First Nations to hold anti-HST rally

First Nations

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 First Nations in Ontario have had enough.

Ontario and Canada continue to move forward with the implementation of the HST.  The problem is that both governments forgot to discuss the matter with First Nations in Ontario who have historically been exempt from paying the PST.

Ontario currently allows for a point of sale exemption for First Nations.  All that is required for the exemption to apply is proof of “Indian Status” at the point of purchase.  First Nations in Ontario have been fighting to preserve the point of sale exemption since the McGuinty government first announced its intentions to move forward with the HST in their budget speech in the winter of 2009.  

Ontario and Canada have since entered into the Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination Agreement (CITCA) which sets out how the HST will be administered in Ontario.  In December, Ontario and Canada also passed legislation paving the way for the full implementation of the HST in Ontario by July 1st.   

The Saugeen First Nation, along with 133 other First Nations in Ontario, have been strong in advocating that Canada and Ontario failed to meet their obligation to consult with them prior to announcing the decision to harmonize the taxes.  This contravenes governments’ obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations when a particular action may infringe upon First Nations’ rights, interests and way of life.

First Nations assert their right to tax exemption based on the fact that they never ceded the authority to tax their people to government through treaties or any other mechanism.  To date, Ontario and Canada have been blaming each other for this situation and First Nations have been caught in the middle of a jurisdictional “ping pong” game and endless finger pointing.

Chief Randall Kahgee states,  “The Crown’s failure to engage directly with our Nation prior to any decision being made on the HST is indicative of how governments in this country have historically worked to marginalize our people.   Ontario’s decision to move forward with the HST was done unilaterally without full consideration of our rights, interests and way of life.  The Ipperwash Report cautioned against unilateral decisions by government on matters that would impact our interests.   This is not how we will achieve true reconciliation in this country”. 

Ontario has stated publicly that they want to continue to honour the point of sale exemption for First Nations under the HST.   This would only apply to the provincial portion (8%) of the HST.  There have been a series of technical and political meetings with Ontario in this regard.  Until recently, Canada refused to participate in these discussions or meet with First Nations’ leadership.  Canada’s position has been clear, the administration of the HST will fall under federal rules similar to the GST and First Nations will only enjoy an exemption for those goods and services purchased on or delivered to the First Nation. 

Chief Kahgee states, “The HST will impose significant hardships on our people.  They are already functioning below the margins.  The HST will only further marginalize the most dispossessed people in this country”. 

Community members have echoed the same sentiments.  Anaya Pucan, a single mother and a university student, states, “As a single mother I worry for the general welfare of my family.  I struggle to keep things going with limited resources as it is.  The HST will only make things that much harder.  The government has moved forward on this issue with a complete disregard for our rights.  These types of decisions have a real impact on our future generations.  This continued violation of our rights is unacceptable.  It cannot continue”.  

On April 21st First Nations released a report completed by Dr. Fred Lazar, of the Schulich School of Business, York University.  The report concludes that First Nations will pay approximately $100 million annually under the HST, which will only further widens the already significant gap between First Nations and everyone else in Ontario.  Dr. Lazar’s report also makes it clear that there is no reason why government cannot continue to honour the point of sale exemption for First Nations under the existing administrative processes.  Under the CITCA Ontario can provide point of sale rebates for the Ontario component of the HST for up to 5% of the estimated GST base in Ontario.  This report was commissioned by First Nations in Ontario because the federal and provincial government failed to conduct an economic impact assessment showing what affect the HST would have on the First Nations population in Ontario.

On May 27th Saugeen moved a resolution at the Special Chiefs Assembly in Toronto to support a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Ontario and First Nations.  The MOA represents a significant step forward in the ongoing battle to preserve the point of sale exemption.  It commits Ontario to take all the necessary steps to ensure the point of sale exemption remains in place on July 1st.  The agreement further commits Ontario to work with First Nations to press Canada to do the same.  Canada must agree because it will be administering the HST.

The first tripartite meeting between First Nations, Ontario and Canada was held on the June 7th.  A follow up meeting was held on June 11th.

Chief Kahgee states, “It is imperative that we continue to pressure both levels of government to honour the point of sale exemption.  There is no reason why the exemption cannot continue under the existing structure.  The MOA is an example of how First Nations and government can resolve these types of issues.  Canada must respect the work to date and cannot unreasonably withhold its consent on the continuation of the point of sale exemption.   This is Harper’s opportunity to show that he truly supports the rights, interests and way of life of our people, communities and Nations.  This is his chance to promote true reconciliation”.

The Saugeen First Nation will be holding a peaceful rally on Monday, June 14th.   The Rally will be held in conjunction with several other initiatives across the province to demonstrate unity amongst First Nations in their battle to preserve the point of sale exemption and the protection of their rights, interests and way of life.  The rally will begin at 10:00 am at the First Nation’s administrative offices on Highway 21.  It will be followed by a barbeque at noon. 

Brenda Kahgee, who organized the rally, states, “The rally is about unity and creating awareness amongst the general public for the complete disregard for our Treaty rights.  We are seeking support from all Canadians to hold government accountable.  We live in a new age.  There must be change because unilateral decisions by government are the old way of relating to our people.  We hope people will stand in unity with us to send a strong message to Ottawa.  All are welcome”.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010