OTTAWA — The Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic and Green parties are all leaning on the 75 per cent federal wage subsidy program to keep staff on amid the COVID-19 crisis, CTV News has confirmed.
The NDP filed their application on Friday, and shortly after the Liberal Party of Canada, Conservative Party of Canada and Green Party of Canada confirmed they had also applied. Both the Conservatives and Liberals have already received funding to allow them to keep paying their employees’ salaries after seeing political donations dry up.
Liberal Party spokesperson Braeden Caley said that “in recent weeks” the party was approved for, and received the federal aid after halting all in-person fundraising events as of early March.
“As a party, our main focus ever since has been to communicate the key information and announcements that Canadians need to get through this difficult time together,” Caley said, adding that the party is still receiving donations from supporters. The party has not laid off any staff.
Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann told CTV News that the federal party—which is in the middle of a leadership race—is also accessing the program to help supplement the wages of its staff, which between full-time and part-time include around 60 people.
“Like many Canadians, organizations, and not-for-profits, COVID-19 measures are having an impact on our team, party, and operations, and we’re doing our best to adjust to this new reality. This has meant incurring unexpected expenses that ensures our staff have the ability and technology to work remotely for an extended period,” Hann said.
He said that the party is looking to avoid layoffs and maintain regular operations but with many Canadians not having extra money to give at this time, they aren’t relying on donations.
Similarly, the NDP—which has 17 full-time unionized staff and more than a dozen other employees who work on a part-time basis—has seen donations drop over March and April, and the party is expecting the same to be the case for May.
“It has dropped significantly,” NDP National Director Anne McGrath said, adding that it was a “pretty straightforward” decision to make.
McGrath said that the party is still fundraising and monthly donors have for the most part kept up with their contributions, but all in-person fundraising efforts have been cancelled through to the end of the summer, and phone and online efforts have been “diminished.”
“The program is designed to prevent layoffs and to keep people working and like almost every other organization in the country, we’ve experienced a drop in revenue as a result of the pandemic … We want to keep our people employed and we want to keep the organization strong.”
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, McGrath said she anticipates the NDP application will be accepted, given the Liberals and Conservatives have been approved. “I didn’t know that they had applied,” she said.
The Green Party of Canada has also applied for the wage subsidy but has yet to receive any funding.
“We have had a drop in donations, and we are a non-profit and take seriously our responsibilities to protect the jobs of our staff members,” said Green Party of Canada Executive Director Prateek Awasthi in a statement.
The Bloc Quebecois, however, have not applied and do not plan on applying, they say. The party is critical of the other major political parties for accessing the aid program.
“The emergency wage subsidy was put in place to help employees and businesses get through the crisis. It is unacceptable that political parties, especially the Liberals and the Conservatives, use public funds to pay partisan salaries and thus preserve their electoral pool when they do not need money,” said Bloc Quebecois House Leader Alain Therrien in a statement.
“They want taxpayers to contribute to subsidize the salaries of people whose job it is to raise funds, all while these parties have full coffers and even oppose public funding of political parties,” he said.
The subsidy—implemented to incentivize companies and non-profits to keep staff on the payroll or bring back those who were laid off—is on the first $58,700 of an employee’s salary, providing up to $847 a week per employee.
To date the federal government has received and approved 215,661 applications for the subsidy, and has doled out $5.7 billion through the program.
Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government would be extending the massive federal assistance program through to the end of August.
All parties have pushed for expansions or adjustments to this and other federal aid programs, including calling for the wage subsidy to be increased to 75 per cent, after the government first proposed to help cover 10 per cent of eligible employees’ wages.
From the perspective of the NDP, McGrath said the fact that the party is set to receive funding doesn’t hinder the caucus’ ability to continue to push for expanded federal aid programs.
“On the contrary. I think that the party has been pushing for stronger and better programs to make sure that everyone gets the support that they need during this pandemic, and that includes our workers,” she said.
More broadly speaking, the COVID-19 crisis has forced political parties to adapt their strategies and that is set to continue with no end in sight to some public health measures that will limit greatly the ability to hold political rallies or conduct other campaign-style events until a vaccine is developed.
In 2019 the Conservatives raised $30.8 million, the Liberals raised $21 million, the NDP raised $8 million, and the Green Party received $6.5 million in donations.
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