Six Mi’kmaw chiefs claim they have deserted a lawsuit against the Higgs administration over its cancellation of tax-sharing agreements and will alternatively negotiate “a new economic relationship” with the province.
On June 8, the chiefs filed the lawsuit in response to the province declaring it would retract from the agreements, which have seen First Nations administrations gather provincial sales taxes from on-reserve retail businesses and retain 95 percent of the revenue.
When he announced in April that he was terminating the agreements, Premier Blaine Higgs called these agreements “unsustainable and unfair.” During that period, Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation claimed the move was “completely disrespectful.”
However, Ginnish is one of the six chiefs who stated in a news release on Tuesday that they have concluded to work on a fresh deal with the province.
The six chiefs said in the release,
“Both parties quickly recognized there was more to be gained from sitting down and working out a new path towards a new economic relationship [rather than] fighting over the old agreements in court.”
“The Chiefs would like to acknowledge the province for recognizing the impact that losing these funds would have on communities and agreeing to a fairer negotiation process.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson stated the six chiefs were not doing interviews.
Wolastoqey chiefs also challenging termination plan
Six Wolastoqey chiefs are also protesting the end of tax agreements with their First Nations.
Under the authorized order that stopped the Mi’kmaw lawsuit, the existing agreements with the six bands – Metepenagiag, Amlagog (Fort Folly), Upi’ganjig (Eel River Bar), Esgenoôpetitj, Natoaganeg (Eel Ground) and Tjipogtotjg (Bouctouche) –will end next month as anticipated.
The release says that afterwards, the bands will resume collecting and remitting taxes and the province will “make payments to the six communities as if they were under the ‘new’ tax agreements” until the end of 2023.
In another news release, Arlene Dunn, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister thanked the chiefs.
“We understand there is a great deal of work ahead of us, but we are committed to working collaboratively with First Nations leaders to achieve sustainable agreements that work for them and the province.”
In declaring the end of the agreements, Higgs claimed they diverted $47 million in provincial revenue to reserves in 2019-2020 and projected that would multiply to $75 million ten years from now.
The premier stated the agreements were unfair due to some reserves earning far more than others do.
According to numbers issued by the province at that period, four Wolastoqey communities were the highest beneficiaries of the tax revenue, whilst Mi’kmaw communities received less.
Earlier in the year, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Richard Petrie passed a judgement that the gas tax agreements extend to an estimated $5 million in carbon tax revenue.
Higgs asserted that in April the gas-tax agreements are independent of Aboriginal and treaty rights protected by the Constitution.