On native reserves: big spending, fake democracy
NationalPost.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published: Wednesday, April 21, 2010.
This week, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) reported that Chief Harry Sharphead of the Enoch Cree First Nation in Alberta — a community whose on-and off-reserve populations totals about 2,000 — earns $180,000 per year. His predecessor, former chief Ron Morin, took in a whopping $250,000. As aboriginal Canadians are exempt from tax for their on-reserve labour, Mr. Sharphead earned the equivalent of $274,000 a year, while Mr. Morin pocketed $388,000.
Meanwhile, Ed Stelmach, the Premier of Alberta (whose population is roughly 2,000 times that of the Enoch Cree First Nation) took home just $214,000 a year — on which he pays taxes.
But there’s more. Of 14 Enoch Cree council members, all but two had annual incomes over $75,000 in 2006-07, the year referenced by the band documents cited by the CTF. The three top-earning councillors pulled in $178,000, $177,000 and $155,000, tax-free, respectively. Together, the council and chief pocketed $1.7-million a year, while 46 other “senior staff ” raked in $3.3-million, for a total of $5-million in remuneration.
According to documents publicly available on the website of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DIAND), that same year, the Enoch Cree band spent just under $11.5-million in federal funding on everything else for its on-reserve population of 1,100 people (as per the 2001 census). That includes health, education, as well as $219,000 for “band employee benefits.”
In 2001, average income for the 735 persons over 15 years of age on the Enoch Cree reserve was a mere $12,770. Only 430 of these persons actually earned employment wages, with an average annual salary of just over $16,000. This suggests that almost the entire population subsists at or below the poverty line — save for the band council and senior staff.
This type of abuse of public funds is completely inexcusable in any context, but even more so here. When so many aboriginal Canadians live in squalor, how can their leadership justify living large? At the same time that native leaders decry a lack of funding for water, education and other essentials for their people, why are so many pulling in huge paycheques?
Putting aside the profligate waste of cash, what are all these people doing? Why does a band with an on-reserve population of 1,100 people — about the same as your average 25-storey urban apartment building–need a 14-member council and 46 senior staff to keep it running?
Stories like this crop up with disturbing regularity. But in truth, we don’t know exactly how many reserves are spending their money in such an irresponsible manner, because the law currently does not require aboriginal bands to submit to the same standards of accountability and transparency as all other senior Canadian officials — an absolutely unconscionable loophole whose only conceivable function is to spare aboriginal leaders embarrassment.
The federal government requires public disclosure of salaries, travel and other expenses for its MPs and senior staff. It should do the same for band council chiefs, councillors, and other native leaders. These figures should be posted on the Internet, where the public can see them.
Beyond this, there is a broader lesson from Enoch Cree. Whenever the case is made for greater self-government for First Nations, it always is assumed that Ottawa will continue to send big cheques every year: i.e., band leaders would get more power, but on the federal government’s dime. The problem is that “self-government” is a contradiction in terms when someone else is paying the bill: Without the political discipline that comes with being accountable to taxpaying voters, politicians operate in a world without constraints. Since the Enoch Cree band councillors’ salaries are being paid by Ottawa anyway, why should rank-and-file Enoch Cree residents get up-in-arms about it? It’s not their money.
When it comes to native policy, the famous adage “no taxation without representation” can be flipped on its head: “no representation without taxation.”
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