The Toronto Star recently ran an expose on chiefs salaries.
The article focused on 9 chiefs who earned more than federal cabinet ministers and 30 chiefs who earned more than provincial premiers. (The article also admits that on average chiefs earned a reasonable $60,000 a year, 5 chiefs do their work pro-bono and 77 chiefs earned less than $30,000. However "Majority of Chiefs earn reasonable salary while some work for free" is not an eye-catching headline.)
The article led with a thinly-veiled racist slant. Reporter Brett Popplewell wrote: “The best paid politicians in Canada aren’t in Stephen Harper’s cabinet. They’re in some of this country’s most impoverished communities — the First Nations.”
The not-so-subtle suggestion here is chiefs should not be salaried on their merit, skills, or education. It's too embarrassing to see a First Nations leader earning a decent salary next to people living in third world conditions. Our chiefs are told to hang their head in shame for not also being poor, regardless of how hard they work.
Yet no one shames the Minister of Indian Affairs or his army of bureaucrats – lawyers, policy analysts, spin doctors – many of whom earn more than the average chief -- and who are also on the tax payers dime.
So yes, let's discuss the 39 bad-apple-chiefs, but let's do it in context, without double standards or snide racist whispers.
39 chiefs out of 633 pay themselves too much. They should not earn more than a Cabinet Minister or a premier.
Its a mystery to me why the other 594 chiefs - and National Chief Shawn Atleo for that matter - don't gang up and lynch some sense into them. So far only FSIN and a few chiefs in Ontario are supporting a bill that would force chiefs to make their salaries public.
After all it's hard enough to get a reasonable plea for equal access to education in the papers without having to compete with Indian Country's crazy's for the headlines. It makes even less sense that the majority of chiefs want to keep their salaries secret. Publishing the salaries of elected officials is a matter of public trust.
Besides - if it's true that on average chiefs only earn about 60,000 a year, no one could argue that these are not very reasonable salaries indeed. If we agree that Chiefs should not be salaried at the level of a Premier, we can also agree that they deserve more than a policy analyst working in the Department of Indian Affairs.
So what's fair? Maybe the equivalent of a Mayor? If we were to agree to that, a number of chiefs would be in for a raise.
- Mayor of Toronto $142,538,
- Mayor of Mississauga/Councillor,
- Peel Region $153,468,
- Mayor of Calgary $155,000,
- Mayor of Edmonton $142,000,
- Mayor Winnipeg $123,000
- Mayor of Markham/Councillor, York Region, $133,570,
- Chair - Region of York $155,105
(and let’s not forget that in some cities, portions of a Mayor’s salaries is tax-exempt.)