Elliot Lake - Months of repeated requests from Northern Ontario New Democrat MPs paid off late Thursday as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty agreed to meet with the leadership of Ontario First Nations to discuss the implementation of Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

After being ignored by the Federal and Provincial governments, Ontario’s First Nations have been threatening to block roads because of the failure to conduct nation-to-nation consultations with them on the new HST and how it will impact them.

“This is good news for winter-weary Ontarians intending to spend the Victoria Day weekend on Manitoulin Island now that a roadblock planned for Friday evening on the Whitefish River First Nation has been avoided,” said Carol Hughes MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing. “This weekend is the beginning of the tourist season and brings in much needed revenue and employment. Roadblocks would have severely disrupted this vital industry.”

The roadblock, planned to protest the loss of point-of-sale exemption for First Nations under the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), would have closed Highway 6 during the peak travel period for a 6 hour stretch.

“The omission of the point of sale exemption in the original agreement with the Province of Ontario has been the cause of much concern for our First Nations and has proven to be a divisive issue in the North,” said Whitefish River First Nation Chief, Shining Turtle (Franklin Paibomsai).

“First Nations and neighbouring communities have worked extremely hard to build strong relationships and one would hope that a situation such as this one will be resolved before it causes any undo strain,” added Hughes.

Northern New Democrat MPs have been actively seeking to bring together the Federal and Provincial Governments and aboriginal leadership for months. The entire Northern Ontario New Democrat Caucus recently wrote the Minister of Finance reminding him of the government’s duty to consult with First Nations over any new tax. The letter also questioned the Prime Minister’s promise, made during the official apology for residential schools, to build “a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward.”

“I am glad that we have stepped back from the edge on this issue and believe the leadership of the Whitefish First Nation should be commended for that,” concluded Hughes.