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.

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
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.

14 Responses to “The politics of wages”

  1. @eshelts at 2:54 pm #

    Great article Nora. You are a smart and sassy writer!

  2. paullyd123 at 5:45 pm #

    This is great! All the arguments laid out clearly will be really helpful for me when talking/debating with friends about this. Thanks much

  3. anita at 6:19 pm #

    Thank you for this post because someone left a comment on my Facebook about Idle No More saying Spence makes $270, 000 a year — and now I have facts and a good response to back me up. He says if she’s making that much, she should redistribute the money in better ways.

  4. George Gonsalves at 2:35 pm #

    I don’t care how much she makes. What concerns me is that she and her tribe sit on their reservation with hands out taking money and do nothing to improve their lot. Cannot their able-bodied men import needed supplies and work on the infrastructure? Can they also not go out to find work outside the reservations? Chief Spence and her bogus hunger strike do not sit well with me.

  5. Robert Cooper at 3:14 pm #

    You’ve really done a good job of painting over the facts here. You compare her wages with those of much larger municipalities/corporations. I’m not defending some of the wages paid out there, but hers is extremely out of proportion. She’s governing 1500 people! That’s about 300 homes. Are you serious? You can turn this into a left wing/right wing argument, but any way you cut it, it stinks. People in that community are in need while their leaders bask in wealth. You also make the statement “Is Theresa Spence overpaid? That’s a question that only the folks at Attawapiskat have the right to answer.” The people of Attawapiskat aren’t paying her wages. They don’t pay taxes. We are paying her wages, so in fact, we do have a right to complain about this. Really, you’ve gone to far to protect your left wing bias, and you’re not looking at the picture in it’s true form. Right or wrong/right of left, just report the facts and let the readers decide. Don’t report only the angle you want people to see to support your views. Here’s a link to the Sun article…you probably should have included this to make your article more balanced. By the way, if the facts are completely wrong in this article, please prove them wrong and publish the correct facts. Thank you.

    • Robert Cooper at 3:16 pm #

      ‘gone too far’….I should have checked it over first…thanks

    • Jason at 10:23 pm #

      Im not going to pay any lip service to your tabloid news info. But I will let you know we do not pay her wages. Canadian Tax payers are not required to pay for First Nations. Look at the Indian Act and check out monies in trust and royalties. The goverment receives will over 38Billion per year in royalties, many of which are actually designated specifically to the First Nations trust account. So the real question becomes…what is the government doing with the rest of the “indians” money and why does the Auditor General, Federal Court and Supreme Court agree that the government IS under funding the First Nations!
      Once you ask those questions you will find the correct answers and realize why I believe Sun Media to be nothing but a rabble rousing tabloid rag more likely to report that Obama is an alien than telling you the truth about the Governments mismanagement of First Nations.

  6. Kevin at 3:25 pm #

    I agree that the size of her salary is moot. It’s her ability to manage her community’s finances that should be under scrutiny. And thankfully it is:

  7. We can squawk and squeal about salaries to a 1st Nations administrator but don’t say boo or even leave a tip for the person who maintains the hygiene in hospitals,public washrooms,hotels,etc
    When BC Ferriess chief hauncho Hahn got pd a million it was explained that this is in line with current salaries for this type of administrative job he had even tho he did nothing to solve finances ,left it in greater debt even after raising fares and cutting some services

  8. Jason at 10:26 pm #

    Nice Job Nora. Now if you could go further and dig up the truth of how reserves are funded and make clear Canadas fiduciary responsibility to do so, this article would be a one two punch to the garbage tabloid news we are seeing from various news corps.


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