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B.C. First Nation chief urged to quit over $800,000 contract bonus

COQUITLAM, B.C. - At least one member of a tiny Metro Vancouver First Nation is calling for his chief's resignation over an $800,000 bonus paid on economic development contracts.

Documents published under a federal financial-transparency law show $914,219 in remunerations and $16,574 in expenses were paid to Kwikwetlem First Nation Chief Ron Giesbrecht, who was also the economic development officer, for the financial year ending March 31, 2014.

A media update posted online Friday by the Coquitlam, B.C., band said that of those funds, $800,000 was an agreed 10-per-cent bonus for economic development contracts. It added Giesbrecht was paid $4,800 as chief and $80,000 as the economic development officer.

Band member Ron Jackman, who attended a meeting of angry band members on Friday, said he and several others were not aware of the bonus and he was outraged because so many people in the community are suffering.

"We hope he does the right thing by stepping down," said Jackman, 39, who is a student at the B.C. Institute of Technology.

Jackman said he doesn't think members can do much about the payment because it was part of an employment agreement, but he wants an independent audit of Giesbrecht.

If Giesbrecht doesn't resign, he said members will call a general band meeting and start a petition for a leadership vote.

"Just because of one man's action, we don't want to be judged as a whole," he said.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reports the Kwikwetlem band has a registered population of 37, with 33 of them living on the reserve. But Jackman said the numbers are higher — probably between 80 and 90.

Giesbrecht did not return calls by publication, but the band issued a notice to members on his behalf.

"Chief Ron has made it clear that he is accountable to members and that you are the priority," read the unsigned notice. "He has been spending all of his time with members to make sure he can answer questions and address any concerns you have."

The notice said Giesbrecht has already spoken to many members, is committed to speaking to everybody and will keep the community up to date. The next steps will be announced Aug. 7, the notice added.

Under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which was passed in 2013, audited consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration and expenses must be published online within 120 days of the end of the financial year.

Jackman lauded the law's passage through Parliament.

"I am totally glad that that went through because we would have never known about this money that came through," he said. "He would not have told us that he took that money."

-- by Keven Drews in Vancouver

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