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Alberta UCP criticized by taxpayer group as one of few provincial parties to apply for federal wage subsidy

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is criticizing Alberta's United Conservative Party for applying for the federal wage subsidy program, while other governing provincial parties hold off.

Governing parties in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec didn't apply

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is pictured at the United Conservative Party AGM in 2019. The party is being criticized by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which Kenney once led, for applying for the federal wage subsidy. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is criticizing Alberta's United Conservative Party for applying for the federal wage subsidy program, while other governing provincial parties hold off.

The UCP said the subsidy, which sees Ottawa cover 75 per cent of wages (up to $847 per week, per employee), is needed as the party's fundraising revenue has declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Rather than fire staff, we plan to apply for the temporary federal program, like thousands of other business and non-profits have across the country, to help maintain our eight staff and the families that rely on them," Evan Menzies, the UCP's director of communications, said in an emailed statement.

But the CTF said 18 other provincial parties across the country have not applied for the taxpayer-funded benefit, including governing parties in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Alberta's NDP has also not applied.

"The United Conservative Party ran on being the party that would look out for taxpayers, but now the UCP is helping itself to tax dollars meant to support struggling Albertans," said Franco Terrazzano, the CTF's Alberta Director.

The only other provincial parties confirmed to have applied for the subsidy are the B.C. Green and Liberal parties, Terrazzano said.

The CTF said political parties in Alberta already receive "special treatment," as they can offer more generous tax credits to donors than charities can. 

The advocacy group called for the party to pay back the subsidy.

'This looks really bad'

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said the optics are bad for the UCP, given the wage subsidy was aimed at organizations struggling with significant revenue declines.

"What they are doing is not illegal. It's not against the rules. But you would have thought that someone in the party would have said this looks really bad, especially given the NDP not accepting the money and not applying for the money," he said.

The federal Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Green Party have all applied for the subsidy, which Bratt said feels more excusable given it's a minority government and those parties may need to replenish their reserves for a possible snap election, something the UCP would not need to do.

The criticism may pack an extra punch, Bratt said, as Premier Jason Kenney was head of the CTF in the 1990s. 

The UCP finished last year with a $2.3-million deficit and net liabilities of $1.1 million.

The NDP, the only other party with members in the legislature, recorded a surplus of almost $750,000 in 2019 with net liabilities of close to $377,000.

"They seem to be spending more money than they're bringing in," Bratt said of the UCP.

With files from Rick Donkers and The Canadian Press

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