Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is launching a website to help Canadians track which employers have been using government wage subsidies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CRA says its Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) Registry website is part of a push for transparency around the government program, which as of last week included payments to 368,000 businesses and non-profits.
For privacy reasons, the agency says the public registry does not include sole proprietors.
The move comes after news reports showed many large businesses paid out dividends to shareholders this year while collecting the wage subsidy.
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According to an investigation by the Financial Post, 68 publicly traded Canadian companies received $1.03 billion in wage subsidies over a six-month period this year, while paying out more than $5 billion in dividends to shareholders.
Of 53 businesses that CBC News looked at, more than half were found to have paid out dividends to shareholders while collecting the wage subsidy.
That prompted the opposition NDP to accuse the governing Liberals of “siding with large corporations instead of Canadian families,” noting that some individuals who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) have been ordered to pay the money back.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said CEWS money is to be used to pay salaries, not shareholder dividends.
“I want to emphasize… for any companies that may be listening, that the wage subsidy must be used to pay workers,” she said, as quoted by CBC News.
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The CRA’s announcement notes that it has a separate webpage called CRA Leads for people to report businesses who wrongfully claimed a subsidy.
The wage subsidies are meant to support employee paychecks at businesses where revenue has dropped, and the CRA says it could make ineligible businesses repay the subsidy plus a penalty, or even imprison fraudsters.
The government estimates the $54 billion in wage subsidy payments have protected about four million jobs, offsetting about half of the negative economic effects of the pandemic on the unemployment rate.
The Canadian Press, with files from HuffPost Canada