HST Negotiations: Better Late Than Never

The Harmonized Sales Tax has become a hot issue in parts of Northern Ontario. I am receiving several calls a day from constituents who are surprised that the HST is already being charged on some items or feel inconvenienced by First Nations information pickets and protests on this issue.

In a recent column about the HST, I reported that, as of May 1st, the tax would be charged on certain purchases that run into or are for use after the tax’s July 1st implementation date.

For First Nations, the issue is a direct result of the Provincial Government’s failure to include the point of sale tax exemption when negotiating with Federal Government. This oversight threatens to dramatically alter individual and family budgets for some of those who can least afford it. Ultimately, the province managed to find a way to address the concerns that farmers had with the HST, but chose not to do the same for First Nations until recently.

New Democrats have been calling for the Federal Government to meet with the leadership of Ontario’s First Nations throughout the HST debate. As the showdown over the tax threatened to spill on to our highways this past week my colleagues and I continued to remind the Minister of Finance of the Federal Government’s fiduciary responsibilities to First Nations and the need to respond to First Nations’ requests to meet.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Canada’s apology to First Nations for the damage inflicted by our residential schools policy, he promised that, “it will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward.” By denying First Nations an opportunity to deal directly with the government on such a monumental tax shift, the Conservatives would have abandoned that promise in just a few short years. A phone call from the Minister of Finance late Thursday seems to have indicated a shift in that posture. Still, we will have to wait until all sides meet to determine the desire to reach a meaningful agreement on this issue.

This situation would be much different if the provincial and federal governments had not rushed to implement the HST. It took many years to build the good relationships we have with our First People and, instead of being masters of divide and conquer which pits community against community in a fight over the issues, our governments should ensure that any new legislation or initiatives respect previous agreements that protect the rights of First Nations

The province’s performance has been less than stellar on the HST. They chose not to include the point of sale exemption with the First Nation when provided with an opportunity to request exemptions before they signed off on the agreement. Instead, they gave the federal government almost a blank slate in return for a $4 billion bribe using your hard earned tax dollars for a one-time pay off to Ontario.