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Liberals face heat over political parties using emergency coronavirus wage subsidy

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau pressed on political parties’ access to emergency wage subsidy program
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fielded questions on Monday about why political parties that fund raise large sums of money are getting access to the federal COVID-19 emergency wage subsidy program.

Liberal officials found themselves in the hot seat on Monday over how political parties are accessing the federal coronavirus wage relief program.

News broke on Friday that four of the five federal parties with sitting members of Parliament had applied for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program, which subsidizes 75 per cent of workers’ wages (up to $847 per week) for businesses and non-profits that have seen their revenues tank and are deemed eligible for the benefit.

READ MORE: 4 federal parties say they’ve applied for emergency wage subsidy

When asked by a journalist on Monday why the Liberal Party, an organization that fundraises millions of dollars, is tapping into the wage subsidy, Trudeau didn’t provide a direct answer — only saying that Canadians count on their jobs to pay for their living expenses and the wage subsidy is available to a range of organizations.

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Pressed on whether the government anticipated that political parties might apply for the benefit when creating the program criteria, the prime minister, again, didn’t say.

“We encourage companies to take on that wage subsidy because it is the best way of keeping a link between workers and the job they do that will ensure that our economy comes back when this is all done,” Trudeau said.

“We need to support Canadians, regardless of the organization for which they work,” he added later in French, when asked to justify the Liberal Party’s access to the emergency subsidy.

Yves-Francois Blanchet outraged that Liberals, Conservatives using wage subsidy to “fund themselves”
Yves-Francois Blanchet outraged that Liberals, Conservatives using wage subsidy to “fund themselves”

The federal Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat and Green parties all confirmed on Friday that they had applied for the CEWS program, for which the federal government budgeted $73 billion.

The Liberal Party confirmed to Global News it had already received the benefit. The Conservative Party, meanwhile, said its application has been approved and that it has sought the subsidy in order to maintain operations and avoid laying off staff.

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For its part, the Green Party of Canada said that day it had applied for but had not yet received the benefit, noting the party is a non-profit that has experienced “a drop in donations.”

READ MORE: Trudeau pushing for 10 days of paid sick leave from provinces amid coronavirus

On Monday, New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh defended the NDP’s choice, telling reporters it makes more sense for his party to receive the wage subsidy and keep workers on the payroll, rather than laying them off and forcing them to apply for other emergency government benefits.

The Bloc Québécois says it’s not applying for the wage subsidy and its leader on Monday criticized the Liberal and Conservative parties in particular for accessing the emergency program when they’ve raised large sums of money through fundraising activities.

“It is completely unacceptable,” leader Yves-François Blanchet said in a news conference.

Workers need support, whoever they work for: Treasury Board president

Jean-Yves Duclos, president of the Treasury Board, was also pressed on Monday about political parties’ eligibility for the wage subsidy when municipalities — many of which have large workforces and can’t fundraise money — cannot access the emergency relief.

READ MORE: Toronto would need 47% property tax increase to maintain services if $1.5B budget gap isn’t filled, mayor says

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In response, Duclos said the CEWS is “guided by the principles of focusing on people and helping everyone go through the crisis.”

“Workers need that support, whoever they may work for, whether it’s a small business or a larger business,” he said, adding that there’s a “real will” among federal officials to work with provinces on how to “support the essential work of municipalities and cities.”

READ MORE: Rec centres, ice rinks could be first victims of budget cuts as cities forced to balance books

Duclos said the federal government’s priority right now isn’t to “engage (in) discussions that might lead Canadians to feel less important than others.”

“I think everyone is important in this particular crisis and everyone needs to be supported according to the rules and regulations that are transparent and inviting everyone,” he said.

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Duclos said there will be “significant consequences” if companies use the cash they receive through the CEWS for anything other than wages.

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“There are very solid and very clear criteria that ensures that the wage subsidy is given to workers,” he said in French. “If a company uses this for something other than wages then there would be significant consequences.

“We want to make sure all companies respect the rules regardless of who they are.”

The parties cover the wages of employees such as those who carry out tasks like fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts. The wages of MPs and ministers are paid for by taxpayers, as are those of the political staff who work in their offices.

READ MORE: 66% of Canadians believe MPs should take a salary cut, poll suggests

In Alberta, the governing United Conservative Party is also applying for the federal wage subsidy, a party spokesperson confirmed to Global News.

The CEWS was originally scheduled to wrap up during the first week of June but has been extended until the end of August.

-With files from Global News’ Kerri Breen, Amanda Connolly, Adam MacVicar and the Canadian Press