Weekly Writ for Feb. 7: A deep-dive into Poilievre's fundraising machine
The Conservatives break records and beat the Liberals in fundraising (almost) everywhere
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
The Conservatives raised a lot of money last year — and especially a lot more than the Liberals.
But with only a few very brief exceptions, that has always been the case ever since corporations were prohibited from donating to parties and contribution limits were put in place some 20 years ago.
The Conservatives’ electoral success doesn’t match their fundraising prowess over those two decades. In that span, the Conservatives have won three elections (one of them a majority victory) and the Liberals have won three elections (also including one majority).
In the end, it’s more important what you do with the money than how much you have. But if you have a lot of money, you can do more things.
In this edition of the Weekly Writ, I’m taking a deep-dive into the fundraising figures for 2023 published last week by Elections Canada.
They show the Conservatives are breaking fundraising records at the same time as they are leading in the polls with more support than they’ve had since the 2011 election. The two are not unrelated — and are in all likelihood mutually reinforcing.
To give you just one example of what the Conservatives are doing with this money, we can look at the advertising campaigns the party is running on Facebook. Of course, Facebook isn’t the be-all-and-end-all in advertising, but it is unique in that the platform allows us to see all the ads that a particular organization is currently running, as well as the size of their ad buy.
According to those disclosures, the Conservative Party Facebook account is running about 260 ads with a total cost of upwards of $150,000 (if we take the higher range of spending shown by Facebook). Pierre Poilievre’s Facebook account is running another 170 ads. Altogether, the Conservatives might be spending around a quarter of a million dollars on ongoing Facebook ad campaigns alone — and that does not include the ad campaigns they might have run earlier in the year but have since stopped.
By comparison, the Liberal Party is currently running about 110 ads, with Justin Trudeau’s Facebook account running another 130. Unlike the Conservatives, however, nearly all of these ad campaigns are for less than $100 apiece. This means that not only are the Conservatives running nearly twice as many ads on Facebook as the Liberals are, they could be spending 10 times as much on them.
This is only one small slice of the total advertising pie. But if it is being replicated on other platforms and mediums, it’s clear what capabilities the Conservatives’ fundraising machine is able to provide the party which the Liberals simply can’t match.
While it’s unlikely to be the sole or even primary reason for the Conservatives’ surge in the polls last summer, it is also unlikely to be a coincidence that their polling bump occurred at the same time as the party launched its television advertising campaign.
That’s why the record-breaking fundraising the Conservatives managed in 2023 is not just a big number that the party can brag about. The dollars being spent are having an impact on Canadians’ perceptions of Poilievre and his party, as well as of Trudeau and his government.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
That deep-dive on federal fundraising figures for 2023, as well as news on some provincial fundraising numbers out of Alberta and British Columbia. Plus, we have our first contestant for the Alberta NDP leadership, a resignation from the Sask. Party caucus and a delayed byelection in Prince Edward Island.
Polls on party standings in B.C., plus new national numbers and some data out of Ontario and Quebec.
Big B.C. NDP majority if the election were held today.
Victoria-Beacon Hill is this week’s riding profile, as the B.C. Green leader switches seats — and makes her re-election chances look slim.
Bob Rae becomes Ontario NDP leader in the #EveryElectionProject.
IN THE NEWS
Conservatives set new fundraising records in 2023
The Conservatives raised $35.3 million throughout 2023, setting a record for most fundraising in a year by a political party in Canada.
The party got a boost by a record-setting fourth quarter, in which the Conservatives raised $11.9 million from 66,000 individual contributions. That beat the previous record for fundraising in a single quarter set by the party in the third quarter of 2019, when the Conservatives raised $10.1 million during that year’s election campaign. That was also the only other time the party raised more than $30 million in one year — but they only barely got over the line with $30.9 million.
The Liberals raised $5.8 million in the fourth quarter, bringing their total haul to $15.6 million for the year. It wasn’t a bad year for the Liberals, as it was their best one outside of an election since 2018. They actually raised a little more in the fourth quarter in 2023 — as the polls tanked — than they did in the fourth quarter of 2022, when the polls weren’t so bad.
But it’s the gap between the Conservatives and Liberals that puts things into context. The Conservatives raised more than double what the Liberals did, giving them an edge of $19.7 million. That’s the widest gap ever, beating the previous record set in 2008 when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives raised $15.3 million more than Stéphane Dion’s Liberals. It’s just a crushing advantage that the Conservatives can use while there are no spending limits — hence all of the Pierre Poilievre ads.
The NDP raised $2.7 million in the last quarter, their best quarter outside of an election year since 2015, when they formed the official opposition. The New Democrats raised $6.9 million for the year, up from $6.3 million in 2022.
In fourth in fundraising for the last quarter was the Bloc, which took in $965,000, its second-best quarter on record (the Bloc raised $1.2 million in Q3 2021). The party finished with $1.8 million in fundraising, up about $200,000 from 2022.
Bringing up the rear in Q4 were the Greens ($791,000) and the People’s Party ($649,000). The Greens finished 2023 with $1.9 million in fundraising, their worst year since 2012. The PPC was at $1.6 million, nearly matching their fundraising from 2022.
In the chart below, you can see how the Liberals have stagnated when it comes to fundraising. They closed the gap with the Conservatives in 2015, but have not made any progress as the Conservatives keep raising more money. The NDP has yet to consistently match its 2011-15 fundraising.
The four-year rolling average, which is meant to capture election cycles, shows how the NDP has fallen out of contention with the Liberals for fundraising, but also how the Conservatives have pulled away after that post-2015 tightening.
If we delve a little deeper into the fundraising data for last year, we can see that the Conservatives were dominant in nearly every part of the country.
It’s not possible to get exact data for the regional breakdown of fundraising, as the identity of donors giving less than $200 are not reported in the quarterly filings. However, we can extrapolate from those donations of $200 or more to estimate how much money each party is raising in each part of the country (assuming that the geographic distribution of donors giving less than $200 per contribution is similar to those giving more).
Based on these estimates, the Conservatives raised the most money in every province except Quebec.
The Conservatives raised around $13.7 million in Ontario, followed by the Liberals at $8.4 million and the NDP at $3 million. In British Columbia, the Conservatives raised $6.6 million, compared to just $2.2 million for the Liberals and $1.9 million for the NDP. The party’s advantage was starkest in Alberta, where the Conservatives raised $8.6 million against just $1.2 million for the Liberals and $560,000 for the NDP.
It was only in Quebec that the Conservatives failed to raise the most money. The Bloc was on top with $1.8 million, followed closely by the Liberals at $1.6 million. The Conservatives raised just $1.3 million in Quebec, less than they did in Manitoba or Atlantic Canada.
Only in Saskatchewan did the NDP place second in fundraising, narrowly edging out the Liberals (though as these are estimates, the two parties might be better said to be effectively tied).
The Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats and People’s Party all had their highest fundraising in Ontario, representing between 39% and 43% of their entire haul — except for the Liberals, who raised 54% of their money in Ontario. For the Conservatives, Alberta (24%) and B.C. (19%) were their next biggest sources of income, followed by Saskatchewan (6%). For the Liberals, it was B.C. (14%), Quebec (10%) and Alberta (8%) who rounded out their top four.
The Greens raised about 41% of their money in B.C., with Ontario representing another 39%. With so little fundraising outside of these two provinces, the Greens were actually fifth in fundraising, behind the PPC, in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Drilling down into the cities (or, at least, as they were defined in the filings to Elections Canada), the Conservatives raised the most in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Victoria, Mississauga, Saskatoon, Oakville, Surrey, Windsor, Kelowna, Burnaby — I could go on. In fact, it might be easier to list some of the cities in which the Conservatives didn’t raise the most money (again, based on extrapolations from the $200+ donors):
The Liberals beat the Conservatives in fundraising in Montreal, Ottawa (but were behind in parts of Ottawa like Kanata, Nepean and Gloucester), Halifax and Gatineau. Other large cities in which the Liberals raised the most money included Peterborough, Milton, Sherbrooke, Sydney and Moncton.
Fundraising was very tight between the Liberals and Conservatives in Winnipeg, Brampton, Scarborough, Richmond and Hamilton, among other places.
The NDP raised the most money in very few cities. Some exceptions were New Westminster and Nelson in B.C. and Kenora, Ontario.
The Bloc Québécois raised the most money in Quebec City, Longueuil, Terrebonne, Drummondville, Trois-Rivières and most other large cities in Quebec.
The Greens might have topped a few locations, including Salt Spring Island (in Elizabeth May’s riding) and Pointe-Claire, Quebec.
The PPC is not estimated to have raised the most money in any large city or town.
By any measure, the year was a dominating one for the Conservatives. Granted, it has always been that way as the Conservative have out-raised the Liberals in 70 of 76 quarters since 2005. And the Conservatives raised much more money than the Liberals in 2015, 2019 and 2021, all years in which the Conservatives lost elections to the Liberals.
But the sheer size of the Conservatives’ advantage in 2023 is what sets the year apart — and which gives the Conservatives all sorts of money to burn between now and the start of the next election campaign.
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ELECTION NEWS BRIEFS
Kathleen Ganley, the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, is the first declared contestant for the Alberta NDP leadership race. Ganley, who served as justice minister in Rachel Notley’s government, announced her candidacy on Monday on the first official day of the campaign. The Alberta NDP (and its predecessor, the CCF) has never had a leader that represented a riding in Calgary. The party will announce the winner of the race on June 22.
The New Democrats led the way in B.C. fundraising in the fourth quarter of 2023 with $1.9 million. B.C. United, despite its trouble in the polls, nevertheless raised $1.2 million. The Greens finished third with $536,000, followed by the B.C. Conservatives at $300,000. While that Conservative haul doesn’t match their poll numbers, it is a big increase from the $53,000 raised in the third quarter.
The provincial NDP also led in Alberta fundraising with $8.7 million for the year, followed by the United Conservatives at $8.5 million. No other party raised anywhere close to those two, with the third-place finisher being Pro-Life Alberta at $452,000 in 2023.
Greg Lawrence resigned from the Saskatchewan Party caucus. The MLA for the riding of Moose Jaw Wakamow was charged with assault and will sit as an Independent. He had already announced he would not be running for re-election in October’s provincial vote.
The Prince Edward Island byelection in Borden-Kinkora, originally scheduled to take place on Monday, was delayed until Tuesday, and then again until today, due to the snowstorm that has hit the province. The PCs have held this seat since 2015. If the Greens were to win it, they would tie the Liberals in the Legislative Assembly with three seats apiece and so have a claim on the official opposition role.
THIS WEEK’S POLLS
B.C. NDP continues to lead over divided opposition
Two polls delving into the political scene in British Columbia were published last week, showing that the B.C. New Democrats continue to have a towering lead over their rivals — and that the B.C. Conservatives are well ahead of B.C. United for second place.
The polls were conducted in mid-January by Research Co. and Pollara. The newer of the two, Research found the NDP leading with 46% support, followed by the Conservatives at 25%, BCU at 17% and the Greens at 11%. The Conservatives are up six points since Research was last in the field in September.
Pollara found a wider lead for the NDP, but a similar eight-point gap between the Conservatives and BCU. The poll had the NDP at 51%, followed by the Conservatives at 23%, BCU at 15% and the Greens at 10%.
The two polls had deeper regional breakdowns than shown above, where I have highlighted only three regions. Research Co. gave the NDP a lead of just seven points over the Conservatives in the Fraser Valley and put the Conservatives ahead of the NDP by one point in northern B.C, where B.C. United scored a woeful 8%.
Pollara put the NDP ahead of the Conservatives by 14 points in Surrey and 30 points in the Lower Mainland outside of Vancouver and Surrey. In the Interior, the NDP had a 35-point lead outside of the Okanagan.
These numbers have the making of a near-NDP sweep, simply because neither the Conservatives nor BCU appear to have regions of concentrated support, with the possible exception of northern B.C., where the Conservatives are likely the favourites in the Peace River ridings. We’re not seeing any real indication that there is even an urban-rural split. The NDP’s support is relatively uniform across the province, as is support for the Conservatives and BCU. Contrary to what one might expect, the Conservatives do not appear to be having any particular trouble beating B.C. United in the Lower Mainland.
Research gives Premier David Eby an approval rating of 53%, with just 33% of British Columbians disapproving of his performance. Green leader Sonia Furstenau is evenly split at 34% approval and 35% disapproval, while both BCU leader Kevin Falcon and Conservative leader John Rustad have similar numbers: 31% approve, 42% disapprove for Falcon and 32% approve, 40% disapprove for Rustad.
There aren’t many signs that either leader is well-poised to bridge the gap between the two parties. Among B.C. Conservative voters, Falcon has a net -15 approval rating. Among B.C. United voters, Rustad is -13.
Note, this poll was taken before NDP MLA Selina Robinson was removed from cabinet over derogatory comments she made about Gaza. The controversy is unlikely to be the kind of thing that obliterates a 20+ point lead, but it’s a reminder that the greatest threat that Eby and the NDP faces before the October provincial election might be their own mistakes rather than any love for the opposition parties.
POLLING NEWS BRIEFS
Two national voting intentions polls published over the last week had nearly identical results. Léger gave the Conservatives a 15-point lead, putting them at 40% support to 25% for the Liberals. The NDP was third with 20%. The latest iteration of the four-week Nanos Research poll also put the gap at 15 points, with 40% for the Conservatives, 25% for the Liberals and 21% for the NDP. Satisfaction with the Trudeau government stood at 30% in the Léger survey.
In Ontario, Liaison Strategies puts the governing Progressive Conservatives at 38%, followed by the Ontario Liberals at 30% and the NDP at 22%. Notably, the poll puts the Liberals and PCs in a tie in the Greater Toronto Area. It also finds that 66% of respondents believe the healthcare system is worse than it was five years ago and 82% say they are “not confident” they would be able to see a specialist before a medical condition they had would get worse.
Late yesterday afternoon, Le Journal de Montréal published the results of a Léger survey in Quebec, showing the Parti Québécois leading with 32%, followed by the Coalition Avenir Québec with 25%, Québec Solidaire at 16%, the Liberals at 15% and the Conservatives at 11%. There was little movement from when Léger was last in the field in December. Federally, the Bloc and Liberals were effectively tied at 29% and 28%, respectively, with the Conservatives in third at 23%. As the full details of the poll hadn’t been released at time of writing, they will be included in next week’s seat estimates.
According to the Angus Reid Institute, 25% of Canadians think that Canada is giving “too much support to Ukraine”, compared to just 19% who say it is “not enough”. Another 25% say it is “about the right amount”. A few months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, only 13% said we were giving too much support to the country and 38% said it was not enough. The biggest increase among those saying the support is “too much” has been among people who voted for the Conservatives in 2021. It has risen 24 points from 19% in 2022 to 43% today. There has only been a five- and seven-point increase among Liberal and NDP voters.
IF THE ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY
The Conservatives are still comfortably in majority territory at the national level, making up for some seat losses in Ontario with some gains in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia.
The competitive polling numbers for the Ontario Liberals in the GTA boost their seat numbers, but Doug Ford’s PCs are still able to win a majority.
In British Columbia, the deepening split on the right and the strong NDP polling numbers across the province put the New Democrats in a position to win a huge majority as no opposition party approaches double-digits in seats.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Liberals’ upset byelection victory from last week is added to the tally.
The following seat estimates are derived from a uniform swing model that is based on trends in recent polls as well as minor tweaks and adjustments. Rather than the product of a statistical model, these estimates are my best guess of what an election held today would produce, based both on the data and my own experience observing dozens of elections since 2008.
Changes are compared to last week. Parties are ordered according to their finish in the previous election (with some exceptions for minor parties).
RIDING OF THE WEEK
Victoria-Beacon Hill (British Columbia)
With the New Democrats leading in the polls ahead of British Columbia’s provincial election in October, a seat like Victoria-Beacon Hill would normally be very low on the list of ridings to watch. The NDP won this seat by a margin of 25 percentage points in the last election and, with the exception of the 2001 election, has held it since the 1970s.
But the riding has shot up the list because the leader of the B.C. Greens, Sonia Furstenau, has decided to put her name on the ballot here.
Grace Lore won Victoria-Beacon Hill for the NDP with 54.6% of the vote in 2020. Jenn Neilson of the Greens finished a respectable second with 29.9%, while Karen Bill took 14.4% under the then-banner of the B.C. Liberals.
On paper, this is not a great riding for Furstenau to run in — especially since she already has a seat. She’s been the MLA for Cowichan Valley since 2017.
Furstenau wants to run in Victoria-Beacon Hill for family reasons, as she now has more links with the city, where one of her children is attending university and another now lives. Shawinigan Lake, where Furstenau resides, is about an hour’s drive away.
Her old riding has also been re-drawn and Shawinigan Lake now finds itself in the riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca. In its current configuration, Langford-Juan de Fuca was the worst seat for the B.C. Greens in the Greater Victoria area and, in its new configuration, Cowichan Valley goes from being a riding Furstenau won by four points to one in which the NDP would have won by six points in the last campaign.
With Cowichan Valley no longer her home and the riding in which she resides being even worse for her, perhaps there is some logic in de-camping to Victoria-Beacon Hill, the riding located in the core of Victoria and which includes the grounds of the B.C. Legislature.
But, electorally, Furstenau is not making things easy for herself.
Cowichan Valley isn’t as winnable for the Greens as it was before, but it is still far more winnable than Victoria-Beacon Hill. The riding is changing a little from 2020, losing Victoria West. But despite that change, it is still a seat in which Lore would have won by 25 points in the last election.
In 2017, the NDP won this seat by 23 points and has held it without interruption since 2005. The one time the party did lose it (in 2001, when they lost all but two seats in B.C.), the margin was only 35 votes. Up to then, it had been an NDP stronghold since the Dave Barrett years.
Is there any hope for Furstenau and the Greens here?
In 2013, then-leader Jane Sterk placed only 15 points, taking 34% of the vote. The federal Green Party came very close to winning Victoria twice — once in a byelection in 2012 and more recently in the 2019 campaign. The Greens won a few polls in the last provincial election, primarily in the east end of the riding, and Victoria-Beacon Hill was their best riding on Vancouver Island outside of the two they actually won.
But there’s little indication that the Greens will be able to overcome a 25-point deficit, even with a leader on the ballot. If anything, the polls suggest the Greens could see their support fall on Vancouver Island. It will be an upset, and an enormous feat of personal campaigning, if Furstenau avoids losing here.
Lore, minister of children and family development, will be running again for the New Democrats, while the B.C. Conservatives have nominated Tim Thielmann, a lawyer, as their candidate. B.C. United hasn’t yet nominated someone for this riding.
ON THIS DAY in the #EveryElectionProject
The Ontario NDP goes for the win
February 7, 1982
The 1981 provincial election was a traumatic one for the Ontario New Democrats.
Their future looked bright in the 1970s, as Stephen Lewis brought them to official opposition status in 1975 and helped keep the Progressive Conservatives under Bill Davis to a minority in 1977. Lewis stepped aside after that election and the party chose Michael Cassidy as his successor.
But Cassidy was no Lewis. He couldn’t match his charisma and appeal, and in the 1981 election the NDP lost over a third of its seats, dropping decisively to third-party status as the PCs regained a majority government. When Cassidy, too, stepped aside, the party came to a conclusion: in an age of image politics, they needed an interesting, electable leader at the helm.
There were two candidates who were seen as potentially fitting the bill.
One was Bob Rae. Only 33, Rae was a first-term Toronto MP making a name for himself as the NDP’s quotable finance critic in the House of Commons. Judy Steed, writing in the Globe and Mail, profiled him as the “son of a diplomat but not a rich man’s son, he has the kind of background and credentials that make him an ideal candidate. Born in Ottawa, where he went to public school, educated in Washington and Geneva, bilingual, a Rhodes scholar, a lawyer, articulate, witty, photogenic… Mr. Rae has generated an almost unprecedented enthusiasm among NDPers.”
The other was Richard Johnston. Also in his mid-30s and a former social worker, Johnston was the candidate of the left-wing of the party. An MPP for Scarborough fresh off a byelection win that won him the seat vacated by Lewis, Johnston campaigned to give more power to the grassroots of the party.
Once Rae and Johnston got into the race, other party heavyweights opted to stay out. But not Jim Foulds, a veteran MPP from northern Ontario who was the “outsider” as the sole candidate who didn’t represent a seat in the Toronto area.
According to Steed, Foulds “exudes a kind of unsophisticated warmth that may not be appreciated in downtown Toronto but goes over well in small towns and rural areas.”
It was quickly apparent that Johnston and Foulds had an uphill climb. Rae earned the support of 11 of the 21 caucus members and landed the endorsement of Donald MacDonald, leader of the Ontario CCF and NDP from 1953 to 1970, a few weeks before the convention.
It was his moderate approach, high profile and “electability” that gave Rae the advantage over his two opponents. The party had decided they wanted a winner. They weren’t choosing the next leader of the Ontario New Democrats. They thought they were potentially choosing the next Ontario premier.
There wasn’t much suspense when over 3,000 New Democrats attended the convention held at the Harbour Castle Hilton in Toronto. A questions-and-answers session on the Friday of the convention went well for Rae and Johnston was seen as having given the best speech on Saturday. But on Sunday, when a little more than 2,000 delegates would cast their ballots, it was clearly Rae’s contest to lose. Even his own staffers were privately predicting he’d prevail with over 60% of ballots cast.
It was a solid guess. Rae won handily on the first ballot, taking 65% of the vote against just 24% for Johnston and 11% for Foulds.
Rae won with the backing of the labour unions (who had votes and volunteers to provide on the convention floor), the party establishment and the moderates looking to challenge the Davis government. Johnston’s camp felt they had been treated a little unfairly in the delegate selections, but their candidate nonetheless rallied to Rae after the results were announced, as did Foulds.
“The Rae support was much stronger coming into the convention than we anticipated,” Johnston said, with one of his organizers bluntly admitting “we were out-pointed, out-gunned and out-manoeuvred.“
By the end of the year, Rae had his seat at Queen’s Park when Donald MacDonald stepped aside. Rae led the NDP to modest gains in the next election in 1985, enough to reduce the PCs, now under Frank Miller, to another minority and bring them down in conjunction with David Peterson’s Liberals. The NDP would get back to official opposition status under Rae in 1987 before he led them to the promised land in the 1990 campaign. The New Democrats who believed in 1981 that they were selecting a future Ontario premier were proven right.
That’s it for the Weekly Writ this week. The next episode of The Numbers will be dropping on Friday. The episode will land in your inbox but you can also find it on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting apps. If you want to get it early on Thursday, become a Patron here!