Tag Archives: Theresa Spence

The politics of wages

6 Jan

I hate when right-wing pundits whine and complain about someone’s wages. Regardless of legitimacy of the points raised, these arguments are nearly always made to obscure a debate.

Part of the response to the Idle No More campaign has included this strategy. For Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, the chorus of trolls at Sun TV are using her salary as an argument for why her hunger strike should be ignored.

APTN investigated Sun TV’s claims and reported that, unsurprisingly, they are mostly distortions or lies.

Spence is paid $71,000, says the audited statements from the reserve. $71,000. That’s starting salary for a university professor. That’s a unionized wage after years of work. 31 bureaucrats at the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs make more than $100,000. 21 people at the Art Gallery of Ontario make more than $100,000. I could go on. For some, this amount is too much for a woman, First Nations chief to make. I’m not referring to the people that matter: the people she represents. I’ve seen no reference to criticism about this attributed to her community.

Objectively, Spence is a leader who has raised the profile of the struggles of her community to the international stage. She has managed to make Attawapiskat a common community name for Canadians.

Most corporations and political parties would pay more than her year’s salary to public relations consultants get this kind of profile.

Salaries and individual worth are a total shell game. As a society, we assign value to some kinds of work regardless of how hard or important is the task. Healthcare workers, teachers, mothers, food workers, scientists, sanitation workers, farmers (and on and on and on) perform hard and necessary tasks. Their salaries pale in comparison to some jobs in the private sector and aren’t really a measure of how important these jobs are.For example, Premier Dalton McGuinty has circumvented legally binding rights for teachers to collectively bargain wages to impose a contract that will ensure no salary increases. He’s doing this because he thinks his party can withstand the opposition that teachers and their allies are raising.

That was done under the banner of needing fiscal restraint, which falls apart when you consider the deal his government made with the Ontario Provincial Police. For a two-year wage freeze, Dwight Duncan guaranteed Ontario cops a pay increase in 2014 of 8.5%.

In the arena of wages, teachers=bad, police=good. Food service workers=bad, CEOs=good. First Nations chiefs=bad, Governor General of Canada (who still collects a salary from the University of Waterloo AND had his pay more than double this year)=good.

When I was 19, I had two jobs. One, I worked for an hour at a time several times a week during the day. I made $50/hour. I’d show up, work a little and leave. The second, I worked 8-hour night shifts and made minimum wage. The difference was the perceived skill involved in both jobs, despite the fact that I found the second job to be extremely difficult, tiring and annoying.That experience instilled in me a deep sense of the inequity of wages. If everyone is working honestly and trying their best, at the end of the work day, we’ve all worked the same amount, regardless of the job.

Is Theresa Spence overpaid? That’s a question that only the folks at Attawapiskat have the right to answer.

Is talking about her salary in any way related to the hunger strike, the demands that she’s made, the Idle No More movement, or anything at all?No. It’s simply meant to obscure the debate and offer base reporters easy questions when presented the chance at a press conference.

But I can’t leave it there. I wanted to place Spence’s salary amid other salaries that help to provide context:

graphThis isn’t an argument for anyone here to be paid less (well, *maybe* the Governor General). It’s to give a visual of how not outrageous Spence’s salary is.

All salaries here are from 2011 except for the Mayor of Windsor, which is 2009. It’s also necessary to mention that comparisons with non-chiefs are imperfect, due to the the fact that a chief is not like a mayor as they are also responsible for what would fall into provincial and federal agency jurisdiction in a small town.

Notes:
The Town of Wasaga Beach passed a report this year arguing that it was necessary to increase their mayor’s unreasonably low salary.

Choices Association is a service agency of some kind in Hamilton, though all I could find in reference to it was a Yellowpages listing.

The Innovation Factory, also based in Hamilton, helped an average of 118 innovators last year. The term “innovators” is theirs and I have no idea what this means.

Yes I Can Nursery is a children’s nursery based in an affluent neighbourhood in Toronto that seemingly offers the standard services of a nursery.

Holland Christian Homes is an old-age facility in Brampton.

Topping off this graph is Governor General David Johnston. His salary is comprised of his projected salary for 2012 and the money he still earns from the University of Waterloo where he was president ending in 2010.

[The rest should be pretty obvious]

These are all public sector salaries. When we compare them to some of Canada’s highest income earners, most columns are too small to appear on on the same size graph.

So, I added up everyone’s salary and added a list of some of Canada’s highest income earners:

Screen shot 2013-01-05 at 6.47.49 PM
Notes:
Calin Rovinescu from Air Canada received this salary and bonus despite the fact that Air Canada lost money last year and treated its workers like garbage. Hard to say that this was indeed performance-based and not part of a greedy and rotten culture where millions dollar gifts are given to a lucky few.

Gabriel Resources mines gold in Romaina. If he’s making that, here, you can imagine what the international executives of De Beers are making off the Victor Diamond Mine, near Attawapiskat.

The two bankers on the list have clearly earned their salaries. With record-setting profits despite slow economic times and massive household debts, these folks represent a system that is designed to take our money and sell it back to us in various ways. Anyone that clever surely deserves at least $10M in one year. Both banks are also major investors in the Tar Sands.

European Goldfields is based in the non-European Northwest Territories. Another mining firm. Another example of where the money goes once the earth is moved, resources stolen and land destroyed.

Too much of Canadian society is rotten with the obsession of money and it’s too easy to get wrapped up in arguments about salary. But shaming someone who is fighting to help her community have schools, potable water and housing by arguing that she is paid too much is offensive and vile.

Especially when, in the grand scheme of work, salaries and justice in this country, Theresa Spence isn’t in the same universe as the greediest, richest Canadians. Not to mention, I doubt the president of the Royal Bank has ever gone a day without eating, especially in the name of justice.

Sources: Ontario Public Sector Salary Disclosure, Huffington Post, CUPE, AFN, CBC, Town of Wasaga Beach, Attawapiskat First Nation.

Burning Rex Murphy’s encyclopaedia: Promoting Idle No More

18 Dec

Screen shot 2012-12-18 at 9.36.52 AMSometimes I forget that Canada is a massive country where people are separated into silos.

Idle No More has reminded me that there exists massive gulfs between people, experiences and awareness.

I don’t actually fault the folks who aren’t aware of their ignorance. After an aggressive social media campaign, flash mobs, rallies, blockades, coordinated actions, letters of support from national unions and a hunger strike, the media coverage has still been significantly lacking.

How can someone know what’s going on if none of their friends are talking about it? How can they talk about it if there’s an effective media blackout?

How can Stephen Harper feel the necessary heat if he’s only hearing from people who he decided long ago he disrespects?

All news isn’t created equal and how we see the world is linked to whose version of events we read. And sometimes, we must look at the mouthpieces who exist in a world that many of us would consider to be foreign. Their insights, while oftentimes entirely laughable, are sometimes helpful.

To be able to understand why Harper thinks he can get away with refusing to meet with Theresa Spence, we need to look into the abyss of his cheerleading crew. Many of these privileged few have a platform like a national new program or newspaper from which to rant. So, let’s use Rex Murphy.

Three days before Idle No More took root across Canada on Dec. 10, Murphy wrote a love-letter to Stephen Harper and disguised it as a column. In Rex’s famous lilt, a combination of an angry great-uncle and Stuart McLean, he insists that the criticisms that are heaped upon Harper (mostly online) are unfair. Harper has been elected for seven years, says Murphy, and Canadians should have noticed that his “secret agenda” has not revealed itself. Harper, he says, has “not, contra naturum, transformed Canada into a gulag or prison house for the poor, artists, liberals, greens or whomever he sees as his opponents.”

Murphy’s flowery use of an encyclopedia (and an old Latin textbook) throughout does more than just obscure the debate about Harper. Like a magic trick, Murphy forces the audience to focus on his supreme intellect while his other hand is hiding the secret to his magic: that he’s practiced over and over on how to use an encyclopedia.

In the wake of the Idle No More protests, Murphy’s obtuse verbal diarrhea exposes just how far apart the two solitudes of this issue are: those Canadians who are aware that there exists a problem (or who live and experience it) and those Canadians who not only refuse to acknowledge it but who actively try to hide it.

Murphy’s column finishes with these lines:
So why is it that people are not content just to disagree with him, to label him simply wrong or misguided but must revile him? Why is there such fervour of suspicion about “the agenda” and so much invective and worse directed at him? I don’t know.
[…]
They make Mr. Harper, in their own white-hot minds, bigger and more scary than he is or could be.

I doubt Theresa Spence, who’s life hinges on Harper meeting with her, would agree with his flip analysis. I also doubt that the millions of Indigenous people in Canada who rely on Harper to uphold the Treaties but who have no clear recourse to punish him when he doesn’t would agree either.

Murphy’s analysis demonstrates the dangerous level of ignorance that has managed to infest the brains of many Canadians.

Sorry Rex, Harper is pretty big and scary. Not sure what a white-hot mind is (must have been a saying from some decade I didn’t get to experience) but in my mind, the power and danger that Harper yields should scare us. It should scare everyone who believes in Indigenous rights, the rights of refugees, the rights of unionized workers, women, pensioners, young people, etc. etc.

It’s obvious: Murphy is so far removed from reality that he lacks the necessary shame to avoid making such a claim about Harper. But as the voice that dominates CBC Radio across Canada every Sunday afternoon, we should also fear his influence to contort or obscure our issues.

He’s part of the problem that our society is so siloed and fractured.

There are great debates that we all need to have, together, but we need to have these debates on a level playing field. With men like Murphy and Harper in substantive positions of power, leveling this playing field is an enormous task. And, while I think that Murphy’s online rantings at the National Post are mostly background noise, it’s important to pause and remind ourselves the damage that such a narrative can do when it remains unchecked.

Indeed, Murphy’s audience, the comment section trolls that many of us have trained ourselves to avoid, need to be brought into the discussion. We need to cut through the rhetoric and challenge this encyclopaedic Trojan horse if we’re going to have any impact in shifting the national debate on our Prime Minister.

Put simply, we have a great deal of work to do. If our movements are ignored, obscured or made the object of fun by folks like Rex Murphy, then we have to tell our own stories and amplify them ourselves.

Image

Support Chief Theresa Spence

12 Dec

ChiefSpence

Have you written to Stephen Harper yet?

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