OTTAWA — Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says it’s “absolutely unacceptable” for the federal Liberals and Conservatives to receive public funding through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
The emergency program is designed to help businesses and non-profit organizations affected by the COVID-19 crisis re-hire workers and stave off more layoffs by covering 75 per cent of wages. The NDP said Friday the party had applied for the wage subsidy, news that prompted both the federal Liberals and Conservatives to confirm they have received the CEWS.
“It is reserved for businesses and companies who really need it,” Blanchet told reporters in Ottawa Monday. He said the NDP and Green Party may need the money, but affirmed “the Liberals don’t need it, and the Conservatives don’t need it.”
Blanchet pointed to quarterly financial returns filed to Elections Canada to showcase the financial health of each party heading into the pandemic.
He said his party has not applied for the emergency wage subsidy, explaining, “as people worthy of respect, we did not ask because we don’t need it.”
Watch: Getting employees back to work. Story continues below video.
Records show in the first three months of 2020, Conservative raised $3.8 million in donations, the highest of any party. Liberals followed behind with $2.9 million, while the NDP collected $964,000, the Greens raised $577,000, and the Bloc brought in just over $184,000.
A reporter asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his regular press conference outside his Ottawa home if he, as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, would renounce the CEWS money it has received.
Trudeau did not answer the question. He explained in French that the CEWS was launched to help the economy recover quickly from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.
“We need to support Canadians regardless of the organization for which they work,” he said. Trudeau explained the program is open to small businesses, big businesses, non profits, and the charitable sector.
Eligible employers may receive CEWS payments for up to 24 weeks.
Minister says CEWS is meant to help workers in ‘very difficult time’
Blanchet later brought his concerns to question period. The prime minister repeated the comments he made at his earlier press conference.
Mary Ng, the minister of small business, export promotion and international trade minister, likewise wouldn’t say whether or not the Liberals will return the money. The program is meant “to help Canadian workers through this very difficult time,” she said.
Registered federal parties’ bank accounts are not solely buoyed by direct political donations from supporters.
After an election, political candidates can receive public money from Elections Canada to reimburse 60 per cent of campaign expenses as long as they receive at least 10 per cent of valid votes. “Surplus” money is transferred to the registered party or riding association.
The nature of public funding for registered partisan politics changed in 2015 when the previous Conservative government eliminated direct federal per-vote subsidies.
Opposition parties warned at the time that scrapping the subsidy would give the Conservatives an upper hand in the lead-up to an election, given the party’s trend in out-performing others in fundraising.
Following the 2019 federal election, a HuffPost Canada analysis revealed more than 100 NDP candidate campaigns would not be eligible for partial reimbursement of election expenses.
COVID-19 crisis impacting political fundraising
NDP National Director Anne McGrath told HuffPost on Friday that as soon as the pandemic was declared in March, the party cancelled all in-person fundraising events.
“That was a major hit,” she said, adding, no in-person fundraising events have been planned for at least the rest of the summer.
“We were very clear from the beginning that if we were going to do this, that we were going to be upfront and open and transparent.”
The idea to apply for the wage subsidy was raised in caucus in mid-May, she said. The party currently has 17 full-time employees with an additional 15 to 20 people who work on a part-time schedule.
“We were very clear from the beginning that if we were going to do this, that we were going to be upfront and open and transparent,” McGrath said.
Following the news the NDP applied for the CEWS on Friday, spokesmen for the Liberal and Conservatives told HuffPost Canada that both parties have already received wage subsidy money.
Green Party of Canada executive director Prateek Awasthi told HuffPost the party also applied for the CEWS, but have yet to receive it as of Monday.
“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,” he said.