After months of being pressed for details on which individuals, groups and companies received federal pandemic supports, the Liberal government has published a searchable registry of companies that have accessed the Canada emergency wage subsidy (CEWS).
The list on the Canada Revenue Agency’s website details all of the companies that have received the CEWS, or will soon receive it, but it does not detail how much each company or group received of the $83.5 billion the federal government estimates it has spent and will spend on the program this year.
“I think the government found the right balance of sharing the name of companies that have used the wage subsidy but haven’t given personal details or amounts,” Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), told CBC News.
Kelly said due to the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the raw numbers of how much each company received will vary greatly from those that needed every cent to others that needed very little.
“In the early months, no one had any idea what this was going to do to a business’s revenue, so you may have been applying for the wage subsidy, and then in the second half of the year it may have turned out that things have stabilized a little bit,” he said.
Kelly also said that because the wage subsidy was not calculated on a sliding scale when it was first introduced, some companies that received it may have received more than they initially required without ever intending to milk the system.
“The federal government needs to create, and make public, a pathway to repay the wage subsidy for businesses that may not have needed all or any of the wage subsidy as the year progressed,” he said.
The data that has been put online lists 340,637 names of individual companies or groups, but the high-level aggregate data that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has posted online says there are 368,240 unique applications that have been approved so far.
A CRA spokesperson explained the reason the list is incomplete, is for privacy reasons. The CRA has not released the names of companies that are sole proprietorships or partnerships in instances where the name of the company could identify the owners or staff.
Golf clubs and white supremacists
CBC reported last week that the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, one of the country’s most prominent private courses, managed to build up a $1 million surplus from its past season, thanks mostly to federal subsidies for workers’ wages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Faced with lockdown restrictions that kept its facilities shut from mid-March through mid-May, the club sought and received $1.019 million in federal wage support over the spring and summer, and as a result, it ended its fiscal year with an $825,000 surplus in its operating fund — 19 times more than the $43,883 operating gain the club reported for 2019.
Members of the club were told that the Royal Ottawa’s board decided to keep the entire amount in order to “provide a cushion against unanticipated future expenses.”
In announcing the registry, the CRA emphasized that the benefit can only be used to subsidize employee pay with the intention of keeping staff tied to their companies, so that when firms reopen or return to full operation, they still have the staff they need.
Ottawa has said that companies taking advantage of the CEWS for other purposes, such as paying out dividends, bonuses or making capital investments, will be held accountable.
“Employers who misuse the wage subsidy will be liable to a penalty equal to 25 per cent of the amount of wage subsidy that is claimed in their application, and will have to pay back any wage subsidy that they received,” Kat Cuplinskas, press secretary for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, told CBC News in an email.
With the launch of the CEWS registry, some are raising questions about some of the other recipients of the wage subsidy.
Vice reported on Tuesday that the Canadian Association for Free Expression, run by notorious white nationalist Paul Fromm, was also a recipient of the CEWS.
The news outlet spoke to Fromm, who confirmed that his organization received the supports. Fromm also told Vice that he rejects the term neo-Nazi to describe himself, despite a long history of close association with white supremacists.