A protest by Ontario First Nations last week at Queen’s Park is only the first phase in growing opposition towards Dalton McGuinty’s planned harmonized sales tax (HST).
The Chiefs of Ontario, representing 134 First Nations, along with other aboriginal groups across the province, have been pressuring the provincial government to clarify and amend its HST legislation.
Larry Frost, director of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, said First Nations groups are beginning to mobilize.
“You’re going to hear some voice very shortly. They’re gathering their drums, if I may use that analogy, and we’re going to make a voice,” Frost said
The HST will blend the five per cent federal GST with the eight-per cent provincial sales tax. The plan, passed in December 2009, has angered Chief Sharon Stinson of Rama First Nations.
“We as an individual First Nation were not consulted,” she said. “We just got word through the Chiefs of Ontario office that this legislation was being implemented and unfortunately has been passed by both levels of government.”
Pam Hunter, communications analyst at the Chiefs of Ontario office in Toronto, said the province and Ottawa adopted HST legislation quickly in an attempt to outrun public opposition.
“They pushed it through in a matter of days,” she said. “Many people believe it is totally undemocratic to do so. You haven’t talked to anybody.”
But Leslie O’Leary, a press secretary for province’s Ministry of Revenue, said economic necessity was the motivation for the speedy adoption of HST legislation and she said authority over tax exemptions for First Nations ultimately rests with Ottawa.
“Since this is a federal tax, they need to agree to the exemption and to date they have not,” O’Leary said. “We will continue to work with the First Nations to encourage the federal government to come to the table and discuss this matter with us.”
Currently, First Nations people living on reserves are exempt from both the GST and the PST. Those living off reserves are exempt from the PST. On it’s website, the Ontario Ministry of Finance states it wishes to continue with the current set-up.
Hunter said she is frustrated with the different treatment of aboriginal people living on and off reserves. She believes all First Nations should receive equal treatment when it comes to tax exemption.
“Our rights are our rights despite where we are. You don’t suddenly become non-First Nation when you leave home. It’s about portability of rights,” Hunter said.
Frost warned of consequences the HST will have for First Nations of Ontario.
“It will have a big impact on daily life, food costs and house costs. It’s going to affect everybody,” Frost said.
Hunter believes the Ontario government has reneged on its promise of a renewed relationship with First Nations.
“Ontario and Canada both have a requirement to consult us… Ontario has been talking up a new relationship between the provincial government and the First Nations of Ontario. So this would be totally inconsistent with what they’ve been saying publicly.” Hunter said.
Stinson said the government is sending mixed messages about HST legislation She said attempts to contact both levels of government have yielded confusing results.
“Some (officials) say, ‘Oh, yes, certain purchases will still be exempt if you purchase on the reserve and the product or service is used on the reserve …. We don’t know that until we actually get to July 1 and see how it rolls out,” Stinson said.