Politics

Trudeau defends Liberal Party's use of wage subsidy program

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today defended the Liberal Party's decision to tap the federal wage subsidy program to pay its workers, saying the program is designed to help people working in all sectors of the economy.

Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens have applied — Bloc leader Blanchet calls it 'unacceptable'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the media about the pandemic during a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today defended the Liberal Party's decision to tap the federal wage subsidy program to pay its workers, saying the program is designed to help people working in all sectors of the economy.

The Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green parties all have applied for relief through the Canadian emergency wage subsidy, which floats up to $847 a week for each employee a business, charity or non-profit organization has on the payroll.

The Bloc Québécois has said it will not use the program to cover wages.

The three largest parties employ about 200 party workers, which means they are collectively entitled to some $700,000 per month from the federal treasury to cover salaries.

"We knew from the very beginning that it was going to be important to ensure that people could keep their jobs, whether they work in the private sector, whether they work for non-profits or charities, to be able to continue to support their families," Trudeau said.

Watch: Trudeau is asked about the Liberal Party using the wage subsidy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Monday. 0:29

"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."

Asked if he thought it was appropriate for the party he leads to tap this sort of program, Trudeau said in French the government "must be able to support Canadians no matter what organization or company they work for."

He didn't answer when asked if he knew his party would be eligible for the subsidy when his government designed the relief program.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said it was "absolutely unacceptable" for parties like the Liberals and the Conservatives to make use of a program originally intended to help small- and medium-sized businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

While donations have dipped, Blanchet said the two largest parties still managed to rake in millions of dollars in donations earlier this year. The Liberals, Conservative and New Democrats collectively raised about $7.7 million in the first quarter of 2020.

He said the program should be "reserved for businesses and companies and the people who really need it."

"The Liberals don't need it. The Conservatives don't need it," Blanchet said. "It's quite something. If you don't need to have money from the crisis, then don't ask for that money."

Braeden Caley, a spokesperson for the Liberal Party, said Friday "the health and safety of Canadians is always our top priority" and it has suspended "all in-person fundraising events" as a result of physical distancing measures.

Cory Hann, a spokesperson for the Conservatives, said the pandemic has resulted in "unexpected expenses" for the party.

"We have applied and been accepted for the federal wage subsidy, and with staff across Canada that have young and extended families that all rely on our organization, we want to do everything we can to maintain regular operations and continue to avoid layoffs," Hann said.

The wage subsidy is designed to pay up to 75 per cent of a worker's pre-pandemic wage. The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats confirmed that they will be topping up employee wages by paying the other 25 per cent themselves.

In 2018, the last year for which data is available, both the Liberals and Conservatives booked over $5 million in salaries and benefits paid out to employees.

The NDP reported a payroll of about $2.5 million. Salaries were the most expensive line items for both the Liberals and New Democrats (the Conservatives spent more on fundraising).

Since mid-March, most party staffers have been working remotely from home, which can add to costs.

Two Conservative Party leadership contenders have said they are opposed to political parties taking taxpayer funds to pay for the workers' wages.

"Political parties should not qualify for a wage subsidy and Justin Trudeau's law is flawed. As leader, I would have stopped the application in its tracks. We should not be bailed out by taxpayer money with millions unemployed and small businesses struggling to stay afloat," Peter MacKay said in a tweet Sunday.

Erin O'Toole said that, if he's elected leader, he'll direct the party to repay the money.

"I'm calling on the government to change the rules so that political parties don't qualify," he said. "Canadians have sacrificed enough. They shouldn't have to pay for wage subsidies for political parties." 

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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