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N.B. needs to improve Indigenous engagement: minister

March 2, 2023
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller speaks with reporters on Feb. 28, 2023. Image: CPAC video capture

NationTalk: Country 94.1 – New Brunswick needs to do a better job of engaging with Indigenous communities, according to one federal minister. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller made the comments during a news conference on Tuesday.

Miller said he has heard directly from Indigenous communities about the expiration of tax-sharing agreements“. I don’t think it should be lost on anyone that we’re seeing a government that needs to be a little better engaged with Indigenous peoples,” Miller told reporters. “These agreements are the nub of a lot of the discussions that we’ve had on revenue for communities that is making a difference in people’s lives that is in the tens of millions of dollars.”

New Brunswick announced in April 2021 that it would not be renewing tax-sharing agreements with First Nation communities.

The agreements allowed First Nation communities to keep 95 per cent of the first $8 million in provincial tax revenues they collected from on-reserve retail operations and 70 per cent on amounts above that. Premier Blaine Higgs called the agreements “unsustainable and unfair” and said they “do not adhere to our basic principles of taxation.” “In Canada, we believe that we all pay into programs that we all benefit from, like health, education and other social support services,” Higgs said at the time.

First Nations received $47 million from the agreements in 2019-20, a number the province estimated would grow to $75 million in 2031-32. The premier claimed nearly 40 per cent of that money was going to just two per cent of the First Nations’ population.

Wolastoqey chiefs said the revenue helped reduce the “substantial ongoing and systemic gap” in per capita funding the federal and provincial governments provide for education and social services on First Nations reserves compared to funding off-reserve for similar services.

In November, the province announced joint negotiations with all 15 First Nations on a new agreement to fund “social programs” such as housing, health care, social assistance and education.

Miller, meanwhile, made it clear what could happen if the New Brunswick government does not do a better job of engaging with Indigenous communities. “The courts are going to remind them very severely of that role or communities are going to take a more forceful approach to their understanding of what self-determination means,” he said.

“The role of the federal government is multi-fold in that one. It isn’t limited to speaking publicly about it, but actually working in the background with the New Brunswick government, working with Indigenous communities to ensure rights are respected.”

Brad Perry, Regional News Director for for Acadia Broadcasting’s New Brunswick radio stations