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Federal surveyors see big cuts

Carl Friesen, a surveyor with Underhill Geomatics, worries that the cuts are "too deep" and may hamper the territory's efforts to reform its antiquated land titles system.

Federal cuts will force staffing at the Yukon’s Surveyor General Branch office to drop from nine to three.

Carl Friesen, a surveyor with Underhill Geomatics, worries that the cuts are “too deep” and may hamper the territory’s efforts to reform its antiquated land titles system.

That, in turn, could slow lands transactions, at a time when the Yukon faces heavy pressure to speed up land development to help ease the housing shortage.

It’s just one of the first instances of federal cuts being felt across federal departments in the territory.

And while the surveyor general’s office doesn’t have a big public presence, it’s work is important to ensure land transactions move smoothly, said Friesen.

Every time a condo, road or mine is built, a surveyor is usually involved behind the scenes. “You have to know where you are and you have to have the legal right to be there,” he said.

Provinces typically roll both surveying and land title administration into a single system. In the territories, it’s more complicated, with federal officials serving as middlemen to ensure land applications meet federal law.

“They’re right in the middle of the system,” said Friesen. “And if you bottleneck that flow, you bottleneck lands transactions.

“They’re the only people in town, other than us private guys, who can give them advice on surveys. And the government’s hesitant to come to the private sector for advice.”

The territory’s lands titles office is still working within gold rush-era laws and using pre-Internet computers.

The result: land transfers take anywhere between two and a half to six weeks, rather than a day or two, as is typical in the provinces.

To speed things up, the government plans to modernize this system over the next few years. A number of quick fixes are proposed in draft laws tabled this sitting.

And plans for a more comprehensive review are being prepared with the help of a lawyer who helps oversee Saskatchewan’s land titles system.

Friesen fears the shrunken state of the surveyor general’s office may hamper these reforms. So do territorial officials.

“We’re going to be very concerned with any changes,” said Lesley McCullough, assistant deputy minister of Justice. “They might have an impact on the work we do. However, we’ve been assured by the regional surveyor general that there will be no reduction in service.”

Similarly, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver asserted that “services to clients will not change” in a written statement sent to the News.

“These positions were located in the North temporarily and were never intended to be there permanently.”

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