Opinion

A little context always goes a long way

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA) received royal assent in Parliament on March 27, 2013.

It stipulates that First Nations must post basic financial information, including the remuneration and benefits paid to Chiefs and councilors on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development  website for public scrutiny to increase transparency.

While the FNFTA, in my opinion, is a good piece of legislation in terms of increasing transparency in how public money is spent (I personally think that all public spending should be immediately posted for public scrutiny), thus far the media, and therefore the public dialogue, has been driven by a knee-jerk reaction of outrage and contempt over the compensation of a select few whose salaries and benefits have been brought to light by the Act’s implementation.

Personally, however, I feel it’s always important to examine things with some context and depth rather than looking at sheets of numbers and forming opinions based on those numbers alone.

Chief Ron Giesbrecht of the Kwikwetlem First Nation earned a salary of $84,800 last year. The uproar surrounding him is that he accepted an approximately $800,000 commission bonus on top of his salary.

That amount was paid to him because of a clause in his contract as economic development officer stating that he would receive a 10 per cent commission on all revenues he produced for the band, which last year included an over-$8-million land deal with the provincial government.

But all the public heard (because they chose not to listen to the context) was, “The Chief of an 82-member band earned almost a million dollars last year?!”

Did Chief Giesbrecht embezzle this money from his band? No.

Did he sneak a clause into his contract that would enable him to take advantage of an imminent land sale (that only he knew about at the time) to siphon off a portion of the revenues once it went through? No.

Did he try to hide this bonus after receiving it, contrary to transparency regulations? No.

Here’s a better question: would you, personally, accept a contract with your employer that included a clause for bonuses paid out for bringing economic and financial benefit to the company?

Absolutely you would. In fact, I think more businesses should offer these types of incentives.

After all, Chief Giesbrecht, as the current example we’re using, brought more than $8-million in revenue to his band by facilitating that land sale to the government.

If you earned $8-million dollars for your boss—and make no mistake, Chief Giesbrecht’s “boss” is the band itself—what would be a reasonable compensation for that?

Considering the whole concept of employment is that services are to be rendered by someone to an employer in order to obtain remuneration representative of the benefit of said services, I just can’t find the outrage at or contempt for this man that many others are finding.

Then again, I’ve actually looked at things in context instead of just hearing a really big number that was picked off a page and distributed as fact.

As an aside, if you’re interested in what your local band’s chiefs and councillors were paid last year, you can find that information by typing “FNFTA” into your favourite Internet search engine.

Just don’t look at the numbers and jump to a bunch of conclusions, please.

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