Transparency 'nothing new' for Mt. Currie 

Squamish Nation financials 'not yet posted' online under new federal act

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - 'nothing new' Mount Currie Chief Lucinda Phillips says making the band's financial details available publicly is a practice that has already been ongoing for several years.
  • file Photo
  • 'nothing new' Mount Currie Chief Lucinda Phillips says making the band's financial details available publicly is a practice that has already been ongoing for several years.

The half-million dollars in remuneration and expenses for the 13 members of the Mount Currie Band council should come as no surprise to its members.

Nor should the $9.76 million in annual funding from the department of Aboriginal Affairs — almost half of the band's income — with more money flowing from other agencies.

It is, however, the first time the information has been widely available publicly, as decreed under the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which requires bands to report their finances, including council salaries and expenses, and have that information posted online at the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) website.

"This is nothing new, actually," said Mount Currie Band Chief Lucinda Phillips after the band's financials were posted online as required by the July 29 deadline.

"We've been doing it for probably the last decade. We've always been open and transparent with our community members."

While Mount Currie's information was available online, the Squamish Nation information stated: "Not yet posted." The Squamish Nation, which is also undertaking an internal investigation, according to Business in Vancouver, was unable to answer questions by deadline this week.

Both nations have traditional territory in Whistler and share the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre in the village.

Reaction to the new information has been mixed. The website's information revealed headline-grabbing compensation numbers, such as $914,000 remuneration for Chief Ron Giesbrecht of the Kwikwetlem First Nation in Coquitlam.

Phillips' remuneration for the 12 months ending March 31, 2014, was $83,545, with $11,237 in expenses. That remuneration is not taxed.

The 12 other Mount Currie councillors had a wide range in remuneration from $5,400 to $75,839. Council members in Mount Currie, other than the chief, are not on a fixed salary. They receive a per diem for attending meetings. Some members, however, work for the band in other capacities.

"The unfortunate thing with this new financial transparency act is that we have to post anything and everything when it comes to our council members, and half of our council actually work for the band," said Phillips. "So you're actually seeing their salary of their day job — one of them is a day care director, one of them is fisheries manager, one of them works in the cultural centre. And then they get the council per diem."

The push to make the information public came in part from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).

"Our perspective is that politicians no matter where they serve in Canada should have to disclose what they're paid to the public, as well as annual financial statements to show how they're spending public funds," said CTF Prairie Director Colin Craig.

Phillips has mixed feelings about the new transparency requirements — frustrated on the one hand, given that other businesses don't open books in this same way, she said. On the other hand, this is one more step to moving into self-sufficient governance, coming on the heels of the Election Code, the Membership Code, Mount Currie's own financial administration law, and a referendum in March on the Land Code.

"We're doing a lot of these steps in order to be self sufficient so we don't need to be playing this jumping-rope game with the federal government. So we're excited about that," said the chief of the small band of 2,000 members.

In addition to AANDC funding, Mount Currie receives more than $2 million from the First Nations Health Authority, $1.6 million from the province of B.C., and more than $2.3 million from income from business enterprises. The total revenue budget in 2014 is $21.6 million.

The biggest expense is the $15 million for operations, plus $3.3 million for the Xit'olacw Community School Fund and the $462,000 for the Xit'olacw Housing Fund. Total expenses in 2014 are $19.1 million.



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