Semiahmoo chief receives annual salary of nearly $270,000
Most of reserve’s income is provincial grant
The tiny Semiahmoo First Nation in Surrey paid salaries to its chief and one of its councillors totalling nearly $460,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
The community of less than 100 joins a handful of other First Nations in British Columbia that have paid their chiefs exorbitant salaries, disclosed through now-required financial filings to the federal government.
Chief councillor Willard Cook was paid $267,309 in fiscal 2013-14 and councillor Joanne Charles received $187,138. Charles also had expenses of $13,618 and Cook expenses of $420. Roxanne Charles — the only other council member — was paid $4,725 and had expenses of $27,473.
When the tax-free status is factored in, it makes the chief possibly the highest paid politician in Canada.
It would take more than $400,000 off reserve to generate after-tax take-home pay of $267,000.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper earns $327,400 plus a $2,000-a-year car allowance. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has a $193,532 annual salary. Both would also receive living and travel allowances.
There was no answer by phone Thursday at the band’s office in the oceanfront community located just north of the Canada-U.S. border. Voice messages left at the office and emails to Charles were not returned.
A person reached at Charles home on the reserve directed calls to the office.
The salary information was revealed in filings for the financial year ending on March 31, 2014. The band was supposed to file last fall, but only filed statements last month.
The First Nation was one of more than a dozen B.C. bands that failed to file financial disclosure documents by November of 2014, required under a federal law brought in by the Conservative government. Most of them have now done so. None paid their chiefs or councillors salaries in the range of the Semiahmoo.
Most are in the $20,000-to-$40,000 range, with the exception of the Takla Lake and Tsay Keh First Nations, which pay their chiefs in the $80,000-to-$90,000 range.
One First Nation, the High Bar First Nation in Clinton, paid its chief Larry Fletcher only $1,498, according to the filings.
However, a number of huge salaries paid to other chiefs have come to light. Former Shuswap First Nation Chief Paul Sam had been paid an annual salary of $200,000, and he and family members had pulled in more than $4.1 million in pay over a four-year period ending in 2014. A new chief was elected following the disclosure.
Kwikwetlem First Nation chief Ron Giesbrecht was paid almost $1 million in income in the 2013-14 fiscal year, including an $800,000 bonus in 2013 related to a land deal with the B.C. government. He was re-elected earlier this year.
The financial statements filed by the Semiahmoo with the federal government show the band had revenues of $4.88 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year, and had a surplus of $3.09 million. Most of their revenues in 2013-14 came from the B.C. government, which provided the band $3.33 million.
By far the largest expense was administration (which would normally include salaries), at $939,924 far outstripping spending on economic initiative ($136,499) and community programs ($133,197).
Other spending included health ($90,277), education ($43,298) and land and resources ($224,807).
The small band is listed as having 90 members by the B.C. government. There are dozens of homes in the reserve community, some occupied by non-aboriginals.
In 2013, Joanne Charles told The Vancouver Sun the Semiahmoo reserve had been on a permanent boil-water advisory since 2005 and on-again, off-again advisories since 1996.
Cook had purchased a home for $850,000 with acreage in the spring of 2014 outside the reserve, 10 minutes to the east by car, according to B.C. Land Title documents.
However, on Thursday the home displayed a for-sale sign with a sold sticker.
The property on 176th Street — still listed Thursday as owned by Willard Leighton Cook, William Joseph Cook and Lynn Marie Cook — was valued at $1.05 million in 2015, according to B.C. Assessment documents.