THURSDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — A new era of accountability for Canada’s First Nations politicians began this week, albeit grudgingly, with implementation of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
The first deadline for filing audited financial statements, including salaries and expenses for chiefs and councils, came on Tuesday. All bands are supposed to submit the statements for posting on a government website — only a handful of them is listed so far but some may just be tangled up in bureaucratic delay.
Most bands in the Kamloops region still aren’t there. Credit must be extended, therefore, to the Tk’emlups band for having made the deadline.
The report filed by the band shows that Chief Shane Gottfriedson is paid almost $82,000 plus pension and travel expenses, more than the mayor of Kamloops.
It needs to be noted that band chiefs and councillors have different responsibilities than municipal mayors and councillors do, taking on a lot of administrative duties. They become, in effect, part of band management as well as elected representatives.
But Gottfriedson is in charge of a band of 1,000 people; Mayor Peter Milobar represents a city with a population of 86,000.
Gottfriedson is, by no means, the highest paid chief in the country. Chief John Thunder of the Buffalo Point First Nation in Manitoba, a band with 125 members, is paid $129,398 a year.
When the Canadian Taxpayers Federation — whose lobbying led to the transparency act — started looking into how much band chiefs were being paid in 2012, it found that many of them were being paid more than Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that the First Nations Financial Transparency Act is so unpopular with many chiefs and councillors. Bill Erasmus of the Assembly of First Nations said, “We need to answer to our First Nation, not the federal government or the public.”
What does Gottfriedson think? He says the Tk’emlups band is already transparent and, in fact, it does issue a comprehensive annual report that includes financial statements. The mandatory addition of an audited statement of the salaries, expenses and benefits paid to chief and council seems in keeping with the band’s progressive approach.
Yet Gottfriedson referred to Bill C-27, the legislation that eventually became reality as the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, as “regressive” and “paternalistic.”
Chiefs like Erasmus who oppose the act like to say they are accountable to their members, not Ottawa, but the act actually does make them more accountable to those members, because they now have the right to know how much chiefs and councillors are being paid.
Band councils govern in a more sheltered environment than other levels of government in Canada. For example, while Kamloops media have very occasionally been allowed to attend general band meetings, the number of times they’ve been allowed to cover band council meetings in the past 30 or 40 years is, to our knowledge, zero.
So, this week’s events around the new federal regulations produce a mixed bag of outcomes. On the one hand, the Tk’emlups band deserves credit for its prompt attention to the deadline.
On the other hand, a broad shift toward a willingness to share information with the public about what chiefs and councillors spend, especially on themselves, is clearly a work in progress.
As Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said, “First Nations, like all Canadians, deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials.”