First Nations leaders reject “inaccurate, negative publicity” over salaries: do they have a point?

UPDATE (Nov 24, 2010): Hours after originally penning this piece, I realized I needed to make my point better and more fairly about how the data has been misrepresented, and by whom. Accordingly, I wish to clarify here that INAC did in fact track and present the data for travel, honoraria and salary separately (though it still isn’t always clear how these each break down) — it was only the CTF who re-presented them as a lump-sum figure, making it seem like the “salaries” were larger than they were. Go to the original CTF post and click on one of the data sets to see what I mean.)

The day after the Canadian Taxpayers Federation published what it claims is 2008 “chief and council pay data” for reserve politicians across Canada, reaction has come fast, hard — and, so far, a bit vague.

Today, Chief Shirley Clarke of the Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia told the media in a statement that she feels “the [CTF] document provides an inaccurate perception that we are unjustly overpaid for the limitless work we do on behalf of our community.”

According to The Vancouver Sun, it very much appears that Glooscap is the First Nation where “the highest [reported] salary [sic]— $978,468 — went to an unnamed band councillor at a small Mi’kmaq reserve in Atlantic Canada.” It is thought the anonymous politician represents this tiny community of 300 people (with just 87 of them living on-reserve) because, as the CBC noted, the CTF “report only identified reserves by population and federal funding,” and in Glooscap’s case, the figures “exactly matched.”

But Chief Clarke would neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of this near-$1 million figure to reporters; she would only say the data as presented are misleading because they do not include a breakdown of what the compensation covers, reports the CBC. The Canadian Press also quotes the Chief as saying “Our responsibilities are endless,” and do not follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule.

Meanwhile, Chief Lawrence Paul of Millbrook First Nation (also in Nova Scotia) told the Toronto Star, “he has no problem with making salary information public if the same standard applies to all governments and corporations.”

Included within that similar standard should be the method of calculation and presentation. One point that has been made elsewhere on MEDIA INDIGENA, and not altogether unfairly, is that figures provided to promoted by CTF to the media and the public by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada “include salaries, honorariums and travel per diems,” according to the Canadian Press.

To illustrate the significance of this point, look at what would happen if we lumped together these costs for federal Members of Parliament (MPs) in determining their remuneration.

Start with “travel per diems.” According to numbers crunched by Postmedia News in May, the top 10 travelling Members of Parliament incurred expenses anywhere from $29,927 to $60,483 in 2008-2009.

The base salary of a MP in Canada is $155,400 a year. If you’re that top traveller in 2008-2009, your total “salary” — using the all-in methodology of INAC and the CTF — would be $215,883. Technically speaking, that’s kinda misleading and unduly inflates the MP’s ‘earnings’ by 39%.

And as for those honoraria attributed to First Nation chiefs and councillors? This also potentially matters to our comparisons between Native and non-Native political ‘salary’ levels.

You see, every MP in Canada receives what’s known as a “Member’s Office Budget” (MOB), to the tune of over a quarter-million dollars a year.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s considered an eligible expense under every Member of Parliament’s annual budget of $280,500:

  • employee salaries
  • service contracts
  • constituency office operating expenses (e.g., utilities, telephone service for secondary constituency offices, additional cellular/BlackBerry services in excess of goods and services provided by the House incl. airtime and data plans, furniture and computer equipment)
  • Miscellaneous Expenditures Account, i.e., certain hospitality expenses and gifts given for reasons of official protocol (max. 3% of MOB)
  • travel
  • accommodation
  • meal and incidental expenses (by Member and his/her employees, designated travellers and/or dependant(s) within the Member’s constituency or his/her province or territory)
  • certain transportation expenses incurred by the Member within the National Capital Region, as well as accommodation, meal and incidental expenses incurred by employees on authorized parliamentary business trips within Canada
  • advertising to constituents concerning: Member office location and contact information; assistance and services they provide; meeting announcements related to constituency functions; congratulatory messages or greetings to constituents; opinions or statements in support of their parliamentary functions (max. 10% of MOB)

My question is, how many of the expenses of the kind listed above may or may not be included under what INAC and the CTF put forth as the “salary” of First Nation politicians in its publicity?

Most of them? One or two of them? We don’t know. And I think if we’re gonna rake these politicians over the coals, we should know exactly what we’re talking about first.

Does that make it likely that the unidentified band councillor from Atlantic Canada justifiably racked up almost a million dollars in combined expenses and salary in one year? Call me skeptical on that one. But I do suspect that if MPs were reported to have ‘earned’ $435,000 a year ($155,400 + $280,500) each, we would likely see them fall prey to the “inaccurate, negative” publicity currently faced by some on-reserve politicians.

10 thoughts on “First Nations leaders reject “inaccurate, negative publicity” over salaries: do they have a point?

  1. the CTF tried a conglomerate approach! salary and travel waged against the the salary (not the travel and other contributions) of federal and provincial politicians 😛 i think they should set out a class action law suit … canadian special interest group bs attempting to pilfer treaty rights!

    CTF is a not for profit organization that boast 60000 supporters across Canada. it has obtained information through freedom of information and used it against “non-tax-paying” first nations. this constitutes a violation in how that information is to be used and how it is to be conveyed or construed! … all i know is a special interest group is attempting trifle with the first nations utilizing misinformation. Its manipulated conveyance of information which is privy to the freedom of information act! special interest groups do not have any legislated power 😛

  2. I also did a post on this and though I do feel the media does not provide enough context on this and other matters involving Indigenous peoples. I also take issues with Chiefs like Clarke who will not disclose their salaries. Not that I think they owe it to the government or the media (which is often biased), but they do owe it to the members of their communities .
    Indeed the issue of nepotism etc is an issue with many grassroots band members because there are Chiefs and band councilors that do make expenditures on themselves etc that do raise a-lot of eyebrows. It’s quite hard to understand why Chiefs and band councilors are so reluctant to disclose their spending to band members.Hell if its all above board whats the problem,after all they are suppose to be working for the members,its not a private business they know this.
    Further more regarding Chief Clarke’s near million dollar take home that is very hard to swallow.What could she possibly have done to deserve that,indeed now that it is out she should be providing the facts,at least to the band members Like wow a million again that ‘s a bit hard to swallow.
    Show some leadership and quit make excuses why you can’t…a million ???

  3. You’ve got a point. What the salary includes needs to be clarified. Except for the million bucks. No way to explain that one! The 87 people on that reserve need to talk to their chief.

  4. “The 87 people on that reserve need to talk to their chief.”

    Well, it shouldn’t be that hard to have the entire community assemble for a meeting. 🙂

  5. These DIAND Indian Act Chiefs and Council got to go! I been saying this for years now and 13 years ago we recommended that the Treaty Monies go directly to the people, much the same way Family Allowances are distributed, and Bi-Pass the Band office, Chief and Councilors. This would let the real beneficiaries get the Treaty Money & Save millions of dollars, Imagine the cuts in DIAND and the Chief and Councils, this is the method to accountability and transparency, let us manage our monies!

    I put this Kijiji Ad out a while back, I just reposted it, I thought it was still active.

  6. Danger pay!! That’s what that is….and too bad the country is throwing more $$$ down the toilet, trying to dig more dirt on First Nations!!!! What else is new? Haven’t ya’ll got enough??? People should be spending time and energy trying to settle the land claims…and paying the Natives for all the stolen land and resources…put a dollar figure on that…and fix the social ills that are left over from the residential schools. Instead of pointing fingers…..can’t let one Indian make more than any top dog in the country. For Shame, For Shame……Kanada, your home ON Native Land!!!

  7. That’s absolutely true. It doesn’t matter whether the revenue comes in from the federal or provincial crown as allocated funds, from band owned businesses or from resource revenue or whatever! The funds belong to the band membership and the band council are in a trust relationship with the band membership with a fiduciary responsibility to the membership whether they like it or not.

  8. One – This money is there for the taking, or someone has asked for it, AND, INAC has given that money to the bands. INAC should also be accountable for giving that money.
    Two – There has to be collusion somewhere, and INAC probably knows it. I did mention this theory to CTF Manitoba. There is collusion because on my reserve, welfare recipients get $185 per month. That is low enough as it is, BUT, that is also the same amount that welfare recipients get ON ANOTHER RESERVE. Both reserves are separated.
    Find out for yourselves….what do welfare recipients get in Manitoba?…..New Brunswick?…etc.

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