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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Coquitlam band to release more details on chief's salary, bonus
Kwikewtlem Chief’s band members want details

An update about the Kwikwetlem First Nation chief's big pay day last year is expected to be issued on Thursday.

The 81-member Coquitlam band was thrust into the national spotlight last week after it was revealed Chief Ron Giesbrecht had earned $914,000 last year — tax free.

Last Friday, the band released a media statement stating Giesbrecht "is accountable to members of the Kwikwetlem First Nation is is taking time to talk to them now and over the coming days."

It also stated Giesbrecht will undergo "unavoidable medical treatment" this week.

The band confirmed the numbers made public under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, a new federal regulation that requires bands to post their financial data.

As chief, Giesbrecht earns $4,800 annually plus another $80,000 as economic development officer. Last year, he also had $16,574 in expenses and collected a lucrative $800,000 "economic development" bonus as part of a 10% cut from a $8-million land deal in Coquitlam.

All bonuses were removed from his contract on April 1, 2014, the band stated.

In February, the provincial government put up for sale 582 acres on Burke Mountain as part of its disposal of Crown assets to balance the books.

In an interview with The Tri-City News last Friday, Glen Joe, a Kwikwetlem elder and the band's chief in 1992, claimed the land deal was a payment by the province before it put the acreage on the block.

"In order for them to develop, they had to prove we didn't live there," Joe claimed.

On Tuesday, B.C.'s Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation declined to release details about its land deal with Kwikwetlem. "We do not disclose economic benefit agreements without the consent of the First Nations involved," a spokesperson said, adding agreements "rise out of the province's duty to consult. Any financial benefit flows to the band and the council — not any individual."

Besides the Burke agreement, Joe — whose brother, Marvin Joe, was elected to the band council in March — said the Kwikwetlem First Nation has also benefitted from other agreements with the provincial government, namely a $2-million compensation package for interfering with the band's fishing territory along the Fraser River while building the Port Mann bridge/Gateway project.

On the federal side, Kwikwetlem received $673,000 from Aboriginal Affairs and another $298,000 from CMHC for new housing last year.

Still, Joe, who is disabled, said most of the band members on the reserve don't have jobs and live in poverty. And he said they were outraged when they learned via the media about the chief's bonus.

"By ancient culture, the chief is supposed to put his members first," he said.

Now, Joe and other band members are asking for a forensic audit of the band's finances since Giesbrecht was elected chief in 2012 (his term ends on April 30, 2015). They are also demanding Giesbrecht step down.

A request for comment from Giesbrecht was not immediately returned by The Tri-City News' print deadline; a spokesperson for Giesbrecht, consultant Paul Lepage, also did not return calls.

Andrea Richer, communications director for federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, toldThe Tri-City News last week that "our government expects First Nation band councils to use taxpayer dollars responsibly and for the benefit of all community members."

She added, "The reported salary of the chief is very troubling and his community members deserve an explanation."

B.C.'s Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation also offered a similar statement: "All elected leaders — provincial, municipal and First Nations — have a responsibility to the people that elected them to act in a transparent way and be accountable for the decisions they make."

Last month, the Kwikwetlem First Nation laid an ancestral claim to the Riverview Hospital lands, which are currently undergoing a year-long visioning process by BC Housing.

"The Kwikwetlem First Nation wish to make it clear that they expect to become an owner of the Riverview Lands and lead the future development of these lands," it said at the time. The development scenario proposed would be based on a "highest and best use with a goal toward maximizing the benefits to the Nation as land owner. -CP-

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