As First Nations people we knew that the real reason behind the Canadian Taxpayers Association lobby to have First Nations audits made public was to use them against First Nations. It has started, the criticisms of how much chiefs make, comparison to Mayors or PM's salary and noting these salaries are tax-free as if that was a sin. Of course there is little gasps of dismay or note of how little some Chiefs and Councils make for working 24/7 for their communities.
Condemning headlines are rampant about one chief making a million dollars, oops, only $4800 for being chief, $80,000 for being the economic development officer and $800,000 had to do with a one time commission/bonus for bringing in money for the First Nation in his position as Economic Development officer. Then you have Valcourt expressing his concern, others openly criticizing the Chief in his personal capacity for negotiating a contract with his First Nation as an incentive to bring in money. If we are looking at the salary of Chief and Councils, let us look at the salary of Chief and Councils. One of the accounting rules is that all money paid to the Chief and council must be listed even though it comes from 1 or more positions in the First Nation not related to being the Chief or Council and some people cannot seem to separate those positions.
I am not against transparency and accountability. Chiefs and Councils must be accountable to their members, they are the trustees of the money that they hold on behalf of the members. The money belongs to the collective of the members and needs to be spent in ways that benefit the members. That is what elections are about. As a matter of good governance, Chief and Councils should provide their audits, salaries and expenses and management letters to their members. What Chiefs and Councils are paid is the concern of the members of the First Nation. No one else.
Chiefs and Councils have to sign funding agreements with the federal government. These funding agreements are very comprehensive and include timelines for doing audits. First Nations spend an inordinate amount of money for accountants because they must fulfill so many reporting conditions. But this was not enough for the Canadian Taxpayers Association. Yet, for many, many years, the federal government knew this was sufficient to account for the federal dollars that went to First Nations across this country.
These funding agreements set out fixed and flexible contribution funding. In some cases, you have to spend money on certain things, if you overspend, or spend money on an area not approved, you have to pay the federal government back and in other cases you can carry over to the next year like capital items. Anything that doesn't fall within the usual funding formulas has to be negotiated with AANDC for things like water and other infrastructure. So what was wrong with that accountability structure to the federal government? The fact was that it had its positives and negatives and was always being revamped based on recommendations of the Auditor General. The problem to people like the Canadian Taxpayers Association is that they didn't have access to these audits for the ammunition they needed to criticize First Nations governments.
The purpose of the First Nation Financial Transparency Act (s. 3) is "to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations..."but it doesn't state to whom and therein lies the problem.
Who really should care about what Chiefs and Councils make? The people they are accountable to: their members. Some communities have their budgets approved by the members which includes what the Chief and Council are paid and are provided their audits including schedules of salaries. At the other end of the spectrum, there are some First Nations that don't share any financial information with their members and this was allegedly the concern of the former Minister of Indian Affairs. But if he truly thought that was the issue, the legislation would have compelled Chiefs and Councils to make this information available to their members, not to the entire world on the world wide web.
Accountability to the federal government for any money received by them is also important, but it does not give the federal government the right to say how much Chief and Councils should be paid. As for the Canadian Taxpayers Association, and the general public, what business is it of theirs? As long as First Nations are properly accounting to the Federal government, that should be sufficient.
What is important to note is because of accounting rules, all revenue received by the First Nation must be included in the audited Financial Statements. This means income paid to the First Nation from their corporate entities, and money received in proposals and grants, money from the province for revenue sharing, etc. is in black and white for all the world to see. Why is that anyone's business but the First Nation? Expenditures are made based on the entire income not just the money provided by the Federal government and this infringes on the privacy of the First Nation.
The audit also lays out all the liabilities of the First Nation, who they are owed to, how much, and monthly payments. Very internal information to the First Nation.
Having to reveal so much financial information to the general public puts the First Nation in a prejudicial position. Anyone going to do business with the First Nation knows exactly what their financial position is without understanding the First Nation itself or its ability to raise money or its credit rating. No private corporation is required to publish any information and First Nation's cannot access such information of their potential partners without signing a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement. A different playing field again for the First Nation.
The Fort McKay First Nation is refusing to reveal their salaries. I am sure they will challenge the legislation if AANDC refuses to release money to them or cancels their funding agreements. It will be a good test case on how this legislation is prejudicial to First Nations as a mix of federal and First Nation money. What jurisdiction does the Federal Government have over money made or negotiated by the First Nation from their own sources? None.The definition in the Indian Act does not include this kind of money and doesn't fall within s. 91(24) Indians and Lands reserved for Indians.
AANDC and the Federal governments want First Nations to embrace economic development and then put this huge barrier that makes First Nations shy away from it. Why does that make sense?
This has also been raised at the international level under complaint mechanisms under international law and brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. Canada has a duty under International Laws like the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to ensure that racial discrimination is eradicated not ramped up due to their actions.
Being a Chief or Councillor is one of the more honourable roles you can have. These are the leaders of our Nations and due respect is required. There is no other role like a Chief. You are on call 24/7. Members can call on you at any time for help. Issues arise day or night. In the outside community, everyone knows who you are and can be approached by non-members at any public place. Chiefs have to go to many, many meetings, evenings, weekends and holidays. Not just meetings, but public events. Chiefs are responsible for everything that arises out of the administration of the government. This includes like running all programs like fisheries, natural resources, all consultations and accommodations, including environmental assessment processes, negotiations, social development, finances and policy development, education, housing and infrastructure, health, forestry, elders and youth, wellness including healing from the residential schools, language revitalization, culture, management of all the assets of the Nation, economic development, treaty negotiations, strength of claim assessments, etc. You have to deal with national issues, provincial issues, regional issues, local government issues and at times international issues. You need to be well versed in everything that is going on around you, how it impacts your members, territories and resources in order to speak to it, defend, protect and promote. First Nations are leading in many important issues in this country in issues like Northern Gateway. The job is endless and comprehensive, and very technical in scope as well as political.
Compensation to Chief and Councils are the business of the members of the Nation. It can be based on spectrum of responsibility but always within the affordability of the Nation.
Expenses will vary depending on how much business must be conducted away from the reserve. For remote communities, expenses will necessarily be higher. I am not sure why people think expenses become part of the income of the Chief as these are expenses incurred, not extra cash. Expenses must be reasonable and accounted for, again within the budget set by the First Nation based on the degree of activity they have off reserve. Policies delineating how those expenses are reimbursed are important.
Who should care how much chiefs make? Their members. It is the internal business of their First Nation. I cannot judge that, nor should you.