Question re: Land Titles Act - May 27, 2015

Mr. Silver: Being in the last week, I wanted to bring up something from a news release. Last fall, the Government of Yukon issued a news release informing Yukoners a new Land Titles Act would be up for debate this spring. A consultation document made the same commitment — and I’m quoting from that: “The bill is expected to be introduced during the spring 2015 session.”

Why was the bill not on this government’s agenda this spring and will it be ready for this fall?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: If the Liberal leader or his staff had been paying attention to debate in this House, they would have noticed that in fact I brought this up during debate on the Department of Justice, as well as, I believe, in debate on the Condominium Act, 2015. I noted in fact that we had received a specific request from the stakeholders advisory committee that had been working with Yukon government to allow some additional time for the development of this legislation. So in response to the specific requests that we received from members of the stakeholders group, we did agree to not rush this bill and agreed to their requests with the expectation that the legislation would be all the stronger for it when it’s tabled in the Fall Sitting of 2015.

Mr. Silver: Being mentioned in the Legislative Assembly is not necessarily debate.

A long-standing issue has been the ability or the inability to register First Nation land in Land Titles Office. The First Nations are asking for a new type of land distinction that is not fee simple.

The main problem is the territory’s registry is meant to deal with fee simple land only. At the same time, several First Nations have created their own registries. A draft of the new act says First Nations may choose to register category A or category B land settlement with the Land Titles Office. The specific mechanism for doing so and any prerequisite will be outlined in the regulations.

Does this fix the long-standing issue of registering First Nation lots or does it simply put it off to a later date?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: In fact, the issue of registration of First Nation land can be done currently, but the member is correct. Depending on which section of the agreements — I believe it is 5.9 and 5.10 — if aboriginal title is retained, it cannot be registered in the Land Titles Office. There is work being done, specifically with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation on addressing their interests and working in partnership to come up with a model that works for them. As well, the member may be familiar with the fact that there has been funding, I believe — if memory serves — from both CanNor and Yukon government, supporting work that is being done by seven Yukon First Nations that are working together on a registry project to address their specific needs.

The Yukon government remains committed to working with First Nations in that regard. We are also working with them and we have written to the federal government regarding the de-registration of some existing parcels that are currently registered in land titles and that request was made, based on the request from First Nations. Again, there are many parts to this picture and we are working together with First Nations in partnership to address their needs and their interests.

Mr. Silver: I am thankful for the minister’s response here today, but I am also concerned that the big issue of how to register First Nation land is still unresolved and the new act isn’t necessarily going to fix it either. This is a major roadblock to developing First Nation lots for sale or lease.

One of the Yukon Party platform commitments is no new taxes. However, there was a long section of the consultation document that talked about new fees that will be accompanying this new Land Titles Act. A draft of the bill simply says that a schedule fee will be established in the regulations. Fee increases, tax increases — same thing. I am just wondering, as far as numbers here — a simple question for debate: Will users who deal with these land titles offices be paying higher fees when this act comes in, and what revenue is expected from the fee hike?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: I think the member is getting a bit ahead of himself here in terms of anticipating structure and fees under a new land titles model. The development of the computer system has been underway that would accommodate the new electronically based registry. That has also involved the stakeholder working group. In fact, the work that is being done with the drafting advisory committee on the legislation is currently going well, but the structure of this — including fees that would be charged under a new model — has not been set in stone yet. I would encourage the member not to get ahead of himself and not to get ahead of the public and stakeholder consultation that is occurring.

I would note the fundamental importance of the Land Titles Act and the registry to Yukoners and to Yukon First Nations and to the Yukon government, as well as municipalities. We are working very carefully and very diligently on this, but recognizing the importance of hearing the input from stakeholders and having a final product of a new Land Titles Act and a new registry that meets Yukon’s current needs, including the needs of Yukon First Nations. We are working to ensure that we get that project done right, because of its fundamental importance to Yukon citizens and the Yukon economy.