Transparency is a good thing

Bill C-27 empowers band members to vote for a fairer share of reserve revenues.

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act, passed by the federal government in March of this year, has already proved its worth for members of the Shuswap reserve near Invermere, B.C.

In an election Nov. 7 the band voted to replace the chief and his family that had ruled the reserve for three decades.

Members had been aware the 80-year-old chief and his 82-year-old ex-wife were living well above the average resident.

Proof came when Bill C-27 forced the band’s audited finances to be shared publicly. They learned over the past four years the chief, his ex-wife, one son and a grandson earned a total of $4.1 million. Tax free.

The chief was paid an average of $264,000 annually to run a band with only 267 members, of whom just 87 live on the reserve.

By comparison, prime minister Stephen Harper earns an annual salary of $327,400 plus a $2,000 a year car allowance. Premier Christy Clark’s annual salary is $193,532.

For a reserve to oust its chief and council is noteworthy as it happens so seldom, if ever, at least in such a sweeping style.

But learning buckets of money were coming in but not being fairly shared spurred the electors to change things.

For instance, one older couple got along for three winters without electricity or heat. In winter they manage without running water when their plumbing pipes freeze.

Their mobile home has no water hookup. Once the pipes freeze, they make two or three trips a week up a logging road to a spring.

Their mobile home sits high on blocks with not an inch of skirting to block the cold, nor does their trailer have a septic tank hookup. They still use a Porta Potty out back that costs them $150 per month to rent plus $65 every two weeks to have emptied.

When they asked the chief for help with their frontier living conditions, he said, “Why should I help you? You don’t vote for me.”

I have to wonder how the chief would know they didn’t vote for him.

The community lacks a daycare and a health centre.

The band received a $5,000 grant from the New Relationship Trust Foundation, intended to buy iPad minis for every Shuswap child from kindergarten to Grade 12.

The money arrived at the band office in April but so far the chief hasn’t released it.

The Cranbrook funeral home demands money up front; the band owes overdue accounts for past services.

When the federal government passed Bill C-27 aboriginal affairs minister Bernard Valcourt said, “First Nation members want no less than other Canadians when it comes to knowing how public funds are spent in their communities.” And they want the money spent equitably. Which it isn’t always, as occasional news reports reveal.

Valcourt went on to say, “I think a lot of chiefs and councillors are going to be looking at this bill and scaling back their pay because they know that starting next year, they’re going to have to start disclosing it.”

I’m hoping that the combination of Bill C-27 plus the gumption of Shuswap voters will encourage more reserves – if they feel their chiefs and councils are living better than the average members – to band together and vote out anyone with a sense of entitlement.

It’s what the people of Attawapiskat should have done in their last election instead of knuckling under and allowing hunger striker Chief Theresa Spence to go on living high while “her community” makes do.

Bill C-27 empowers band members to vote for a fairer share of reserve revenues.

If they are too timid to vote for change, don’t complain.