Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Does David Chartrand earn more than Premier Selinger?

Good Day Readers:
Approximately a year ago we telephoned the Premier's Office to ask where his salary and that of his Cabinet could be found on the internet. Not a problem. We were directed to a provincial website and there they were! By the way, did you know the MMF's provincial Board of Directors is larger than Mr. Selinger's Cabinet? You can even go to the Manitoba Archives to ask for the "Blue Book" which displays the name of every civil servent earning more than $50,000, their department and exact salary.
David Chartrand's annual financial remuneration, on the other hand, is "top secret" even though the Federation is taxpayer financed.
Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
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Alberta native chief makes 30% more than premier
Kevin Libin, National Post
Published: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 Echo Enoch Cree Nation Chief Harry Sharphead (right) at a swearing in ceremony in Enoch, Alberta. Mr. Sharphead has cut his salary twice, to $180,000 a year -- about the same as a $274,000 income earned ...
There are reasons Alberta's Ed Stelmach might envy the chief of the Enoch Cree First Nation that sits on Edmonton's western flank, just 17 kilometres from the Premier's own office. Although Mr. Stelmach's Cabinet tried quietly to hike their salaries dramatically in 2008, making him the highest paid premier in the country, the raises didn't stay quiet: Snoopy reporters found out by searching online government records, and the voters' outrage at the stunt still infects the Progressive Conservative government's popularity like a lingering cold sore.

Harry Sharphead is luckier. First Nation governments needn't post financial disclosures on any irksome web-sites, and band council meetings close their doors as often as they open them -- which might explain another reason the Premier might have to be jealous of the chief: For managing a band of scarcely 2,000 people, Mr. Sharphead makes, after taxes, 30% more than the head of Canada's fourth-largest province.

This information comes from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which learned it only thanks to a "brown envelope" passed its way with a note from an anonymous Enoch Cree band member who had been unable, after repeated attempts, to get his own band's financial records from council, or from the Indian Affairs department.

One leak after another brought it to light.

This is, often, the only way First Nations people find out how their politicians spend band money, and how much of it they're taking home with them.

"So often, the story we hear from people on reserves is they ask for this information and they're denied.... They'll ask their chiefs and they'll say, 'Buzz off,' " says Colin Craig, the federation's Prairie director.

Politicians in Canada's federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as Crown corporations, have their earnings publicly disclosed, Mr. Craig points out. Not so for public officials on reserves.

To his credit, Mr. Sharphead, elected in July, is a bargain compared with his predecessor: Chief Ron Morin was, at one point, paying himself $327,712 out of band funds, which -- because on-reserve incomes are tax exempt -- was roughly the equivalent to a $515,000 income off reserve.

Mr. Sharphead has cut that twice now, most recently in November when, in a letter to the Enoch Cree finance manager, he said he would take only $180,000 a year -- about the same as a $274,000 income earned off-reserve, still $60,000 larger than the Alberta Premier's pay-cheque.

"Equality amongst our people is critical to the growth and solidarity of our community," wrote Mr. Sharphead, who did not return phone calls. "We must lead by example."

Yet average Enoch Cree members, according to the CTF, were reportedly as in the dark about the salary revisions as they were about the original arrangements, which also saw an average salary of $175,725 for the 10 band councillors, and six-figure incomes for a third of its senior bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, just a third of Enoch Cree band members have jobs; among those who do, average earnings, according to the most recent data available, were just $16,000 a year. The Enoch Cree band has run up in recent years millions in debt. Leaked band records show the Enoch Cree receive about $9-million a year in federal funding.

"I am writing this letter out of pure frustration," wrote the CTF's source. "I live on the Enoch Cree Nation and we should have no problem providing for our people. The problem is the greed of our leadership and the lack of motivation. They know that there is nothing we can do to change the policies. We are under a different system than the real world.... We have nowhere to turn."

In December, it was another brown envelope to the CTF that revealed that band councillors on Manitoba's Peguis First Nation were earning up to a quarter-million tax-free dollars.

Technically, concerned band members do have somewhere to turn: Indian Affairs and Northern Affairs Canada requires, in funding agreements with First Nations, that bands provide records to any member wanting them.

Councils don't necessarily comply, and anyone getting too pushy risks ending up on council's bad side, potentially affecting when they get off the waiting list for home repairs, or a job with a band-owned business.

While First Nations are heavily subsidized by Canadian taxpayers, and must file financial reports with the ministry, the government cannot release them publicly. A 1988 court case ruled that the records might reveal details of income from "proprietary" band-owned businesses -- the Enoch Cree has oil revenues, owns a casino and a golf course, and a few retailers (their gas bar recently slashed employees' wages by 30%) -- and so were exempt from access to information requests. However, Mr. Craig believes there is nothing to prevent an interested federal government from changing laws to allow it.

But in the peculiar world in which First Nations exist, where funds come from a third party to be redistributed by Ottawa, band councils don't necessarily feel the fiscal accountability to members as do elected officials off-reserve, who know it's voters who pay their salaries.

"Even on most of the best-run reserves, most money flows from other sources, so voters don't make a connection between policy and reaching into their own pockets," says Tom Flanagan, a University of Calgary political scientist and co-author of Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights. "So, it's more demands -- 'What can you do for me?' -- rather than 'How can you prudently manage affairs so I don't have to pay as much?' "

About a quarter of First Nations levy some tax, he says, but usually on leaseholders (like mining companies), who often aren't members. Rarely is it enough of the financial picture that members feel it in their pocketbook when councils act irresponsibly.

Not that this is necessarily the case with Mr. Sharphead. Mr. Flanagan argues that it's possible that Enoch Cree band members might think their chief is worth every penny he earns. Of course, without the help of that anonymous note, few band members would have been able to make that judgment.

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