OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defends political parties making use of the federal COVID-19 wage subsidy, Conservative leadership candidates are slamming their own party for taking the money.
The federal Conservatives, Liberals and NDP have all said they applied for the wage subsidy due to a steep drop in political donations, and have already received funds. The Bloc Quebecois did not apply and does not plan to.
The wage subsidy covers 75 per cent of an employer’s payroll if revenue has dropped by at least 30 per cent in one month since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Private businesses as well as most non-profits are eligible; political parties are the latter.
Trudeau was repeatedly asked by reporters on Monday how he can justify his own Liberal party making use of the funding, given the party’s strong fundraising before the pandemic. He did not directly answer, but defended the program’s design.
“We put in place a wage subsidy that is available to small businesses, large businesses, non-profits and charities to be able to support people who might otherwise be laid off,” he said. “This is going to be an important part of the economy bouncing back, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Conservative leadership candidates aren’t convinced, however. O’Toole came out first on the weekend to denounce his party’s use of the subsidy, and said he would ensure the money is eventually paid back.
“Canadians have sacrificed enough,” O’Toole said in a Twitter post. “They shouldn’t have to pay wage subsidies for political parties. Under my leadership the Conservative Party will not take the subsidy and over time will repay the amount it has taken. I call on all parties to do the same.”
MacKay also condemned the use of the subsidy, and noted it looked hypocritical for a party that ended the per-vote subsidy for political parties and opposes the Liberal government’s $600 million aid package for print media.
“Political parties should not qualify for a wage subsidy and Justin Trudeau’s law is flawed,” said MacKay. “As leader, I would have stopped the application in its tracks. We should not be bailed out by taxpayer money with millions unemployed and small businesses struggling to stay afloat.”
Leslyn Lewis released a statement asking why “churches, charities and non-profits unable to access a wage subsidy, but political parties and even NHL teams can?”
“I was disappointed to see our party applying for the wage subsidy program, because I believe our standard should NOT simply be whether or not we are better than the Liberals,” she said. “It should be whether or not we are an example of fiscal conservatism to all Canadians.”
The fourth candidate on the leadership ballot, Derek Sloan, has not yet commented on the subsidy.
Launched on April 27, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) covers 75 per cent of eligible employers’ payrolls — up to a weekly maximum of $847 per employee — for up to 12 weeks starting March 15.
All four federal parties said that the cancellation of in-person funding events and a drop in donations as millions of Canadians lost their jobs led to a significant fall in revenue over the past two months.
“As an organization, we rely heavily on the donations of individuals, especially for our day-to-day operations which are 100% funded by our donors,” Conservative spokesman Cory Hann said. The party employs about 60 people both full and part time.
“We understand that many Canadians are not able to give at the moment, which is why we’ve been taking a different approach on donation asks and operations that take that into account,” he continued, adding that remote work has also led to “unexpected expenses.”
Salaries for MPs and their political staff are not eligible to be covered by CEWS since they are not employed by their party. They are paid through an independent budget from the House of Commons.
At least one other provincial conservative party has said it will apply for the federal wage subsidy: the United Conservative Party in Alberta. The party said its only other alternative was to lay off its eight staff.
With files from Chris Nardi.