On Thursday March 18 I spoke at second reading on Bill 12 which deals with the sale or disposition of Crown Lands. I was also able to ask several questions of the Minister. My comments are below, and below my comments are my questions and the Minister’s responses (from Hansard).
Bill 12–The Crown Land Dispositions Act
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): First of all, the minister has said during question period that the parks are not for sale. I raised the concern about the future–whether they could be for sale under these provisions in the future. I didn't get a clear answer for that, and that would have certainly been helpful.
I asked the minister whether there would be any implications of this bill for the Crown land leases for agricultural purposes, which are causing a lot of stress for farmers at the moment, for producers in a number of parts of Manitoba. And the minister said, no, there would not. I await committee stage for further discussion of that. I think that's something that we are concerned about and would want to know exactly what any implications were, if there were some.
Third, I asked the minister about sales to close relatives in the document. In the bill itself it refers to senior civil servants. There is not a mention of close relatives, and I think that is something which we'd like to know more about.
We do feel that it's really important to have–if you're going to sell Crown land–a really good process for valuation of that land, a fair valuation, that we don't have giveaways of land, that we have fair valuation of that land before decisions are made. This is important and, quite frankly, this presumably would be in regulation, but we'd like to have better assurance on that. We want to ensure that the process for any sale of Crown land is fair, that there's not queue-jumping, as it were, but that there's a reasonable process to make sure that Manitobans are treated fairly.
Next, we're concerned about the stewardship of the land. We live in a world where we're very conscious of things like climate change. We're very conscious of floods. We want and feel that there needs to be some sort of process incorporated–for example, sale of a land which has a small body of water on it–there should there be requirements in terms of stewardship of the land so that a large slough, for example, which is a large permanent water body, is not drained, to the detriment of landowners downstream.
What about peatlands? We know that there's tremendous amounts of carbon in peatlands. Will there be requirements to ensure that there's reasonable stewardship of land? Where there are trees on the land–we know that if you completely remove trees from land, you remove a lot of stored carbon, but you also have an impact on the way that the water comes off the land, because there's no longer the trees to absorb the water that they need, and that can have a big impact. So we have some questions about stewardship of the land.
There is a lot about sale of the land, but it's not clear what happens in the case of transfer of Crown land to a rural municipality or a local government district, how that process will work in the context of this bill. This bill appears to remove the requirement for review by the department. We'd like to be a little bit more sure potential future government needs for land are taken into account, or potential needs for not just other departments but potential for the benefit of all Manitobans.
So, with those few comments and concerns raised, I will close my remarks at this point and look forward to what's being said at the committee stage.
Thank you. Merci.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): My question to the minister is this: will certain lands, for example, which are in provincial parks, would they be under the classification of Crown lands and could they be sold under this–the terms of this act?
Hon. Reg Helwer (Minister of Central Services): Our parks are not for sale.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes. To the minister: the minister says that sales to senior civil servants will have to be approved by Cabinet. Will this 'appry' to all civil servants? Would this apply to close relatives of the senior civil servants so that the senior civil servant couldn't get around this by having a partner or a son purchase the property? What is the situation and what will the government do in these cases?
Mr. Helwer: Well, not everybody thinks about things in a sordid manner like some of the members in this Legislature; we do tend to trust our civil servants. But, of course, there was an Auditor General's report on the Hecla land sales.
And we want to make sure that those types of things do not become replicated and that there is an oversight to make sure that the sales are arm's length and that they are correct and they're–that they're well done in a timely fashion.
Mr. Gerrard: I'm trying to get an understanding how this relates to the policies that the government has done in terms of affecting Crown lands, which are being farmed by ranchers and–at the moment. And a number of them are having leases coming up very shortly–and will this affect, in any way, the position of such ranchers?
Mr. Helwer: So this concerns sale of Crown lands that are be declared surplus, not leased land.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes. My question is, again, on the–who will be classified as a senior civil servant? Is there a clear–what level of civil servant would have to have a sale or purchase go through Cabinet?
Mr. Helwer: So the definitions of who is a civil servant, who is a senior civil servant and who will be subject to this is all in the act, and it's part of the other side of the department, which is the Civil Service Commission, on levels of the civil service.
So, I think those designations are fairly obvious, but most senior civil servants know who they are and what their level of classification is. I think all of them do, actually.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes. To the minister, I'm just interested to know whether there are any special situations with regard to First Nations, Inuit or Métis people with regard to the disposal of Crown lands?
Mr. Helwer: Absolutely, we are bound by treaty land entitlement, and we're very cognizant of that fact and we've done, I think, a very outstanding job in this government in making sure that if a land is–a Crown land is declared a surplus that goes through that procedure, that it can be selected for TLE.
And the communication with First Nations communities for that is–has been working quite well, and we–the minister responsible for that would know much better than I how many acres of land has–have been transferred, but far more in the first couple of years we were in government than the previous government ever did in 17 years.
Mr. Gerrard: I would ask the minister, what sort of extent of sale of surplus Crown lands would he expect to occur in the next year, two years and five years?
Mr. Helwer: Well, it's an excellent question, and we know what we have as an inventory of Crown land. We know that there are people that are interested in it. Those expressions of interest have been piling up as we've been moving through this process to make sure that it can be enabled and work in a timely manner. And we want to make sure that we get back to those individuals quickly with a good response so that they can determine how and when they can move ahead purchasing that land.
The declaration of when something is surplus usually comes to the department that might be using that land, that may no longer feel the need for it.
Mr. Gerrard: Just a follow-up on the–one question which I had earlier on. I asked about senior civil servants. Are close relatives affected in any way?
Mr. Helwer: That's an excellent question, and I think those types of things, the specifications, we need to be further into the bill and working with the department to make sure that we can make the member comfortable with how we make sure that our land sales are above board, that we don't have any Hecla issues, if you want to look at it that way, and that it's fully public and disclosed.