Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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First public disclosure of First Nations salaries show fewer irregularities than expected

By Andy Radia | Canada Politics


Lo and behold, not all aboriginal chiefs and councils are corrupt.

That – admittedly factitious remark – comes following Tuesday's midnight deadline for First Nations' communities to publish their audited financial statements and salary disclosures under the Harper government's new transparency law.

While most of the data hasn't been published yet, an initial analysis suggests that some chiefs and councils are overpaid while some are underpaid. There are some improprieties while most transactions seem to be above-board.

That – surprise surprise – is just like other non-aboriginal governments across the country.

[ Related: Derek Nepinak re-elected Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' grand chief ]

(See Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell, who just got a salary boost of $19,000. She was already Canada's highest-paid mayor with an annual income of $213,000. And, according to the Toronto Star, she racked-up $186,000 in expenses over three years including an expense for Mandarin lessons ).

Last year, Chief John Thunder, the hereditary chief of the 125-member Buffalo Point First Nation, was paid $116,918 tax free.

As eloquently pointed out by Sun News Network, "his taxable equivalent salary would be $200,000 – or more than $40,000 than what Premier Greg Selinger made in 2013 to lead more than 1.2 million Manitobans."

Moreover, according to the Globe and Mail, Thunder was recently charged with extortion by the RCMP. He sent an email to the Globe justifying his salary.

"I’m the most affordable Chief Executive Officer in Canada, and that does not even count my 31 years of groundbreaking leadership," he said.

There are, however, several examples of bands and councils at the other end of the spectrum.

As explained by the Toronto Star, the "average honoraria of council members at the Moravian of the Thames First Nation in Ontario" is $6,462/year. That community has a population of about 1.250.

And the three councillors in the Siska First Nation in British Columbia earned an average of just over $6,000 for the year.

The push for salary disclosure initially came from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. In 2009, the "citizens' advocacy group" began releasing documents provided to the them showing that Chief and Council on some reserves were earning more than the prime minister of Canada.

The Assembly of First Nations calls that analysis "misleading."

"Everything points to (an attempt) to build on the propaganda that aboriginal governments are dishonest," Ghislain Picard, interim chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told the Toronto Star.

"That’s the thinking that’s out there and that’s what they keep building on."

In an email exchange with Yahoo Canada News, Don Kelly, a spokesperson for the AFN, said that in 2010 "the average salary of a First Nation elected official was between $36,000 and $37,000."

The AFN says that they're all for transparency and accountability but that the Conservative Party's bill "calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings that could put First Nations businesses at a disadvantage in terms of competitiveness."

Public disclosure is a good thing.

For the most part, it keeps governments and politicians in-check and subject to scrutiny.

And ironically, while the AFN objects to it now, the new rules might could go a long way in extinguishing the myth that some aboriginal leaders are crooked.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

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