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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is mid-way through a Master's in Education Foundations at the University of Saskatchewan. She is formerly the Editor-in-Chief of the Ryerson Free Press and the Communications and Government Relations Coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. Nora's music can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/nora-loreto and her blog is at www.noraloreto.ca.

The politics of wages

| January 6, 2013

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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:

graph

This 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.

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Comments

An excellent article.With loud mouths like Ezra Levant, who has no idea what a northern reserve even looks like let alone his lack of northern travel, this article needed to be written.

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