Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party is applying for the federal government’s emergency wage subsidy program, a party spokesperson confirmed to Global News.
According to the UCP, it is applying for the program to cover employees’ salaries as donations to the party have dwindled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we had previously noted, our fundraising opportunities have been restricted during the pandemic and we have lost fundraising events in our 2020 calendar due to the restrictions on gatherings,” UCP director of communications Evan Menzies said in a statement to Global News.
“Rather than fire staff, we plan to apply for the temporary federal program”
The alternative, according to Menzies, was to lay off their staff of eight and have them apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or Employment Insurance.
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) was designed to cover 75 per cent of employee pre-pandemic wages for up to 24 weeks, retroactive from March 15, 2020, to August 29, 2020.
Political parties as non-profit entities are eligible to apply for the subsidy.
“I think its a horrible idea for parties, and yes they’re eligible,” Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said. “These are non-profit organizations, they are eligible, but I think it looks really bad politically to be applying for this even though you can.”
According to the federal government, the subsidy was launched to enable businesses and non-profits to rehire workers previously laid off as a result of COVID-19, prevent further job losses, and better position those businesses and non-profits to resume normal operations following the pandemic.
Between January 1 and March 31 2020, the UCP raised $1,039,413.54, not including the donations to constituency associations.
However, the party finished 2019 with a $2.3-million deficit and net liabilities of $1.1 million, according to year-end financial statements from Elections Alberta.
“Yes they’re raising a lot of money, but they spend just as much for every dollar that comes in,” Bratt said. “Look at how much they spent on the 2019 election, look at the size of their organization.”
Meanwhile, Alberta’s New Democratic Party has told Global News it hasn’t had to apply for CEWS for its eight employees.
“Our team has worked hard since mid-March to make sure that our fundraising respects the very real health and economic anxieties of Albertans,” NDP provincial secretary Brandon Stevens said. “To date, we have met our fundraising goals and have not had to apply for the federal wage subsidy.”
According to Stevens, the NDP will monitor its fundraising and will make adjustments to keep staff employed and maintain party operations.
Between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2020, the NDP raised $582,130.41 and finished 2019 with a $748,548 surplus with a net liabilities of $376,977.
According to Bratt, the province’s parties will have to adjust their fundraising and campaigning following the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even when this wage subsidy gets rolled up and ended, you’re still in the aftermath of a major recession and are people going to be donating to the same degree they did in the past?” Bratt said.
On Friday, it came to light that four of the country’s federal parties were also applying for the wage subsidy.
The Liberals, NDP, Conservative Party and Green Party confirmed to Global News that they were seeking money from the $73 billion aid program.
However, the Bloq Quebecois have criticized the other parties for applying for the funding saying that the Bloc has less money but isn’t planning to apply for the benefit.
— With files from Global News’ Kerri Breen