Is Pierre Poilievre energizing or expanding the base?
Fundraising figures suggests it's a bit of both.
Over the first six months of 2023, the Conservatives have raised nearly $9.5 million more than the Liberals, their widest fundraising advantage across two consecutive quarters ever.
Pierre Poilievre, who raised gargantuan sums of money during his leadership campaign, came with the promise of filling Conservative coffers like never before. But is he tapping a newly-energized base of Conservatives, or is he expanding that base in a way that could pay dividends in the next federal election?
Looking at the numbers, it appears to be a bit of both.
So far this year, the Conservatives have reported fundraising of $16.3 million dollars. The Liberals have raised only $6.8 million. But not only has Poilievre beat his partisan rivals, he is also out-fundraising his predecessor. Over the first six months of 2021 — in the run up to a snap (but widely telegraphed) election — the Conservatives under Erin O’Toole raised $13.6 million.
If we didn’t have polls telling us that the Conservatives are in a much better position today than they were two years ago, these fundraising figures alone would suggest that Conservative fortunes have improved. But they do also provide us with the opportunity to look at how the Conservative donor base has shifted, and answer the question of whether or not the increase in funding is simply Poilievre tapping donors from stronghold regions that would be expected to vote for the party anyway.
Of course, 2021 was a different environment as the pandemic was still in full swing. But Justin Trudeau’s party was able to raise an identical $6.8 million in the first half of 2021 as they’ve done in 2023, so the pandemic does not seem to have been much of a factor when it comes to raising money (though it was at the outset in 2020).
If we compare Conservative fundraising in 2021 and 2023 regionally, we see a few things emerge from the numbers:
Poilievre’s Conservatives have seen a surge in fundraising in areas where the party already holds most or all of the seats.
That surge has also been replicated in some key battleground areas like the Greater Toronto Area.
But fundraising is also down in some other areas, particularly in a few major urban centres like Toronto and Vancouver.
Before diving into the numbers, a few caveats.
It isn’t possible to determine where every dollar is coming from, as Elections Canada only publishes the names, cities and postal codes of donors who contribute at least $200. That still captures a majority of the money contributed to the Conservatives — 62% of money raised so far in 2023 came from donors giving more than $200, while that was 54% for O’Toole’s Conservatives in the first six months of 2021.
For the purposes of this analysis, I’m assuming that the donors who gave less than $200, and whose identities aren’t published by Elections Canada, are geographically distributed in the same way as those who gave more money. For the rest of this analysis, the regional fundraising numbers are drawn from this assumption.
To provide an example, fundraising from Conservative donors who gave at least $200 totalled $10,121,670 over the first six months of 2023. Of that, $2,729,310 came from Alberta, representing 27% of the total. Extrapolating that to all donors who gave a total of $16,720,969, we come to the figure of about $4,387,000 donated by Albertans.
Because our assumption is imperfect, I will be rounding all estimates to the nearest thousand. While these are merely estimates, they give us a means to compare regional fundraising in a reasonably reliable way.
Fundraising gains in every region
The Conservatives’ fundraising increase of $2.7 million between the first six months of 2021 and the first six months of 2023 (from here on in, I will refer only to the years as a whole) was not uniformly distributed across the country. But, with the possible exception of Prince Edward Island, fundraising has increased in every province.
The biggest increase is in Alberta, where the Conservatives have seen their fundraising rise from $3,200,000 in 2021 to $4,387,000 in 2023. There’s also been a big jump of $702,000 in Ontario, where the Conservatives have raised $6,143,000. Fundraising is also up by six figures in B.C. and Saskatchewan.
In terms of the rate of growth, the biggest has been in the North, where fundraising has more than tripled (from a small base). After that, the biggest rate of growth has been in Alberta (37%), New Brunswick (26%), Saskatchewan (25%) and Nova Scotia (22%). The rate of increase is below the national average in Ontario (13%) and Quebec (8%).
Quebec’s growth, worth only about $38,000, is concentrated in Montreal and Laval — regions which are unlikely to elect a Conservative MP anytime soon. Worse, fundraising has dropped in eastern Quebec, where the party should have prospects. This suggests that, despite the bump in fundraising in Quebec, the Conservatives are not expanding their base where it needs to be expanded in the province to deliver more seats.
The increase in Nova Scotia is despite a small decrease in Halifax. That might indicate the Conservatives are better positioned in Cape Breton and the rural mainland.
Increase in the GTA, decrease in Toronto
Delving more deeply into Ontario, the Conservatives have seen a surge of fundraising in the Greater Toronto Area — terrific news for a party that has twice been unable to regain the seats it lost in 2015. In the GTA as a whole, including Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula, fundraising is up $799,000 from 2021, an increase of 52%, with even greater rates of growth in Markham, Brampton and Mississauga. Fundraising is also up 40% in Hamilton.
Northern Ontario is another region of growth for the Conservatives, with fundraising up about 25% over 2021.
That’s the good news for the party. The bad news, however, is that fundraising has actually dropped by about $232,000 in Toronto itself. The Liberals hold every seat in the city, but in 2011 the Conservatives were able to win seats in the inner suburbs of Etobicoke, Scarborough and York. Under Poilievre, the Conservatives appear to be losing ground in Toronto — an indication that the base is contracting in the city, not expanding.
Elsewhere, Conservative fundraising is only marginally higher than it was in 2021 in eastern Ontario and southwestern Ontario. In the east, the growth that has occurred is concentrated outside of Ottawa, where the party already holds most of the seats in the region.
The New Democrats should be concerned that Poilievre appears to be expanding the base in northern Ontario and Hamilton, as well as in Windsor, where fundraising is up 38%. On the other hand, the Conservatives should be concerned that they are only raising about two-thirds as much as they did in London and Kitchener when O’Toole was leader. While Windsor might be a bright spot, a lot of the minor growth that has occurred in southwestern Ontario appears to be in the rural areas the party already holds.
Preaching to the choir in Western Canada
While there are signs of expansion, though far from uniform, in Ontario, there are more signs of a base being re-energized in Western Canada. On the face of it, that is a good thing for the party — increasing the donor pool in areas where the party is already strong means there is more money to invest in the expansion that is taking place elsewhere.
Nevertheless, it does suggest that the impressive national fundraising figures for the Conservatives are undermined a little by the same “inefficiency” that impacts their vote.
With the exception of the big and broadly-defined GTA (which includes everything in the postal code that begins with L), the Conservatives have seen their biggest jump in fundraising come in rural Alberta. The party raised $730,000 more here than they did in 2021, alone representing 27% of the growth the party has seen in fundraising across the country. Fundraising is also up significantly in Calgary (+$267,000) and Edmonton (+$191,000), where only four seats are not already blue.
To put those numbers into context, the Conservatives are raising roughly three times as much money in the city of Calgary ($1.5 million) as they are in the entire province of Quebec ($500,000).
Altogether, the fundraising gains in Saskatchewan ($181,000), rural Manitoba ($73,000) and Alberta represent 54% of all the fundraising gains the Conservatives have enjoyed across the country since 2021. So, half of the extra fundraising prowess Poilievre brings to the table is in areas the Conservatives already dominate.
Meanwhile, fundraising is down by about $53,000 in Vancouver and is slightly down in Winnipeg. It has increased by only a little in Surrey (7%) and more in Burnaby (36%), but the fundraising story in Western Canada does not suggest the base there is being expanded in a way that can net the party many more seats.
More Alberta, less Ontario
If we look at how the composition of Conservative fundraising has changed since 2021, we see that proportionately more of it is coming from Alberta and less from Ontario.
In all, 27% of Conservative fundraising is coming from Alberta, which will only have 11% of seats up for grabs in the next election. In 2021, 23.6% of Conservative fundraising was coming from the province.
Ontario provided 40.1% of Conservative fundraising in 2021, but now provides 37.8%. British Columbia is also down in its share of fundraising, from 19.2% to 18.5%.
Of course, when the fundraising pool is so big, these numbers might not matter much.
And if we compare to the first six months of 2019, when the Conservatives (then under Andrew Scheer) raised $16.5 million, or a little less than they’ve done in 2023, things look better. Under Scheer in 2019, 34.4% of fundraising came from Alberta and Saskatchewan vs. 32.6% today, while 36% came from Ontario against 37.8% today.
An energized and expanded base
These fundraising figures show that Poilievre is delivering on both energizing and expanding the base — though that expansion is not taking place everywhere it needs to.
Fundraising has increased the most in areas that are already well within the Conservative fold: Alberta (especially outside of Calgary and Edmonton), rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
But it has also increased in areas where there are seats that will be targeted by the Conservatives in the next election: Liberal seats in the Greater Toronto Area and NDP seats in northern Ontario, Hamilton and Windsor. Growth in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also aligns with the increase in support for the party in Atlantic Canada that has been picked up in the polls.
However, this has not come without losing ground elsewhere. Fundraising has decreased over the last two years in Toronto, Vancouver, Quebec City, Halifax, London and Kitchener and hasn’t grown in Winnipeg and Ottawa. This suggests that while the Conservatives are positioning themselves well in some industrial centres and in the suburbs around Toronto, Poilievre’s appeal is limited in some important urban centres where the Conservatives have won seats in the past.
Poilievre has proven to be a fundraising juggernaut. The base is energized and is getting bigger in some of the areas that win parties elections. But there are still some signs that the Conservatives have some work to do appealing to the regions that could turn a Conservative seat plurality, based on a combination of rural and suburban seats, into one that includes those inner suburbs and small cities that helped give Stephen Harper a majority government over a decade ago.
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