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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fewer than half of Sask First Nations complying with salary disclosure law

The majority of First Nations leaders across Canada have complied with a new federal law ordering them to publicly disclose their salaries, but that’s not the case in Saskatchewan.

Nationally, 328 of 582 First Nations chiefs and councils are complying with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which came into effect July 29. That’s a compliance rate of 56 per cent.

Their salary and expense information has been posted on the federal government’s website. The act also requires disclosure of all salaries and audited financial statements.

In Saskatchewan, 30 of 70 First Nations have had their information posted publicly, a rate of 43 per cent.

Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar Member of Parliament Kelly Block, who pushed for the disclosures, said she’s pleased to see a majority of Canadian First Nations are complying. She confident others will submit information before the 120-day grace period expires. Block said it’s not clear why Saskatchewan chiefs and councils have not yet complied at the same rate.

“I won’t speculate on why the Saskatchewan numbers appear to be lower,” she said. “The expectation is they will comply with the legislation.”

She said the disclosures are important for band members “to ensure revenues are being used for their benefit.” Many First Nations already disclosed this information to their members, but some did not, she said.

“What this legislation does is provide a standard level of access,” she said.

Block hopes the new law will be welcomed by chiefs and councils as “a tool for delivering transparency” to their membership.

In Saskatchewan, among the First Nations leaders who have disclosed their information, most chiefs receive between $60,000 and $100,000 per year in salary, travel and other expenses.

The highest appeared to be Lorne Stewart, chief of the Cumberland House Cree Nation, located 500 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. His salary and all expenses totalled $142,346, according to the federal website.

The lowest appeared to be Wahpeton Dakota Nation Chief Leo Omani, who collected a salary of $19,110 and other band income of $9,549.

Block introduced the call for disclosure in a private members bill, but it died when the last federal election was called. Prime Minister Stephen Harper resurrected the idea after the election and it became law this summer.

First Nations leaders who do not comply will be sent several warning letters, Block said. If bands do not disclose the information within the 120-day grace period, the federal government can impose sanctions.

The new laws have been criticized by First Nations leaders and others as an infringement on First Nations’ sovereignty and an attempt to demonize chiefs. Some have pointed to the federal Senate expense scandal and noted First Nations are now forced to disclose more information to the Canadian public than federal politicians. -CP-

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