EDMONTON -- The United Conservative Party has confirmed it is applying for federal funding to help pay its staff.

The program covers 75 per cent of the first $58,700 normally earned by employees and is retroactive to March 15.

A spokesperson for the party said the UCP is a not-for-profit organization, and because of the pandemic, it has lost out on fundraising opportunities.

“Rather than fire staff, we plan to apply for the temporary federal program, like thousands of other business and non-profits have across the country, to help maintain our 8 staff and the families that rely on them,” said spokesperson Evan Menzies.

“The alternative was laying off staff and putting those individuals on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)/Employment Insurance.”

But an Alberta political scientist believes the optics of the UCP is applying for a federal wage subsidy to support its eight staff are problematic.

“It’s problematic because we’re talking about applying for taxpayer dollars, taxpayer subsidies for political partisan activities,” Lori Williams said, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.

Financial disclosure documents filed with Elections Alberta show the UCP ended up last year with deficit of more than $2.2 million while the NDP had a surplus of more than $748,000.

The UCP also fundraised $1,250,216 from January to April, while the NDP fundraised $582,130.

About a month ago the UCP caucus mailed out glossy eight page pamphlets to Albertans highlighting what is being done to combat COVID-19. The pamphlets also advertised the UCP caucus and promoted its social media channels.

“Why make such a huge expenditure at a time when they knew that their expenses would be up and their fundraising would be down?” Williams asked.

The federal Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green parties have also applied for the federal wage subsidy program.

While the Alberta NDP said they haven’t applied for the money, the party also wasn’t overly critical of the UCP who did.

“Our team has worked hard since mid-March to make sure that our fundraising respects the very real health and economic anxieties of Albertans,” said Brandon Stevens, the NDP’s provincial secretary.

“To date, we have met our fundraising goals and have not had to apply for the federal wage subsidy or the federal rental assistance program. We continue to closely monitor our fundraising so that if needed, we can make adjustments to keep staff employed and maintain our operations.”

If the UCP does receive the federal wage subsidy, it would only cover salaries for party staff, not members of the legislative assembly. Those salaries are already paid for by the taxpayer. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Sarah Plowman.