News Release: Higgs Government prematurely issues notice of tax sharing agreement termination

For Immediate Release

April 16, 2021 (FREDERICTON) – The Higgs government sent letters to First Nations informing them of his government’s intent to prematurely terminate tax revenue sharing agreements that aid vulnerable First Nations communities.

In a response letter to Ernie Steeves, the province’s finance minister who was sent out on Tuesday to execute the orders, the Chiefs of the six Wolastoqey Nations point out that notice to cancel the agreements can’t be given for another nine months. Therefore, the notice given Tuesday is ineffective.

Blaine Higgs, the premier, announced that the province would not appeal its recent loss in the carbon tax case alongside his announcement regarding the termination of the tax revenue sharing agreements.

The agreements with the six Wolastoqey Nations, signed in 2017, are for 10 years and include a review at the mid-term.

“The parties made it clear when we negotiated these agreements that the intent was to provide a minimum of six years, and a possible 11 years of stable revenue for First Nations,’’ the Chiefs say in their response letter.

The agreements were predated by other tax collecting arrangements with the province, some dating back nearly 30 years. The Chiefs expressed dismay on Tuesday that the Higgs government would suddenly and abruptly attempt to throw away decades of solid cooperation.

Higgs can not legally provide notice of intent to terminate until Jan. 30, 2022.

“We therefore do not accept the letters dated April 13, 2021, as a proper notice of intent to terminate,’’ the Chiefs said of the letters signed by Steeves and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn.

The Chiefs asked the ministers to withdraw their notices no later than April 30.

“If you fail to do so, we will have no choice but to explore other legal avenues available to us to ensure our rights under the agreements are properly upheld,’’ the Chiefs conclude.

At a hastily called news conference in a Fredericton ballroom on Tuesday, Higgs and Dunn argued the agreements, that help provide basic social aid and housing funds for impoverished reserves, need to be terminated as they are unique to New Brunswick. The pair also took issue with the fact that some reserves collect more tax revenue if they are fortunate enough to take advantage of geographical location.

“Higgs and Dunn seem to be aggrieved that First Nations are competing and our economic development efforts are paying off,’’ said Madawaska First Nation Chief Patricia Bernard. “Only in Blaine Higgs’ New Brunswick are you penalized for being successful at selling gas.’’

Tobique Chief Ross Perley said the Higgs government is engaged in a “divide and conquer’’ tactic by singling out reserve that do higher volumes of business. “Higgs is attempting to shame us in the eyes of our fellow New Brunswickers, and then haul us before him to negotiate,’’ Chief Perley said. “He isn’t a king and he is a few centuries late if he thinks humiliation will work on us.’’

St. Mary’s Chief Allan Polchies says the Higgs government is being irresponsible by pulling on so many threads in its relationship with First Nations. “So many other issues are impacted negatively by this move from forestry to mental health. And we saw how successful they were at addressing systemic racism.”

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Media Contact: Logan Perley (506) 429-7120