It’s fun when someone tells us what we already know, yet we still feign shock and outrage at news that isn’t really news. Recently, Canadians “learned” that some First Nations Chiefs make a lot of money- more than many famous people. For some, like Bernard Valcourt, this was a shocking update.
Bernard Valcourt is the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, so one might imagine that he, of all people, would have known about Chiefs’ bloated salaries for a long time. Yet, based on his recent public appearances, it appears as though Valcourt was blindsided by the salary figures. It wouldn’t have been a caricature had he yelled, “the Chiefs’ salaries are TOO DAMN HIGH!”
This does not, however, mean that he has been crippled by shock. Rather, like any good protector of the public interest, Valcourt is now on a mission to, well, protect the public interest. Or, at very least, to talk about protecting it.
According to a CBC report, earlier this week the Honourable Minister promised that his government “will look after the best interests of taxpayers” if First Nations band councils don’t do something to remedy the big salary problem. He admitted that Chiefs’ salaries are not his government’s business, but added that he would not hesitate “to look at others ways of ensuring that taxpayers dollars are spent wisely and with care,” because his is “a responsible government” that “look[s] after the best interests of taxpayers, of Canadians.” Cue Austin Powers, or say it aloud in your own British accent: “Riiiiiiight.”
Valcourt’s press conference followed news that a particular Chief earned almost $1 million dollars in 2013-14. That is a lot of money, no doubt – certainly more than Rob Ford spends on crack on a monthly basis. However, once we add a pinch of context, the idea of Valcourt as defender of the taxpayer seems a bit rich.
The Conservative Cabinet, of which Valcourt is a member, undoubtedly costs the Canadian taxpayer more money than the million-dollar Chief. The Cabinet employs 24 Ministers (not including the Whip, the Head of the Treasury Board, and the Government House Leader), and pays each one $80,300 more than the base MP salary of $163,000 (including car allowance) for a total of $243,300/year, each. The Cabinet also employs 13 Ministers of State at $58,700 above base MP salary for a total of $221,700/year, each. Considering most chiefs make well under $150,000 per year, perhaps Valcourt the Valiant should look inward before complaining about what is going on outside Ottawa.
And, let’s face it, the million-dollar Chief earned an ~$85,000 salary, which he capped with a huge bonus of over $800,000 (equivalent to 10% of all the economic activity he attracted to his community). In contrast, Cabinet Ministers do little of value to deserve their bonuses. Have you ever been to a Ministerial press conference? The damn things are as predictable as FloRida songs…you know exactly when the bass is going to drop and what the Minister is going to say. In the chorus, FloRida brags that “the club can’t handle him,” and Ministers focus on the taxpayer and the family. The PMO writes the lyrics, and half the time the Ministers lip sync the whole show. Conclusively, Cabinet Ministers are often to honest politics what pop music is to good music…irreconcilably different.
Again, none of this is news. We’ve long suspected that Cabinet Ministers earn a lot of money to do a lot of nothing, especially in the Harper era. Astute Canadians have also known for a long time that some First Nations Chiefs earn too much money. Of course there’s waste in politics—Rob Ford gets most of his calories from the gravy train—but let’s make sure we call it everywhere we see it, not just where it’s convenient. And, seriously, if we have to listen to pop let’s at least put on Michael Jackson.