A keyword search for ‘politics’ on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) website won’t generate a single hit. But politics weren’t hard to find last week when it was reported that each of the federal political parties were applying for, or were already receiving, the CEWS. Reaction to the news was, predictably, swift and full of outrage. But what caught observers off-guard was who had put their hand out.
Starting with the Conservative Party of Canada. Joining their federal counterpart in seeking government support was Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP), pitting him against Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, as well as all four federal Conservative leadership candidates. Controversial leadership candidate Derek Sloan went so far as to say he’d return the money (note to Finance Canada bureaucrats: don’t expect to collect).
The federal NDP were the most forthcoming in explaining why they applied for the subsidy, noting it will keep their employees across Canada on payroll rather than be laid off (which is what the program was designed to do). Their reasoning didn’t carry over to Saskatchewan New Democrats, however, who opted against applying for the CEWS.
And as for the party that created the program, it took some prodding from the media for the Liberals to admit that they had been receiving the CEWS for weeks.
Perhaps the strangest twist of all was Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet taking a decidedly firm stand against the CEWS saying it ‘was unacceptable that political parties…use public funds to pay partisan salaries”. Meanwhile, the Bloc’s provincial cousins, the Parti Quebecois, confirmed they were not ruling out applying for the benefit. Welcome to the Ottawa equivalent of Bizzaro World.
While there is politics aplenty when it comes to Parties accessing CEWS, that hasn’t resulted in a shift in direction for the program. The Prime Minister has already announced an extension of CEWS through August and alluded in his press conference on Wednesday to its importance, particularly as the intention is to wind down CERB.
Just a few weeks ago, it appeared that most of Ottawa had set partisanship aside in favour of a “we’re all in this together” pandemic response. But last week’s news and the counter-intuitive, sometimes contradictory, reaction to it reaffirmed two truths: everything is political and the pandemic does not discriminate.