governments deem necessary for its citizens.
While federal law of general application will continue to remain paramount unless inconsistent with the bill, the land claims bill, and the related agreements the law making powers granted to the First Nations will further strengthen control over their own affairs.
Each First Nation will have a constitution. These constitutions will provide for a number of things, including recognition and protection of the rights and freedoms of First Nation citizens.
The constitutions will also spell out how the validity of First Nation laws may be challenged, how financial accountability to the people will be assured, and how First Nation governing bodies will be established. These constitutions will provide the basic guarantees that the First Nations will be governed democratically and responsibly.
The First Nations shall also have law making powers with respect to the administration of justice. However, the legislation suspends this power until the year 2000 unless an agreement is reached between the Yukon and federal governments and First Nations on how the First Nation may exercise its power to make laws in relationship to the administration of justice.
All parties are legally obliged to enter negotiations toward this goal. In the meantime, First Nations will not exercise this power. I am hopeful an agreement can be reached long before the year 2000.
In the interim First Nations will have a limited power to establish penalties for violation of First Nation laws. Offences under the Yukon First Nation law will be prosecuted in Yukon courts and will be treated as an offence under the Territorial Summary Convictions Act.
The administration of justice is an area that has in the past caused much friction between aboriginal Canadians and society at large. Hopefully Yukon self-government agreements will lead to a regime in which the maximum responsibility possible will be handled by each First Nation within the framework of Canada's constitution.
The self-government agreements call for the transfer of many programs and services now being provided by the federal or territorial governments directly to the First Nations. First Nations will advise the government in each year of their priorities and plans for such transfers.
Government policy will neither be to rush this process nor to retard it but to respond promptly to the wishes of First Nations. The pace must be set by the First Nations in accordance with their perception of their capabilities, their priorities, and their aspirations.
In this regard I foresee a substantial downsizing of my department in Yukon over the next several years as all 14 First Nations implement self-government. The downsizing will be in the order of 75 per cent of the staff with the remaining 25 per cent kept in place to fulfil federal responsibilities and obligations set out in the self-government agreements.
Finally, the agreement and the legislation propose a new and much improved set of financial arrangements than those we have had in the past with First Nations. These will be modelled on the current and successful five-year financial transfer agreements that now exist between the federal and territorial governments.
The financial transfer agreements will be the primary funding instrument between Canada and the Yukon First Nations and will be the mechanism for flowing current levels of band funding toward the cost of operating self-government, funding for current government programs that are taken over by the First Nations and funding related to the land claim implementation.
The new financial regime will allow First Nations to engage in longer range planning with a greater degree of certainty and to establish their own priorities against a certain fiscal stability.
Since taking on this portfolio last year I have met with many Yukoners and received many more letters from all sectors of Yukon society; aboriginal leaders, business leaders, religious leaders and politicians from all parties. All are urging the speedy introduction and passage of this bill, as well as Bill C-33. I have been particularly impressed by the emerging
consensus and the depth of desire not only for passage but speedy passage of both bills.
They recognize the importance of resolving the question of land claims and self-government to the future development of the territory.
They recognize the potential benefit of those agreements to the future well-being of the Yukon First Nation who make up one quarter of the territory's people.
They recognize that the certainty embodied in these pieces of legislation can only encourage more investment and development in Yukon to the benefit of all its citizens.
Yukon needs economic growth if it is to provide hope and meaningful employment for its young and growing population. More than half of Yukon's aboriginal population is under 24 years of age.
In recent years there has been a marked improvement in the education and training opportunities available to First Nations. All of this means little unless there are jobs to be had in a growing economy. Yukon needs investment and it needs resource development, industrial diversification, strengthened infrastucture and service industry enhancement.
I am convinced that this self-government agreement, together with the land claim settlement, will give a very real stimulus to the investment and growth that Yukon needs and for the creation of jobs.
The government has made it clear that improving the quality of life of Canada's aboriginal people is a major concern and priority. The document Creating Opportunity expressed it this way:
The priority of a Liberal government will be to assist aboriginal communities in their efforts to address the obstacles to their development and help them marshal the human and physical resources necessary to build and sustain vibrant communities.
This legislation will provide new hope and opportunity for Yukon's First Nations and will go to the very heart of that commitment. The bill is clearly deserving of our support.
On a more personal note and in closing, it is unfortunate that I cannot mention that above us in this assembly are people who have been working most of their adult lives toward this day. There are times in this portfolio, not often, that you walk away with a great sense of satisfaction that hope has been provided. These people from the CYI who have been here all week and out in front of the House of Commons yesterday were saying to each other: "We have been waiting 20 years". I cannot imagine working 20 years on one piece of legislation but they have and they have worked hard.
One stretch I was at went on for five solid days. That is the kind of commitment we saw in the last few months of drafting the agreements. With Canadians like these there is a lot of hope for our country, that they have that commitment to their own people and to Canada. They are to be commended.
I would be remiss if I did not mention in closing the help of the hon. member for Yukon. I received some excellent briefings from that member. When all the paper was piling up and I was not sure exactly what was happening underground, I would speak to her and she would tell me the way it was. I really appreciated that.
I urge all members to give the legislation speedy consideration and passage so our fellow Canadians in Yukon can begin to enjoy the new life that they have hoped for and worked so hard to obtain for two decades. This day is here and they are to be commended.