Carcross/Tagish Chief Mark Wedge is in a fortunate position.
Generally, people have confidence in him as a leader. Many respect his administration.
Which is probably why, when angry residents established barricades in January to protest the retooling of the self-governing First Nations’ social assistance program, Wedge’s administration could quickly broker an end to the standoff.
Yet, some of the protesters called Wedge a dictator. And questioned the First Nations’ clan system, the foundation of its government.
In light of Wedge’s reputation, many would have dismissed the slurs as the remarks of some layabout, upset at having lost his pogey.
They might simply have accepted Wedge’s boast that his government is “probably more accountable and more transparent than most governments,” the Yukon government, Canada and local First Nation governments included.
But Wedge undermined himself. He opened the door to doubt.
Because his government is not particularly transparent.
That became crystal clear in November following the release of a Canadian Taxpayer Federation report on the wages paid to aboriginal leaders in Canada.
Some were paid more than the Canadian Prime Minister and provincial premiers.
Following up on the report, the News asked local First Nation leaders how much they make.
Only four of 14 demonstrated they were accountable and transparent – Chief Math’ieya Alatini of the Kluane First Nation, Chief Liard McMillan of the Liard First Nation, Peter Johnston of the Teslin Tlingit Council and Chief Simon Mervyn of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun.
Wedge was not among them.
He was willing to share the information with his constituents, he said at the time. He was not willing to share the information with a newspaper.
Which, we note, is opaque government – the very opposite of transparent.
Aboriginal leaders like to claim the media don’t represent their constituents. And that is utter nonsense. That claim usually follows an uncomfortable question, and it is profoundly disrespectful to a chief’s First Nation constituents.
Is the chief insinuating his members don’t read? That they don’t listen to the radio? C’mon.
Anyway, what a difference three months makes.
Eventually, one of Wedge’s constituents provided the paper with the chief’s salary. But it was inaccurate (on the high side).
When confronted with the figure, Wedge allowed staff to provide the correct number. In fact, he gave the salaries of all Carcross/Tagish government workers, which was more than requested.
He refused an interview. Opaque, not transparent.
Wedge is paid $105,750. Less than Premier Dennis Fentie ($134,903), but more than Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway ($77,000) and the three other First Nation chiefs who volunteered the information in November (they make between $69,000 and $85,000).
Now, Carcross/Tagish can claim to be transparent, at least on the pay issue.
And Wedge deserves some credit for that. We applaud his decision to provide his salary – and everyone else’s.
It was the right thing to do – in November. But we’ll accept it in February.
Bottom line, citizens deserve to know what politicians are paid – after all, they are footing the bill.
How much is jailbird Chief Eddie Skookum, of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, taking home? He won’t say.
Should the public know? We’d argue yes.
What about Grand Chief Ruth Massie, of the Council of Yukon First Nations?
Like the majority of Yukon First Nation leaders, she is also refusing to give her salary.
She doesn’t see the purpose.
So, let us help her out – it helps citizens assess performance. To gauge if they’re getting value for the money they pay her.
And, when a leader like Massie refuses to provide it, people start to wonder what they’re hiding.
Is Massie making more than Fentie? More than Stephen Harper? More than Wedge?
Her silence is not helping her. Or any of the other aboriginal chiefs in the Yukon.
Massie dismisses such stuff. Being a leader is a tough job, she said. And it is.
Hauling ore down gravel roads is also a tough job. A bone-jarring job. And it often pays less than a chief.
The mining company is paying the trucker’s wage. And it knows what it is forking out.
But that truck driver, among others, is paying the leader’s wage. Similarly, they deserve to know what they’re forking out.
It is part of running an open, accountable and transparent operation – a responsible government.
And the sooner First Nation leaders understand this, the better.