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New Brunswick

N.B. tax agreements with Wolastoqey First Nations expire – New Brunswick

Premier Blaine Higgs says little progress has been made on an agreement to replace tax-sharing deals with Wolastoqey First Nations which expired on Tuesday.

“There haven’t been any meaningful discussions about a new economic model, we’ve wanted to do that for a year and a half now,” Higgs told reporters.

The agreements, dating back to the 1990s, required the provincial government to remit to First Nations 95 percent of provincial taxes collected from reserved businesses, up to $8 million, and 70 percent beyond that. Higgs announced that the province would be terminating the tax-sharing arrangements in 2021, arguing that they were affecting the province’s tax revenues and that the money was not being distributed fairly among First Nations in the province.

First Nations in the province received $47 million from the agreements in 2019-2020. When Higgs announced the province would end the deals, he estimated they would grow to $75 million by the end of the decade.

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The province says 40 percent of that money goes to just 2 percent of the First Nations population.

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As a source of replacement funding, the province wanted to identify priority areas such as housing and economic development and sign funding agreements to address them.

“We want the proceeds to be used like tax revenue to help people across the province,” he said.

“And in this case, it’s about helping the people of every First Nations community, enabling the chiefs in every community to look at the residents and help them have a better lifestyle and a better outcome.”

Madawaska boss Patricia Bernard says the government’s proposal falls short. She says the tax treaties have helped foster economic prosperity in her community by allowing her to generate income to pay for the services she provides.

She says the prime minister doesn’t see First Nations as independent governments that need to deliver services just like the province.

“I think the PM feels that we are one company. We are one government and governments have to generate revenue at some point in order to provide the required services,” she said.

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“The province taxes so they can repair roads, provide health care and education. Well, those things are not made available to First Nations. If our children have to go to school, we have to pay the province. They don’t, the province doesn’t come in and fix our roads, don’t plow our roads.”

Bernard says Madawaska will introduce a licensing and regulatory system for cannabis and tobacco before doing the same with gasoline and eventually looking to introduce its own sales tax by the end of the year.

Higgs did not say how the province would respond to First Nations refusals to collect and remit provincial taxes.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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