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Misplaced outrage over aboriginal leaders' pay packets

Squiala Chief David Jimmie was paid about $91,000 for his role as CEO of the band and $14,000 for his role as chief. - Greg Laychak
Squiala Chief David Jimmie was paid about $91,000 for his role as CEO of the band and $14,000 for his role as chief.
— image credit: Greg Laychak

If not for Chief Ron Giesbrecht of the Kwikwetlem First Nation and his $800,000 bonus last year, the attempt by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) to foment outrage about pay packets for aboriginal leaders in Canada may have backfired.

When the federal government began to post the remuneration statements of aboriginal chiefs and councillors along with band financial statements last week, the CTF expressed “jubilation” and took full credit for the First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA) that made it possible.

And while information from just half of the bands in the Times’ readership area was posted before going to press, it would appear most chiefs and councillors were in fact paid quite modest honoraria and/or salaries last year.

Chief Clem Seymour of Seabird Island, for example, a reserve with 934 registered members, was paid $34,951 in 2013.

(See below for more numbers.)

“If any individual were to look at his travel itinerary and his calendar of meetings, it might send an Olympic athlete to the hospital, I’m not exaggerating,” said Ernie Crey, a long-time First Nations leader who has served in many roles including policy analyst for the Sto:lo Tribal Council and, as of November, is a council member for the Cheam band.

“If I were the [CTF] I might be a little embarrassed at what little remuneration is paid to probably the overwhelming majority of First Nations leaders.”

By Wednesday morning, information for Cheam, Seabird Island, Skawahlook, Skwah, Soowahlie, Squiala, Sts’ailes and Tzeachten was online. Not yet posted by the federal government was Aitchelitz, Kwaw-kwaw-Apilt, Leq’a:mel, Popkum, Shxwha:y, Skowkale or Yakweakwioose.

The highest paid so far is Squiala Chief David Jimmie who received $105,910 last year. Of that, $14,199 was for his role as chief and $91,711 for his full-time job as CEO of the band.

The Squiala First Nation is home to the large, new Eagle Landing retail development project. Jimmie said he is happy to be transparent about the financial numbers, and the band always has been. He told the Times Wednesday they have an annual meeting where they present the information to interested community members.

“You would think we would get a lot of interest from our members. We hardly get anybody come out,” he said.

After Jimmie, Chief Harvey Paul of St’sailes (pop. 1,076) was paid $78,640. Chief Glenda Campbell of Tzeachten (pop. 493) took home $61,712 last year. And Chief Brenda Wallace of Soowahlie (pop. 368) was paid $54,266. At the low end, Chief Maureen Campbell of the small Skawahlook First Nation in Agassiz (pop. 85, with just seven on reserve) was paid $26,000.

The vast majority of media attention so far has focused on Giesbrecht and the outlandish contract he was able to secure as economic development officer. That deal landed him 10 per cent of all deals, which meant approximately $800,000 on an $8 million land sale in 2013.

Aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike were shocked. Former band councillors have even said they had no idea about Giesbrecht’s contract.

But parse the data from the vast majority of bands and, unless you are already so inclined, more outrage is hard to muster.

Jimmie’s pay packet may seem high, but given the success of development of late on his reserve it is by no means exorbitant.

As with stories about pay for municipal politicians, there will always be someone who complains when an elected official gets a nickel.

Jimmie is well aware that no matter how justified his salary is in the big picture, someone who is unemployed may be shocked.

So has this all backfired on the CTF?

When asked, B.C. director for the CTF Jordan Bateman wouldn’t answer.

“Only one third of the disclosures have gone live across the country [as of Tuesday morning], so how do you, or Ernie [Crey], know Giesbrecht is the only outlier?” he asked.

He added that even if it proves to be the case that Giesbrecht’s massive payout is anomalous, it proves the CTF’s “commitment to transparency works.”

In a CTF press release issued July 29, prairie director Colin Craig said that many band members “have been bullied or harassed in the past for merely asking for this basic information.”

The FNFTA now makes it possible for all band members to find out what their elected representatives earn.

The act has been opposed by a handful of band leaders, but most support being open about what leaders are paid.

Crey said he and other Sto:lo leaders he has heard from are happy the FNFTA now provides the information for band members. But speaking of transparency, he said now it’s time for the CTF to walk the walk.

“Those that seek to change public policy, like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, should lead by example as opposed to trying to make an example of others. No?”

The CTF disagrees.

When asked who donates to the CTF, or even a list of the top 20 donors, Bateman reiterated the organization’s position that it guards those names closely. Instead, the organization provides a financial summary that showed all but 326 of the 22,971 donors last year gave less than $1,000. And of those 326, the average donation was $1,395.

The implication being there are no fat cats secretly bankrolling the CTF. It is a grassroots organization made up of frustrated taxpayers.

Bateman further suggested that even asking the question was akin to him asking the Times for a list of the paper’s biggest advertisers.

“I’m sure it would be fascinating for some to pour [sic] over the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for the 22,971 donations we received last year,” he said. “Just as I’m sure others would be fascinated to read the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and billables of all of the people who advertise in the Chilliwack Times, or who subscribe to the Vancouver Sun. But I’m guessing if we, or Ernie, asked you or the Sun’s publisher to turn over that information, you’d cite many reasons why that was a ridiculous request.”

Instead, he pointed to a scrolling list that appears on the organization’s website, www.taxpayer.com with the names of donors who have voluntarily agreed put their names next to quotes and amounts donated.

 

2013 salaries and honoraria paid to Chiefs of local First Nations bands posted on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website as of August 6:

Squiala Chief David Jimmie $105,910

Sts'ailes Chief Harvey Paul $78,640

Tzeachten Chief Glenda Campbell $61,712

Soowahlie Chief Brenda Wallace $54,266

Cheam Chief Sidney Douglas/Lincoln Douglas $41,962

Seabird Island Chief Clem Seymour $34,951

Skwah Chief Robert Combes $29,781

Skawahlook Chief Maureen Campbell $26,000.

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