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Manitoba chiefs' salary data online

Band councils' pay must also be listed under federal law

Canada's chiefs and councils must list salaries and other forms of remuneration online according to a new federal law.

DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Canada's chiefs and councils must list salaries and other forms of remuneration online according to a new federal law.

An online search this morning should, in theory, enable anyone to find out how much a Manitoba First Nations chief or councillor earns.

But the federal government says it will likely take a few days before all the numbers are posted.

All of Canada's First Nations were to have posted their chiefs' and councils' salaries Tuesday with midnight as the absolute deadline.

The 2013 First Nations Transparency Act requires First Nations to post financial figures 120 days after the end of the fiscal year, making July 29 the effective deadline to comply with the new law.

Under the law, Canada's 633 First Nation chiefs and councils must disclose their salaries, other forms of remuneration as well as finances from band-owned business and consolidated financial audits of First Nations bands.

The same rules already apply to civic, provincial and federal elected officials.

By Tuesday evening, figures for only three of Manitoba First Nations could be found online. A total of 20 across Canada (including the two Manitoba examples) had posted the salaries. There are 63 First Nations in Manitoba. The three Manitoba First Nations that posted their numbers by late Tuesday included Buffalo Point, Gambler and Lake Manitoba.

A federal spokeswoman said it could be several days before all the numbers are posted and Ottawa doesn't plan on pursuing immediate court action.

The new law authorized Ottawa to post the data on its Aboriginal Affairs public website as it was received.

Up to now, First Nations were required to file much of the same informations, including audits and salaries, yearly with Ottawa but it wasn't publicly posted.

First Nations that refuse to disclose their finances publicly face the threat of court orders and the withdrawal of federal funding under the legislation.

Any Canadian can file a court petition for the figures to be made public.

The new law boasts strong support from frustrated band members.

An aboriginal woman from northern Manitoba said Tuesday she is pleased the law is been changed to force disclosure but said she's still waiting for action from her own band, which did not post its salaries Tuesday.

The woman, who asked to be identified only as Mary, didn't want to reveal her identity for fear of retaliation from the chiefs. She works at a First Nations organization. "My community is a big red flag," said Mary, who recalled a letter campaign she launched with another band member in 2009 to organizations such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and federal officials.

"I pushed for our community because I wanted disclosure. And even though they (Ottawa) didn't send me a letter saying, 'Thank you, Mary, for helping,' I did play a role," she said.

The local chapter of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation took credit Tuesday for taking up the battle and making it national. "When we first called for the disclosure of chief and council pay information back in 2009, a lot of people told us Ottawa won't touch the matter," the federation's Prairie director, Colin Craig, said in a statement Tuesday.

"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," Craig said. "Kudos to the Harper government for listening."

Craig said he's aware of the risk on-reserve residents took pushing for the law. "It's a sad fact of life that many aboriginal people have been bullied or harassed in the past merely for asking for this basic information," Craig said in the statement.

In a phone interview, he added the campaign to took years of intense lobbying.

"The story started back in late 2009. We put out a news release disclosing the salaries of politicians on the Peguis reserve and we noted at the time that a whistleblower had been able to get a hold of those documents but that, there were communities where band members had told us they couldn't get the information," Craig said. "So we started calling on Ottawa to disclose the details for every reserve from Canada because we'd heard from a number of reserves, that they couldn't get this information."

The federation released a report in November 2010 detailing salaries of hundreds of chiefs and band councillors from across Canada, alleging many made more than they should.

The report found 600 chiefs and band councillors earned more than $100,000 in 2008-2009 and 50 took home the tax-free equivalent of more than the prime minister's salary of about $315,000.

In Manitoba, five chiefs and councillors were paid more than the prime minister, 20 were paid more than the provincial premier and 110 earned more than $100,000.

First Nations leaders criticized the federation for its report, calling it misleading because it included amounts such as costs for travel expenses and per diems.

The average chief's salary in Manitoba at the time was $42,812 and the national average was $38,845, show to figures released by the national lobby group for First Nations chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations.

A spokesman for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs did not answer a request for comment Tuesday.

Ottawa heralded the new law ahead of the Tuesday deadline. "With increased access to basic financial information, (First Nation) community members can make more informed decisions about the financial management and reporting of their elected officials," Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in statement Friday.

 

To view the figures online, click here.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 7:16 AM CDT:
Replaces photo

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