I am happy to rise to address the issue of Bill C-55, the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act. I must say I was going to oblige the member for Capilano-Howe Sound by wearing my Bermuda shorts and dark glasses, however the dress code of this House does not permit me to do so in talking to the bill.
I do have a comment to make on the speech of the member for North Island-Powell River. He mentioned the participation of the Yukon Indians as being over 50 per cent on the board and talked about some racial problems that might arise. This seems like a judgment even before the board is off and running. There is no confidence in the Council for Yukon Indians being able to make up its mind and determine who is going to be on the board and what kind of board it is going to be. If we had a little more trust in our aboriginal organizations, this country would be a lot better off.
I want to join the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in urging support for this legislation. I believe the House has an obligation to move as quickly as possible on Bill C-55 so that residents of Yukon can begin to benefit from the certainty and the confidence that land claims settlement will bring to the territory.
After more than 21 years of negotiations, we finally reached a framework agreement to settle the land claims of the 14 Yukon First Nations. The establishment of a new surface rights regime which will be accomplished through Bill C-55 is the next critical step in implementing the agreement.
This is a pivotal day for Yukon. Yukon residents expect us to proceed responsibly and without further delay. They want us to address our moral and legal obligations to the First Nations people.
As the minister has stated we have already adopted legislation to put in place a territory wide framework for First Nations land claims settlement agreements and to implement self-government for the Yukon First Nations. We have before us today the final piece of legislation that will allow the finalization of these acts.
Bill C-55 is significantly different from the two acts we approved before the summer recess. The bill deals with very specific matters and is extremely technical. I can assure members that Bill C-55 has been drafted with the interests of all Yukoners in mind. It is fully in keeping with the Government of Canada's obligation under the umbrella final agreement negotiated by governments and Yukon First Nations.
Bill C-55 provides for the establishment of the Yukon surface rights board and a new surface rights regime that reflects the changing realities of land ownership in Yukon. I know some hon. members on the other side of the House have been expressing concern about the role and the powers of the board.
The role of the Yukon surface rights board is straight forward. It will deal with disputes relating to land access, use and compensation throughout the territory. However the board's services will be called upon only when direct negotiations between the affected parties have failed. There will be more certainty for everyone in Yukon when the bill is enacted and we begin to implement First Nations final agreements.
Bill C-55 will put in place a new regime for obtaining access to private and public lands that will put it on a level playing field with other Canadian jurisdictions. It provides for clear rules and regulations.
This is not a scheme that has been pulled out of a hat. This approach to dispute resolution has been applied elsewhere in Canada and is working well. In fact the Yukon surface rights board has been modelled on similar boards that are currently operating in Alberta, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Manitoba. The
provincial boards were established to address disputes between surface owners who were generally farmers and subsurface developers such as oil and mining firms.
In Yukon we anticipate that when disputes do arise they will primarily involve mining companies that hold mineral rights on non-settlement lands where others have surface rights or interest on land owned by First Nations, similar to the situations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The same basic principles of reasonable access, responsible use and fair compensation can and will apply to resolving disputes in Yukon.
Once the Yukon surface rights board is formed the government intends to take its members to Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Manitoba where they will observe the provincial boards in action. The government may also invite a senior official from the provincial boards to Yukon to provide training or other assistance.
As the minister has noted this is a cost effective alternative to using the courts to resolve disputes. It will encourage mining and petroleum companies as well as governments to work in partnership with First Nations and other land users so that all parties can benefit.
The board will not even hear a dispute unless it is convinced that a serious effort has been made by the parties to come to an agreement. In addition to reducing costs for all parties, the provincial boards have enabled quicker resolution of disputes than would be possible through the courts. This in turn has helped prevent lengthy and costly delays in resource development.
I think the minister would agree that the Government of Canada, Yukon First Nations, the mining and petroleum industries and the territorial government would be happy if the surface rights board never met, in other words if there never were any disputes to resolve. However this is not a utopian world and we cannot sit back and hope that everything will work itself out. We cannot expect that there will never be a disagreement between two parties, both of whom may have reasonable and legitimate concerns.
In the interests of good public government we must be prepared to deal with issues as they arise. This is why it is important to proceed now to create a surface rights dispute resolution mechanism in the Yukon.
I am extremely confident the surface rights board that will be put into place by Bill C-55 will be an effective institution of public government. It will operate in a fair and responsible manner to ensure that economic development proceeds in Yukon in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the umbrella final agreement. It will also protect existing rights including mineral rights of third parties in the settlement area.
Let me remind hon. members that Yukon First Nations have never resisted development. Rather, they have said only that they want a voice in how resource development will proceed. As land owners they will have that voice. Guaranteeing 50 per cent of the board's members will be nominated by First Nations ensures that First Nations and other Yukoners will have input into the important decisions that need to be made.
In addition, third party rights or interests on non-settlement lands are recognized in the bill and the umbrella final agreement. The need for this board was clearly identified in the umbrella final agreement. It simply replaces the government officials or courts now identified in the mining legislation as the dispute resolution body.
Let me assure the House that the Yukon surface rights board will be created in a manner that is financially responsible as well as responsive to the needs of the people of Yukon and Canada. Obviously costs are involved in setting up new institutions of government, but through careful planning and management these costs can be controlled. The Yukon surface rights board will be kept as small as possible. Staffing will be kept to a minimum and proceedings will be expeditious.
Bill C-55 will achieve some very specific goals, but it is important for the House to consider the broader implications of this proposed legislation. Most fundamentally we must understand that without Bill C-55 the settlement of land claims in Yukon cannot be concluded.
Once again our efforts to address the rightful claims of Yukon First Nations will be stalled. Another generation of Yukon Indians will face the prospect of starting anew to negotiate an agreement that all parties have already accepted. Vital economic development opportunities will be lost. We cannot and must not allow that to happen. The Government of Canada made certain commitments in the umbrella final agreement in 1993, including the commitment to create a surface rights board and we must live up to those obligations.
I would like to remind my hon. colleagues of the debate that took place in the House some four months ago. That debate determined conclusively that the umbrella final agreement is a solid agreement that will benefit all residents of Yukon. By providing a secure land base, settlement agreements will empower Yukon First Nations to build a better future. The territorial government and all Yukoners will benefit from increased economic activity and from the strengthened political development of the territory.
In addition to confirming ownership of vast areas of land, Yukon First Nations will be entitled to significant financial compensation. This compensation package is essential to the future prosperity of Yukon First Nations. It will give them the financial resources to create jobs within their communities, to
deliver social services and to generally establish a better standard of living for Yukon Indians. These achievements will benefit all Yukoners and all Canadians.
All of us can appreciate that much more is at stake here than a new surface rights regime. At stake here is the economic growth of Yukon as well as its political and administrative development. Also at stake is the spirit of partnership, trust and mutual accomplishment that government is working hard to establish with First Nations in Yukon and elsewhere. The very future of Yukon First Nations is at stake. They have already waited far too long to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed.
With that in mind, I urge hon. members to look beyond the legal and technical complexities of the bill, as important as they are. I urge them to embrace a broader viewpoint to acknowledge that the Yukon surface rights board is vital to the land claims settlement process. I remind them that land claims settlements are something all Yukon residents and Canadians want and expect us to achieve.
This is the time to move forward to lay the foundation for a better future for all people in Yukon. Toward that end I urge my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill C-55 so that it can proceed as quickly as possible to the other place. This is the only responsible course of action to ensure that implementation of the Yukon First Nations final and self-government agreements can proceed without further delay.