Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic parties claim COVID-19 federal wage subsidy to pay their workers

Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic parties claim COVID-19 federal wage subsidy to pay their workers
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OTTAWA – Facing a significant drop in donations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal Liberal, Conservatives and New Democratic parties have all applied for the Trudeau government’s wage subsidy.

The information first began trickling out publicly on Friday afternoon when Karl Bélanger, former NDP national director and now consultant and radio columnist for Gatineau’s 104.7 FM, revealed that his former party had applied for the subsidy.

“I’m not sure I would have made the same decision, but at the same time, I understand why they’re making it. If they are indeed facing the situation where they would have to layoff employees, then their own workers shouldn’t be excluded because of who they work for,” Bélanger later said in an interview with the National Post.

When later approached by media, the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada also confirmed that they had also applied for — and received — money from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

Only the Bloc Québécois said it had not applied for the federal program, nor did it plan on it in the future.

Launched on April 27, the 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.

To be eligible, an organization’s revenue must have 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.

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 explained. 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.”

“The health and safety of Canadians is always our top priority, and all in-person fundraising events were paused as of early March,” Liberal Party spokesperson Braeden Caley wrote in a statement. “The Liberal Party of Canada has met the eligibility criteria for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy in recent weeks and received that support.”

“Support was definitely staying strong following the election and into this year. And then in March, when the pandemic was declared and everything kind of shut down, we saw a drop in our numbers in March, and then a more significant drop in April. We anticipate the same for May and for the next little while,” NDP National Director Anne McGrath explained in an interview.

Her party was the only one that accepted to detail how much its revenue had dropped since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to McGrath, the party collected approximately $297,000 in March 2020, compared to $375,000 in the same month last year.

The decrease was even steeper in April, when the party registered $275,000 in donations, compared to $400,000 at the same time last year.

“I wouldn’t identify it as drastic, but it is significant enough,” McGrath said. “We want to maintain our staffing levels and not layoff people. Many of the people on our staff are single parents, students and people who are new Canadians.”

If the NDP’s application is approved by the Canada Revenue Agency (it should be), the money will serve to pay the party’s roughly 35 full and part-time employees.

As is the case for all political parties, MPs’ and their political staff’s salary 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.

“The program is there to prevent layoffs, right? And everybody is experiencing a downturn in their in their revenues. And so I think it makes sense (for political parties to apply). From my point of view, it’s the responsible thing to do,” McGrath added.

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