Commissioner Bill McCue is a councillor and former Chief of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, and served as South East Regional Grand Chief for the Union of Ontario Indians from 1994 to 2003. He was also previously member of FNTC’s predecessor, the Indian Taxation Advisory Board (ITAB) from 1997 to 2007, when he became a Commissioner for the FNTC. As Chief, Commissioner McCue was an original signatory to the Framework Agreement on First Nations Lands Management (FNLM) and his community ratified the first Land Code in 1997. He is currently on the FNLMI board of directors, as well as the finance committee for the Lands Advisory Board. Commissioner McCue has also served as president of the Ogemawahj Tribal Council and chairman of their economic development board.
Commissioner McCue is a firm believer in the importance of local economic development. He has helped his community develop a large number of cottage leases and improve local services and infrastructure. He was also chairman of the Casino Rama Revenue Sharing Committee, which developed a revenue-sharing formula to share gaming revenues with all Ontario First Nations. Last year, the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation also opened a new business plaza and restaurant across from their marina. There are now approximately 75 new on-reserve jobs, with half being filled by members and half by people from the surrounding area. This is creating a significant impact in a community of approximately 200 residents.
Clearing the Path recently had the opportunity to sit down with Commissioner McCue to talk about his experience and involvement with the FNTC and his thoughts on property taxation in Ontario.
What has your experience as a Commissioner for the FNTC been like and how has it changed since your role with FNTC’s predecessor ITAB? One of the biggest changes for the Commissioners has been the responsibility for approving First Nation laws directly rather than recommending them to the Minister for approval as we did with ITAB. Another change has been having taxpayers on the Commission, which brings additional perspectives to our discussions. I feel privileged to have helped First Nations exercise their tax jurisdiction. I’m deeply honoured to be part of such a diverse and knowledgeable group of people. I especially want to acknowledge the leadership and vision of Chief Commissioner Jules, without him this would not have happened.
Recently the federal government has emphasized nation-to- nation relationships. How does taxation fit into the emphasis on this relationship? Revenue jurisdictions such as taxation are key to a nation-to-nation relationship. Although the federal government will always have core funding obligations, First Nations need to have their own revenue sources to be equal partners in confederation.
In BC, approximately 50% of First Nations have implemented property taxation. What are your thoughts on the traction of property taxation in Ontario? What do you see as the difference? There are fewer First Nations with residential and commercial leaseholders on Ontario reserves. There also hasn’t been the history of local governments collecting taxes on reserve lands without providing services as has happened elsewhere. Where there have been on-reserve residents, in many cases the First Nation implemented service fees rather than property tax. In our community we have utility taxation and service fees for cottagers.
Recently the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (CKSP) became the first First Nation in Ontario to adopt FMA property taxation. In your view, what impacts or affects will this have for other First Nations in the province? CKSP’s property tax law will be a good example for other First Nations in Ontario. It will help reduce the subsidization of local services to leaseholders and reduce collection issues. I think it will show taxing non- member interests on First Nation lands doesn’t infringe on treaty rights. Hopefully it dispels the misnomer that property taxation is tied to PST exemptions. It also demonstrates leadership and good communications can overcome fear of taxation among community members.
Looking back to the early days of ITAB, what were your expectations of property taxation at that time? How has your view changed now with the current state of property taxation? In the early days, people thought very few First Nations would participate in property tax — maybe 20 across Canada. However, as First Nation property tax was implemented, it soon became apparent that many more First Nations had taxable property on their reserves, including utility properties and railway properties. With the FMA, First Nation property tax now includes a more complete range of local revenue options such as Development Cost Charges and local revenues can be leveraged to finance local infrastructure. There are now 177 FMA First Nations across Canada generating millions of dollars for their local economies each year.