My initial reaction to reports of compensation paid Kwikwetlem First Nations Chief Ron Giesbrecht was wrong. Until details were gained, I assumed he had abused public funds. That reaction was encouraged by cursory media reports that were shaped by common prejudices, reinforced by what lawyer Joseph Fearon calls an “example of the ‘corrupt chief’ narrative.”
In Fearon’s excellent article, he explains the reality of income tax exemptions, which are tied to other issues and restrictions,
“For the most part, the tax exemptions in the Indian Act are also not a result of (fair or otherwise) bargaining between Canada and First Nations. In fact, the Indian Act is a piece of legislation that was imposed on First Nations people by the Canadian government.”
In late July, federal Conservatives began posting audited financial statements of Canada’s First Nations. Within hours, news organizations were churning out revelations that were short on detail but loaded with indignation. National Post immediately had writers Paula Simons, Sammy Hude and John Ivison on the subject. Every Canadian media organization was involved; a Google search [Kwikwetlem “Ron Giesbrecht” pay] showed 34,000 results.
The Kwikwetlem pay story was especially important news at Postmedia, with additional reports and commentaries by Peter O’Neil, Rob Shaw, Jennifer Hough, Jeremy Deutsch, Tamsyn Burgmann, Mark Milke, Kelly Sinoski, Chad Skelton, Chris Selley, Tristin Hopper, Jordan Bateman, Derek Fildebrand and others. Thousands of reader comments gave emphasis to the outrage, including many rants coloured by racism and ignorance.
I found that strange because while preparing a recent article about Postmedia, I discovered the failing company’s CEO, Paul Godfrey, scored a 50% raise in 2013, bringing his compensation to $1.7 million. He got rewarded lavishly – a term Postmedia used in stories described above – even though his company has suffered losses in every year of its existence, has failed regularly to meet financial objectives promised investors and is sustained only by selling its assets, the supply of which will soon be exhausted. It is the corporate equivalent of an arthritis sufferer amputating limbs to lessen pain.
So, did Paul Godfrey’s $600,000 raise draw attention from a platoon of Postmedia writers? Well, not quite. The only report about the boss’s compensation was an inaccurate one that disclosed nothing of a massive raise and just part of his pay package. The equivalent would have been to report that Ron Giesbrecht earned $84,800 as Chief and Development Officer. In the Financial Post, Christine Dobby wrote,
“Postmedia said Friday it extended Mr. Godfrey’s contract, which includes a base salary of $950,000, until the end of 2016.”
Ron Giesbrecht was rewarded by a percentage of gross profits on development projects that allowed the band to increase its revenues by $10 million or 455% in a single year. The money gained is controlled by the Kwikwetlem Council and is available for whatever purposes the band members decide.
Despite what has been reported by media, the Chief did not, by himself, make a deal for himself. The vast majority of his compensation was not from funds provided by governments for capital projects, education, social or other programs. It came from commercial arrangements, negotiated with outside parties who found the agreements satisfactory for their purposes. Were it not for bigotry, the business press (and the CTF) would be applauding Kwikwetlem FN profitability and movement toward self-sufficiency.
Undoubtedly, many organizations make arrangements to share profits earned by their enterprises. As noted above, some provide rewards even in the absence of profits. Arrangements may be lavish; they may be austere, but in nearly every case not involving indigenous people, those are the affairs of organization managers and stakeholders. If the deal between the Kwikwetlem band members and their Chief was properly authorized and documented, there should be little more to say. According to the audit report prepared by independent professional accountants, there were no problems:
“The Kwikwetlem First Nation maintains systems of internal accounting and administrative controls of high quality, consistent with reasonable cost. Such systems are designed to provide reasonable assurance that the financial information is relevant, reliable and accurate and the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s assets are appropriately accounted for and adequately safeguarded.
“The Kwikwetlem First Nation Council is responsible for ensuring that management fulfills its responsibilities for financial reporting and is ultimately responsible for reviewing and approving the financial statements.
“The Council meets periodically with management, as well as the external auditors, to discuss internal controls over the financial reporting process, auditing matters and financial reporting issues, to satisfy themselves that each party is properly discharging their responsibilities, and to review the financial statements and the external auditors report.”
Plutocrats and their media supplicants may be uncomfortable with shifting away from paternalistic treatment of First Nations and making fair resolutions for the harms caused. However, those are realities of 2014. The constitution and the Supreme Court of Canada dictate changed attitudes and a new style of cooperation.
|Guess which person drew media outrage?|