VANCOUVER – Newly posted documents show a dramatic disparity in the salaries and travel expenses paid to a handful of Canada’s First Nations chiefs, ranging from thousands of dollars to almost $1 million.
Following the passage of a financial-transparency law by the federal government in 2013, First Nations are now required to publish audited financial statements of salaries and expenses online within 120 days of the end of the financial year ending March 31, 2014.
As of Thursday, many links to the data on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website still read “not yet posted.”
But Metro Vancouver’s Kwikwetlem First Nation has published, and the website shows that economic development officer and Chief Ron Giesbrecht was paid $914,219 in remunerations and $16,574 in expenses for the financial year ending March 31, 2014.
Remunerations are defined in the document as salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, honorarium, dividends and any other benefits, other than reimbursements, and non-monetary benefits. Expenses are defined as the costs of transportation, accommodation, meals, hospitality and incidentals.
A person answering the phone at band’s office had promised a statement, then later said there would be no comment at this time.
Still, the band states on its website that it is creating an environment that promotes a higher quality of life.
“We are committed to transparency, responsibility, financial accountability, social, health, education, and economic development,” the website states.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reports the Kwikwetlem band has a registered population of 37 and 33 people living on the reserve.
Earlier this month, the Kwikwetlem claimed title to all lands associated with now-closed Riverview Hospital in Metro Vancouver and other areas of its traditional territory, citing the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Tsilhqot’in v. British Columbia.
The O’Chiese First Nation of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., reported Chief Darren Whitford received remunerations of $164,453 and travel and meeting expenses of $100,778. The First Nation’s six councillors reported remunerations starting at just over $102,261 and expenses starting at $27,433.
The band’s total population reported by Statistics Canada in the 2006 census was 450.
The Taku River Tlingit First Nation in the northwestern, B.C., community of Atlin also published a document showing a salary of $72,800 to band spokesman John Ward and travel expenses $6,400.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation expressed “jubilation” over the publication, and noted more and more information would be available over the coming weeks as the federal government scans and posts the documents.
“When we first called for the disclosure of chief and council pay information back in 2009 a lot of people told us Ottawa wouldn’t touch the matter,” said federation spokesman Colin Craig in a news release. “But we mobilized people on and off reserve to tell Ottawa to make legislative changes so that the government could start posting the details publicly. Kudos to the Harper government for listening.”
He said many aboriginal people have been bullied or harassed for asking for the basic information in the past.
In March 2013, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and others tried to speak in Winnipeg on the First Nations Financial Transparency Act but were interrupted by protesters who opposed the law.
Protester Pam Palmater of the Idle No More movement said at the time she opposed the law because the financial information is already transparent.