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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday December 5, 2013 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservative Party had its best fundraising year ever in a non-election year in 2013, as supporters rallied to an embattled government that was mired in a scandal over its handling of Tory senators' expense claims.

The governing party raised $18-million for its war chest, including $5.2-million in the final quarter; in both cases, they were high-water marks for Conservative fundraising in a non-election year.

"Despite the constant attacks from Justin Trudeau and his allies in the Ottawa Press Gallery, we had our best non-election year ever," party president John Walsh said in a statement released Sunday.

His short statement makes three references to the Liberal leader, but ignores the leader of the official opposition, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who led the House of Commons grilling of Prime Minister Stephen Harper over his office's involvement in payments to Senator Mike Duffy who was under fire over expenses.

The Conservatives are looking to contrast the "strong, stable leadership" of Mr. Harper with the "poor judgment" of Mr. Trudeau.

Mr. Walsh also launched a challenge to sign up 20,000 new supporters this week, in order to have a strong start for 2014 and prepare for a 2015 general election.

While the Conservatives had record fundraising success last year, the Liberals under Mr. Trudeau have closed the gap.

On Friday, the Liberal said preliminary figures suggest they raised a best-ever $4.3-million in the final quarter 2013, including $1.6-million in an online campaign in December. The party noted its contributors numbered 43,000 in the fourth quarter alone last year, compared to 49,650 in all the election year of 2011.

"If numbers tell a story, this story shows our message of hope and hard work is resonating with Canadians," the party's national campaign co-chair, Katie Telford said in a statement Friday.

Mr. Trudeau is having his own problems. He admitted Friday that he had had to repay $840.05 in expense claims that he wrongly filed to the house of Commons when he was making paid speeches while serving as a member of Parliament. Between 2008 and 2012, Mr. Trudeau collected fees of between $10,000 and $20,000 each to give 17 speeches to a variety of groups, including unions, charities and school boards, according to his office.

An NDP spokesman said the party expects to release its 2013 fundraising totals next week.

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