Wolastoqey chiefs 'ready to negotiate' new tax deal after province delays cancellation
Province initially wanted to cancel tax agreement this coming January
Six Wolastoqey chiefs say the New Brunswick government has agreed to delay the cancellation of its tax-sharing agreements until 2023.
In April, Premier Blaine Higgs announced the province would pull out of the agreements in January 2022. Under the agreements signed in 2017, First Nations governments could collect provincial sales taxes from on-reserve retail operations and keep 95 per cent of the revenue.
When announcing the cancellation, Higgs called the agreements "unsustainable and unfair." There has been no public announcement by the province that the agreements have since been restored for a year.
The First Nations filed an application with the Court of Queen's Bench to challenge the early cancellation.
At a news conference Monday, Chief Patricia Bernard of Madawaska Maliseet First Nation said the province moved back the cancellation because 2023 is the earliest date of cancellation possible under the terms of the agreements. The deals were expected to run until 2027.
In an emailed statement, Higgs said the court process helped parties reach a "mutually agreed ... termination date of January 31, 2023."
"The Province is satisfied that we have brought finality and certainty to this matter," he said.
Bernard said the communities are open to negotiating another agreement, but there has been no indication from the province what this would look like.
"At this point, we're under the impression that there's no negotiation," she said. "These tax agreements are going to be cancelled. So we are left with no choice but to create our own taxation regime.
"[Higgs] is not understanding how that's going to actually cause much more racism to have to raise its head because [people] are going to see how things are not fair. But we are in a separate jurisdiction."
Higgs did not answer questions about whether the province is working on a replacement agreement or just ending tax agreements with these First Nations altogether.
Bernard said if another agreement is not reached before January 2023, the First Nations will create their own tax rules for their jurisdictions, which could make taxes on goods sold on reserve "significantly lower."
"He doesn't actually talk to us very much so not sure why he does what he does, except for he's thinking that as a finance person that he's going to be able to keep that money," Bernard said of the premier. "But he's not. He's just not going to see it."
Bernard said every relationship can be repaired, but it takes a "willingness and reciprocity."
"We are prepared to negotiate," she said. "We're prepared to sit down and talk about it."
'Point of no return'
At the news conference, Bernard and St. Mary's First Nation Chief Allan (Chicky) Polchies said the revenue from the agreements goes back to members of the communities and their social aid and housing needs.
"We've got six-plus members living in [one home]," Polchies said. "Social programs, mental health, addiction, those are key components."
Bernard said the communities have 15 months until the agreements are terminated to find a different way to provide for their communities.
She said once they have a solution without the need for an agreement with the province, there will be a "point of no return," where they won't want to go back to having an agreement.