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B.C. First Nations take HST concerns to the province

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) met with B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen on Thursday to discuss its concerns about the effects of the harmonized sales tax on B.C. First Nations -- and the possibility of a tax exemption.

"What grounded the discussion was our conveying the reality of the crushing poverty in our committees," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the UBCIC. "We talked about the fact that the vast majority of our people live off reserve, and would be susceptible to yet another burden, the HST, on their very limited financial resources."

Phillip said the UBCIC and the minister discussed possible "mitigative measures" to protect vulnerable First Nations communities during the transition to the HST, such as establishing a First Nations HST fund, which would derive revenues from provincial HST collections.

"The fund would ... be available to invest in economic and business initiatives, culture and education, sports and recreation for First Nations communities to offset the shortfalls in existing funding," said Phillip.

They also discussed the possibility of a First Nations point of sale tax exemption, though last week Hansen told the CBC that it is "too complicated and expensive" to make exemptions for the HST.

He was unavailable for comment at the time of posting.

Phillip said the conversation comes "at the eleventh hour."

"This time of taxation transition is the opportune time to revisit these issues," he said.

The UBCIC and Hansen will meet again in Victoria to continue the discussion, but a date has not been set.

Robyn Smith is completing a practicum at The Tyee.