NIPISSING FIRST NATION – The Anishinabek Nation is working to ensure that the harmonization of sale taxes in Ontario will respect First Nations’ exemption of taxation that is entrenched under law and in the treaties.

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief John Beaucage, candidate for the office of National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has petitioned the Government of Ontario to take part in the taxation reform process.

Today, Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan introduced the 2009 Ontario Budget which unveiled a plan to sign an accord with the federal government to reform and harmonize the 8 per cent provincial Retail Sales Tax with the 5 per cent federal Goods and Services Tax.

“First Nations in Ontario may be willing to support this taxation reform, provided it respects our right to tax exemption and improves the way in which that exemption is processed,” said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage.

Currently the Province of Ontario recognizes this exemption and has provided for a means of point-of-sale exemption. However, the processing of the federal GST exemption is far more arduous requiring a way-bill to prove consumable are delivered to an on-reserve address and often requires sending away for a GST rebate.

“We certainly don’t want to see our right to tax exemption reduced to a bureaucratic rebate system,” said Grand Council Chief Beaucage.

Grand Council Chief John Beaucage sees the Ontario government’s proposed harmonization of provincial sales tax and federal goods and services tax as a unique opportunity for both governments to help ease First Nation poverty.

“By agreeing to respect our treaty right to tax exemptions they can keep some badly-needed dollars in the pockets of the poorest people in this wealthy land,” said Beaucage.

Beaucage said the payment of various provincial and federal taxes contributes to an estimated 80 per cent “leakage” of every dollar that finds its way into First Nation communities.

“Unless this fundamental right of First Nation tax exemption is at long last fully recognized by other governments, I can foresee customer service nightmares in stores and business outlets across Ontario if tax harmonization occurs,” said Beaucage, who represents 42 First Nations from Sarnia to the Ottawa Valley, and across central and Northern Ontario from Peterborough to Thunder Bay.

Earlier today, Grand Council Chief Beaucage sent a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Brad Duguid, and Minister Duncan, who is also the Minister of Revenue – outlining his approach and concerns with the harmonization plan.

“The Anishinabek Nation would like to be considered as an intervener, interested party and active participant in the discussions evolving from this proposed provincial-federal accord in relation to the harmonization of the RST and GST,” stated the letter from Grand Council Chief Beaucage. Beaucage also asked that the issue be included for discussion at the next Anishinabek-Ontario Bilateral Roundtable meeting scheduled for mid-April. He hopes that Minister Duncan may be available to attend at the invitation of Grand Council Chief Beaucage and Minister Duguid.

“Both Ontario and Canada have pledged to work with First Nations to reverse our horrendous rates of unemployment and poverty. Here is a simple way to help some of this country’s poorest families put bread on the table,” says Beaucage.

Grand Council Chief is also advocating for a barrier-free process to ensure across-the-board recognition of rights to exemption from the provincial sales tax for all Anishinabek Nation citizens, regardless of place of residence.

“We have all felt the humiliation or the embarrassment, when we produce our status card to claim our exemption, and the store has to get the manager or have our Elders fill out long forms. It has affected every single First Nations person at one time or another,” added Beaucage.

The Anishinabek Nation established the Union of Ontario Indians as its political advocate and secretariat in 1949. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires that have existed long before European contact.