Amid a global pandemic, Blaine Higgs rented two of the largest ballrooms in a Fredericton hotel today, April 13 to announce a crushing attack on the economic viability of First Nations in New Brunswick: the cancellation of the tax revenue sharing agreements between the Minister of Finance and the First Nations.
Madawaska Chief Patricia Bernard, speaking on behalf of the six Wolastoqey Chiefs, said she was shocked by the calculated attack.
“Blaine Higgs has an unnatural obsession with blocking initiatives to address the systemic racism and poverty faced by Indigenous peoples in New Brunswick,” said Chief Bernard. “The decision to tear up these tax agreements is unfair and offensive when the Premier has yet to show First Nations any morsel of fairness throughout his tenure as the leader of this province.”
This decision ignores the critical role these agreements play in making up the substantial, ongoing and systematic gap in the per capita funding the federal and provincial governments provide for education and social services on First Nations’ reserves throughout Canada, compared to funding levels off reserve for similar services.
“With the recent court decision siding with the Wolastoqey on the matter of these tax agreements giving us faith that the justice system here isn’t totally broken, this decision by the Premier to find an alternative door out of these agreements shows that this government is, in fact totally broken,” said Chief Bernard. “This settler government has little interest in a meaningful relationship. with the original peoples of this territory beyond how much more money it can leech from our resources, be it natural or financial.”
Background on Higgs’ history on tax-sharing agreements
In 2014, without consulting Premier David Alward or his cabinet colleagues, Higgs issued a notice to cancel tax sharing agreements with First Nations days before a provincial election call citing his view that helping minorities was unfair to the majority he represents.
In 2020, he engineered his carbon tax in such a way that several million was taken away from First Nations despite designing special measures so that the provincial government lost no revenue and that the natural gas distributor lost no revenue from the carbon tax.
In 2020, he overruled his own minister of Aboriginal affairs to block an inquiry into systemic racism and in response dumped that minister from cabinet and relegated the portfolio to a part time job.
In 2021, despite an ongoing court proceeding he proactively telephoned several reporters to speak against the tax-sharing agreements and issued a statement trying to defend his position.
In 2021, the courts ruled his plan to use the carbon tax as an excuse to take money from First Nation initiatives to boost their economies, reduce poverty and fund social services was against the law. Government has refused to comment on this decision until now.
“These tax agreements were put in place in 1994 and create revenue for the province while levelling the playing field for gas and tobacco retailers,” Chief Bernard said.
She continued by saying the province gains nothing from cancelling these agreements. “How much time and energy has been spent by the Premier personally and other officials trying to diminish and end these agreements? Why is the Premier so personally invested?”
“What will the province gain from this? It is false that it is costing the province money to fund these agreements. The amount transferred to First Nations is less than the amount remitted to government by on-reserve retailers.”
“The fact that the Premier made a point to suggest that First Nations don’t pay taxes and but access the same programs as the rest of the province and perpetuate this racist stereotype is frightening,” Bernard said. “It is well documented that First Nations aren’t able to access health, education or other social support on a level equal to non-Indigenous Canadians.”
To add insult to injury, Chief Bernard said she and other Chiefs received an invitation from the finance minister with only two hours’ notice to be briefed after the fact on today’s announcement.
“An hour after Blaine Higgs briefs the media, they book a meeting with Chiefs and the Premier can’t be bothered to come in person,” she said. “This is not consultation, and it is frankly not a real briefing considering it comes after the fact–it is just insulting. The announcement itself is mean and hurtful to First Nations people. I am troubled by the undertones and the pattern of behaviour exhibited by Higgs. I wonder if all in the Tory caucus stand with Blaine Higgs on this fixation.”
The Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick provides technical advice to Wolastoqey Communities and the support to ensure that the constitutional duty to consult owed to the Wolastoqey is being met and Wolastoqey Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are being recognized and implemented.