The United Conservative Party said it would stick up for taxpayers, but now the UCP is exploiting the federal wage subsidy and taking money meant for struggling Albertans.
The federal government’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy provides employers affected by COVID-19 with a 75 per cent wage subsidy. The intent of the program wasn’t to force Canadians to subsidize political parties that already receive special taxpayer treatment.
Unfortunately, four of the five sitting federal parties have helped themselves to the wage subsidy. But for Alberta taxpayers, it’s the UCP’s application for the subsidy that stings the most.
The UCP promised Albertans it would respect taxpayers.
“We’re committed to being responsible stewards of taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews told Albertans shortly after being elected to office.
By taking the wage subsidy, the UCP is effectively forcing the hundreds of thousands of jobless Albertans to subsidize their political activities through the downturn. Many Albertans are laying awake “half the night” worried about their homes, like former oil and gas worker Christina Coffey.
But it’s a good bet there isn’t a single taxpayer losing sleep because the UCP might have to trim its attack ad budget.
In stark contrast to Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP, Premiers John Horgan, Scott Moe, Brian Pallister, Doug Ford, François Legault, Blaine Higgs and Dwight Ball all understand that political parties shouldn’t exploit the subsidy. As of the time of this writing, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has confirmed that more than 20 provincial political parties have not applied for the subsidy.
And even though the federal Conservative Party has taken the subsidy, all four leadership candidates have opposed the move.
To add insult to injury, political parties already get hefty taxpayer benefits. In Alberta, people receive a 75 per cent tax credit for the first $200 they donate to a political party. That means if you donate $200 to the UCP, you receive a tax credit of $150. If, however, you donate $200 to the Red Cross, you would only receive a $20 provincial tax credit.
These generous political tax credits have already cost Alberta taxpayers more than $14 million since 2013, according to Elections Alberta’s most recent annual report.
During Kenney’s time with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in the early 1990s, the organization took a clear stand.
“The Canadian Taxpayers Federation … opposes the use of taxpayers’ money to fund political parties,” reads the front page of the 1991 fall edition of the Taxpayer Magazine.
Here’s the most baffling part of the story: the UCP doesn’t need the money. The UCP raised about $1.04 million in the first quarter of 2020. That’s significantly more than the New Democrats’ $582,130 and they aren’t taking the subsidy. The UCP is like a rich guy going to a soup kitchen.
This UCP wage subsidy debacle is the latest revelation that causes concern for taxpayers. It was recently reported that the average salary for 19 political staffers in the premier’s office is $155,762, with half a dozen staffers receiving more than Kenney himself.
Rank-and-file MLAs in Alberta receive more than $15,000 above the Ontario-West average (excluding Alberta) every year.
But the inflated MLA and staff pay hasn’t budged during the COVID-19 economic crisis, even though hundreds of thousands of Albertans have lost their jobs and politicians around the world are reducing their salaries.
The UCP should have never taken the federal wage subsidy. Kenney and the UCP must immediately right this wrong and pay it back.
Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.