OTTAWA — A Manitoba chief is calling on his fellow First Nations leaders to push for a share of the expected tax revenue from the looming legalization of marijuana.
"As far as jurisdiction and sovereignty, we should be recognized as equal participants in that process," Chief Glenn Hudson of Peguis First Nation said.
The Assembly of First Nations is a two-day policy meeting just outside Ottawa, looking at everything from modern treaties to carbon taxes.
Hudson has brought forth one of nine resolutions. His motion asks the AFN to make sure Ottawa and the provinces adequately consult First Nations "in the design of licensing, production, distribution, and sale of legalized cannabis" and to recognized "First Nations jurisdiction supersedes provincial legislation" in these areas.
The resolution says the federal Liberals risk "a missed opportunity" for reconciliation by leaving First Nations out of the cannabis tax framework that it’s crafted so far.
Chiefs from across Canada are scheduled to debate Hudson’s motion at a Wednesday afternoon plenary.
In recent hearings at the Senate committee on Indigenous issues, the First Nations Tax Commission proposed amendments to existing laws that would replace provincial rules and revenues with First Nations excise taxes, to pay for health, public-awareness and other costs associated with legalization.Advertisement
Those rules could be harmonized with provinces if there is a risk it would otherwise encourage smuggling, the commission said.
Chief commissioner Manny Jules said restricting provincial revenue from reserves could create "a dog’s breakfast," especially if cannabis is sold, taxed or marketed differently in First Nations communities.
He told senators the tax commission made a detailed proposal to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould a year ago, outlining how existing laws could be amended, and followed up with Finance Canada in August 2017. The Indigenous Bar Association has publicly supported the proposal.
Finance Canada did not respond to a midday query Monday asking how taxes related to cannabis will be applied on reserves.
"We don’t know the overall plans," Hudson said in an interview, ahead of the Tuesday and Wednesday meetings.
The Senate also heard from the chief of Akwesasne, a Mohawk council whose lands straddle Quebec’s border with the United States. April Adams-Phillips said her people have become notorious for cigarette smuggling, but are trying to cut back a problem that could have been avoided.
Adams-Phillips said giving cigarettes tax-free to reserves ended up fuelling traffickers, who cut out revenue provinces needed to deal with health issues caused by smoking.
She pleaded for tax to be applied on-reserve: "The tobacco experience doesn’t need to happen again."
Hudson said there is a mix of enthusiasm and trepidation for the marijuana business in Peguis, about 180 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
"We need to be involved in the development of any industry and this is one in which we haven’t been consulted."
He said there have been two public-information sessions on the reserve of 3,500, one of which attracted 300 people. When the crowd was asked whether Peguis should be involved in the industry, he said, only two hands didn’t go up.
Hudson said elders support a commercial venture, but want to know how to prevent youth from getting involved in cannabis.
Last December, Ottawa banged out a deal with to split roughly 25 per cent of the revenue from an excise tax on pot, leaving the rest to the provinces, after they balked at an initial suggestion of splitting the revenue 50-50. Manitoba was the lone holdout in that deal, until the Pallister government endorsed it in March.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has asked repeatedly for the city receive a cut of the tax, to compensate for extra policing and zoning costs. He claimed in February Ottawa intended to give one-fourth of the revenue to municipalities, thought the Liberals say they’ve asked provinces only to make sure the funds they receive provide help at the municipal level.