N.L. Liberal Party under fire for taking federal COVID-19 subsidies

·3 min read
The Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party accepted $35,669 in federal COVID-19 wage subsidies in 2020. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
The Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party accepted $35,669 in federal COVID-19 wage subsidies in 2020. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

The Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador is the only provincial party in Atlantic Canada that took money from taxpayer-funded federal COVID-19 emergency support subsidies last year, according the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, which first reported the finding.

CTF's interim Atlantic director, Renaud Brossard, told CBC News the program was designed to help businesses navigate COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, not help political parties.

"The Liberal Party of Newfoundland Labrador is not the same as a small business or a mom and pop operation where someone poured all of their life savings," Brossard said. "Political parties are a very different type of organization. Most political parties in Newfoundland rightly chose not to take funds."

In 2020 annual returns filed to Elections Newfoundland and Labrador earlier this month, the provincial Liberal Party listed $35,669 as income from the Canada emergency wage and rental subsidy. The party also listed $10,000 in loan forgiveness from the Canada emergency benefit account program as part of a taxpayer-supported $30,000 loan.

Though no other provincial parties in Atlantic Canada listed revenue from the wage subsidy, eight other political parties across Canada, including the federal Liberals, Conservatives and NDP, took money from the program last year.

While the N.L. Liberal Party did not break any rules by accepting the federal relief money, Brossard said, the money should instead have gone to businesses in the province. He called on the Liberals to return the money.

"This is not the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party's money. This is taxpayers' money. It was wrong of them to do it," Brossard said.

The N.L. Liberal Party wouldn't answer questions from CBC News about the relief money, but released a statement that said the party was able to keep staff employed and meet contractual obligations because of the program.

"Political parties across the country who have employees, including the Conservative Party of Canada and the federal NDP, did the same," said the statement. "Any required repayments will be made."

Opposition leaders want money repaid

Neither the N.L. Progressive Conservative Party nor the New Democratic Party took money from federal COVID-19 relief subsidies, though the Liberals reported more revenue in 2020 than either party by fivefold.

According to 2020 annual returns, the N.L. Liberal Party reported $776,940 in revenue for 2020, while the PCs and NDP reported $131,666 and $93,195, respectively.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, PC Leader David Brazil called on the Liberal Party to return the money it took from the program.

"I think this is the taxpayers' money that would be better spent going to supporting small businesses to ensure that they can stay viable in our province," he said.

Peter Cowan/CBC
Peter Cowan/CBC

He acknowledged the N.L. Liberal Party didn't break any laws but said the money should have instead been sent to small and medium businesses in the province.

"At the end of the day, this has to be about the individuals in this province who were struggling and are still struggling, the businesses that closed," he said.

NDP Leader Jim Dinn said the N.L. Liberal Party should not have taken the money, especially considering the revenue it made from donations and fundraising.

"There is no need for a political party, especially during an election year, to use funds that were basically meant to help people who are in desperate need," he said.

Dinn said no political party should have taken money from the federal COVID-19 subsidies, noting the dire circumstances many individuals found themselves in due to the pandemic.

"Unless you can show me a hardship case for … any political party, I would say no, they really shouldn't have taken advantage of this."

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