Alberni Valley Times
This summer the salaries of First Nation's councillors have drawn national attention with a new federal transparency law, but this use of public funds has been available to local groups for years, according to native leaders based in Port Alberni.
Approximately half of Canada's 582 First Nations have provided financial formation to the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for the salaries of government officials to be posted online. This is a requirement of the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act, a law enforced for the first time this year to "ensure that First Nation band members have access to the information they require and deserve about basic financial management practices," said Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs press secretary Erica Meeks in an email to the times.
"It applies the same principles of transparency and accountability to First Nations governments that already exist for other governments in Canada," she added. The July 29 deadline to submit financial information to the ministry has come and gone, and now three of the four First Nations with offices in Port Alberni have their councillors' salaries available on the Aboriginal Affairs website.
The Huy-ay-aht do not have its salaries posted, although the First Nation intends to send the required information shortly, said Chief Jeff Cook. He emphasized council's primary concern is its responsibility to the 750 Huu-ay-aht citizens, which is why financial information from past years is available on the group's website.
"We published them last year and they haven't changed," Cook said. "We always report significant information to our citizens first."
According to financial statements for the 12-month period ending March 31, 2013, councilors Derek Peters, John Jack, Jack Cook, Sheila Charles and Charlie Clappis each earned $65,000, with other remuneration and travel expenses ranging from $1,000 to $6,300. Coun. Tom Happynook made $63,500, while Cook was paid $91,000 plus $5,317 in travel expenses as the chief.
Cook said these salaries have remained the same since raises were approved by Huu-ay-aht citizens in 2006.
"That's when the motion was brought to the people to increase it," he said.
The Tseshaht have provided its councilor salaries to the federal government, although Chief Hugh Braker said this information has been provided to the First Nation's citizens for more than two years through disclosures in its Facebook page. The ministry's site lists Braker earning a $66,000 salary over the last fiscal year, plus $20,514 in expenses. Gina Pearson, the next highest paid councilor, earned $55,000 less than the Tseshaht chief. The Tseshaht have a population of 1,131, with 673 living off the reserve.
First Nations councilors and chiefs are paid by federal government funds, but who earns what is up to the individual groups, stated the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.
Meekes said the many First Nations who didn't meet the July 29 deadline will receive "formal reminders" to comply.
"After 120 calendar days, if there is no resolution for bands that are refusing to comply with the law, the government will take action according to the provisions of the law, which could include withholding of funding," she said.
Among the other local First Nations, the Hupacasath have Chief Steven Tatoosh earning $61,871 over the last fiscal year in salary and expenses.
Its councillor and forestry manager Warren Lauder was paid more at $66,489. Ditidaht Chief Jack G. Thompson made a salary of $85,372, plus $32,968 in expenses.
Councillor pay varied widely from Coun. Jack K. Thompson's $17,667 plus $17,617 in expenses to Coun. Terry Edgar's $71,441 with $3,238 in expense claims.
The reported First Nations salaries are easily dwarfed by some earnings in other parts of the country, including a Kwikwetlem chief in Coquitlam who made over $900,000 last year.
But the councilor pay makes many of the native leaders the highest earners among politicians in the area.
John Douglas earns $38,450 annually for his role as mayor of Port Alberni, while city councilors make $17,041.