Dollars and votes: How fundraising has shaped the federal election campaign

Efforts to limit federal election campaign spending have not slowed the flow of private funds to national parties. Canadians have donated more than $300-million to federal parties over the past decade, including more than $40-million last year alone.

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This federal election marks the first time in more than a decade that national parties are not able to rely on taxpayer dollars to fund their election campaigns, since the Conservatives phased out government subsidies to political parties this year. That has made private donations more critical than ever to the parties’ hopes of winning power.

Party financing is big business. Collectively, the three main parties, along with the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, have raised more than $300-million in donations from nearly 260,000 individual Canadians over the past decade.

The Globe and Mail analyzed nearly two million donations of more than $200 to federal parties between 2004 and 2014 in order to shed light on who donates, where they live, and how they are shaping this year’s federal election campaign.

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Conservatives: Where they stand

The Conservatives have become the masters of turning voters into donors and have steadily expanded their core group of financial supporters well beyond the party’s home base of Western Canada. Over the past decade, the Conservative Party has attracted new donors in more than 280 ridings across Canada and increased the amount those donors give every year.

The party has long been able to rely on its political base for financial support. It has consistently received close to half of all donations to all federal parties, a proportion that peaked at 60 per cent in the 2008 election.

Roughly 130,000 Canadians have opened their wallets for the Conservatives over the past decade, more than the number who donated to the Liberals and the NDP combined. In total, Conservative supporters have donated nearly $150-million to the party’s coffers since 2004. Nearly half of those are repeat donors, people who give to the party in multiple years. The party picked up sizable numbers of new donors during the 2008 election campaign and has managed to keep them. For the 2011 election, repeat donors gave the Conservatives more than $14.5-million, nearly double what they gave to the Liberals.

Yet unlike their competitors, which have tended to rely on groups of committed donors clustered in a small handful of ridings, the Conservatives have been able to attract new donors from across the country.

Ridings that vote for the party also tend to donate to the party, a fierce loyalty that both the Liberals and NDP have long struggled to replicate.

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Conservatives: Strongholds

Not surprisingly, the Conservatives still rely heavily on their base around Calgary for political contributions. Over the past decade, Calgarians have given the party nearly $13-million, or 40 per cent of all money the party raised in Alberta.

Over all, donations to the Conservatives from Alberta more than doubled since 2004, although the province now contributes a smaller share of the party’s total funding than it did a decade ago, from 24 per cent in 2004 to 19 per cent today.

But much of the party’s new money has come from regions outside the party stronghold in Alberta, particularly Ontario, which is proving to be a key battleground in this election.

The party has gained a far stronger financial foothold in Canada’s largest province than its competitors. Last year, the Conservatives raised more than $8-million in Ontario, up from just $3.3-million in 2004. In the past decade, more than 23,000 Ontarians have become repeat donors to the Conservatives, compared with 12,000 Albertans. The party now has nearly as many loyal contributors in Ontario as the NDP and the Liberals combined.

The Conservatives have seen a boost in the number of donors coming from the Ottawa region, a reflection of the party’s rise to power in 2006. But the largest – and perhaps most surprising – surge has come from Toronto, where the party raised nearly $2-million last year, almost double what it raised a decade earlier.

In total, Canada’s largest city has donated nearly $8-million to the Conservatives over the past decade, making it the party’s second-largest financial supporter after Calgary. Combined, the neighbouring ridings of St. Paul’s, Don Valley West and Eglinton-Lawrence gave the party more than $1-million last year, more than twice as much as those ridings gave in 2004.

Where the party has stumbled is in Quebec. The Conservatives have struggled in recent years to win over both voters and donors in a province where overall political donations have shrunk in the aftermath of the Liberal government’s sponsorship scandal of the early 2000s. That has not always been the case for the party. During the 2008 election, Quebeckers gave the Conservatives more than $1.3-million, up from less than $250,000 in 2004. By last year, the party raised just $838,000 in the province, less than the NDP.

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Conservatives: Momentum since 2011

The Conservatives raised more than $18-million last year, nearly as much as they did in 2011. The party saw the biggest jump in financial support from Ontario, where the Conservatives raised more than $8-million last year.

Much of that has come from the Greater Toronto Area, where the party raised nearly $5-million in 2014, almost $1-million more than it raised during the previous federal election. Donors in suburban Brampton, for instance, gave the party more than $500,000 last year, or nearly 40 per cent more than what they donated in 2011. The party also raised more than $2.2-million within Toronto itself, 30 per cent more money than the city gave the Conservatives during the previous election and just shy of the $2.5-million Torontonians gave to the Liberals in 2014.

The most telling sign of the growing financial support for the Conservatives in Canada’s biggest city came last year when, for the first time in a decade, the riding of Calgary Centre wasn’t the party’s top donor. Instead, it was Toronto’s St. Paul’s, which raised more than $400,000 for the Conservatives in 2014, almost double what it raised in 2011.

Most of those donations came from a small number of contributors who each cut large cheques to the party. The Conservatives appear to have benefited from the party’s strong support for Israel as well as from appointing Joe Oliver as Finance Minister. (The former Bay Street banker lives in St. Paul’s, although he represents the neighbouring riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.) The party picked up large donations from prominent members of the riding’s Jewish community, including Fabricland Chief Executive Warren Kimel, banker Lawrence Bloomberg, investment manager Ira Gluskin and filmmaker Robert Lantos, as well as members of the Rotman and Tanenbaum families.

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Liberals: Where they stand

Changes to election-financing rules brought in by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives exposed just how deeply reliant the Liberals had become on large donations from deep-pocketed contributors who lived in only a handful of ridings.

Between 2004 and 2005, when the Liberals were still in power, the party received nearly $3.5-million – a fifth of all donations – from just five ridings in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Almost two-thirds of the $17-million in campaign contributions the party received in those years came from people who donated more than $1,000 apiece. Nearly a third of those donors gave $5,000, the maximum allowable donation at the time. By comparison, the Conservatives, then in opposition, received $6.8-million worth of large donations, or just a third of the $20-million the party raised in those years. Fewer than a quarter of those donors gave the maximum of $5,000.

By 2007, after the Conservatives passed new laws limiting individual donation to an inflation-adjusted maximum of $1,000, total contributions to the Liberals from deep-pocketed donors plummeted to just $875,000. The party has struggled since then to rebuild its fundraising base.

It hasn’t helped that many of the Liberals’ wealthy donors were in Quebec, where the party’s support evaporated in the wake of the sponsorship scandal. The party has also struggled to attract generous donors amid a series of leadership changes and being reduced to a third party in the House of Commons.

Yet Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau does seem to have been successful at courting well-heeled donors back into the fold. Last year, the party raised $5.7-million from donors who gave $1,000 or more – 40 per cent of the party’s total donations – a level not seen since the party’s heights in 2006. What’s more, the donation appears to have come from a wider variety of ridings than in the past.

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Liberals: Strongholds

The Liberals’ changing financial fortunes have centred on Quebec, where the party raised more than 40 per cent of its donations a decade ago. At its height, 70 per cent of all federal political donations in Quebec went to the Liberals, a figure that had dropped to 28 per cent by 2012.

Nowhere is the party’s decline in the province clearer than in the former riding of Westmount–Ville-Marie, a deeply federalist riding home to many of Montreal’s most affluent families that had long been a bastion of Liberal support. (The riding was dissolved this year, its neighbourhoods split among five different ridings.)

In 2005, the riding donated nearly $730,000 to the Liberals, or a quarter of all the money the party raised in the province. Much of the funding came in the form of large donations of several thousands of dollars per person from well-known families such as the Bronfmans, Saputos, Bombardiers, Desmaraises and Reitmans. Some switched to the Conservatives after the party gained power in 2006 and lowered the donation limit from $5,000 to $1,000. But most simply stopped donating entirely.

Some pundits saw Mr. Trudeau’s election as party leader as key to the Liberals rebuilding support in the province. Donations have indeed jumped since Mr. Trudeau became leader. But it has been nowhere near enough. Last year, the Liberals raised $1.65-million in Quebec, just 11 per cent of the party’s overall donations, and a shadow of the nearly $3-million the party raised in the province when it was last in power.

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Liberals: Momentum since 2011

Despite its woes in Quebec, the Liberal Party has steadily refilled its coffers over the past two years in other provinces. The party raised nearly $15-million last year, or about $3.5-million shy of the Conservatives. It is well ahead of where it was during the 2011 election campaign, for which the party raised $11-million.

By far the biggest jump has been in Ontario, where the Liberals are fighting to regain swing voters who have jumped to the Conservatives. The party raised more than $7.5-million in the province last year, their strongest year in a decade.

The largest increase came from ridings in downtown Toronto, such as Toronto Centre and the former Trinity-Spadina, where the party raised a combined total of nearly $800,000 last year, along with Don Valley West, a hotly contested riding that went to the Conservatives in 2011. The Liberals have also seen an increase in donations in suburban regions such as Markham and Richmond Hill, a newly redistributed riding where both the Liberals and the Conservatives raised roughly $1-million last year.

Outside of Ontario, the Liberals have made significant inroads in British Columbia, where the party has traditionally struggled for support. The Liberals raised roughly $2.3-million in the province last year, or nearly $1-million more than they raised in 2011. More than half of the boost comes from ridings within Vancouver, along with the suburbs of Richmond and Delta.

The Liberals have even gained some traction among donors in the Conservative stronghold of Calgary Centre, where the Liberals raised $220,000 last year, compared with the nearly $300,000 the riding donated to the Conservatives.

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NDP: Where they stand

If the New Democrats win this federal election – an increasingly unlikely scenario if public-opinion polls are correct – it will have done so without raising much new money.

The party picked up 67 new seats in the “Orange Wave” of 2011. But the surge in popular support has not translated into a deluge of new financial contributions. The NDP raised $6.7-million last year, just $800,000 more than they garnered during the 2011 election campaign.

While the party has seen a jump in donations in Quebec since the previous federal election, it has continued to struggle to grow beyond its base. The party picked up about 4,500 new donors during the 2011 election year. Since then it has managed to attract another 2,400. Fewer than 15,000 loyal financial backers contributed to the NDP’s campaign last year, compared with nearly 33,000 who donated to the Conservatives and almost 25,000 who cut a cheque to the Liberals.

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NDP: Strongholds

The NDP’s biggest financial support comes from a small cluster of ridings, including Toronto’s former Trinity-Spadina, Edmonton-Strathcona and Saskatchewan’s former Palliser.

But by far its biggest supporter is Ottawa Centre. The NDP has received nearly $2-million from the riding over the past decade and close to $3-million from the city of Ottawa as a whole.

More than $200,000 of that came from MPs themselves, while the party also receives ample cash from its Ottawa-based staffers as well as the city’s mix of union leaders, current and retired public servants, academics, consultants and activists. Ottawa Centre riding association president Oliver Kent donated more than $26,000 to the party over the decade, Election Canada records show.

Toronto remains the most significant source of donations for the NDP of any city – contributing nearly $5-million to the party over the past decade. But the party still reaps far less than its competitors in Canada’s largest city.

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NDP: Momentum since 2011

The NDP has seen a boost in donations in Quebec since 2011, although not nearly as much as the surge of votes in the province in the previous federal election would suggest.

The NDP raised more than $755,000 in Quebec last year, or nearly a quarter of all donations to the party that year, no small feat in a province that gave the New Democrats as little as $66,000 as recently as 2009.

The party saw an immediate uptick in donations after it elected Quebec politician Thomas Mulcair to succeed Jack Layton as party leader in 2012. Mr. Mulcair’s home riding of Outremont was a beneficiary, raising more than $50,000 last year, a sizable jump given the party raised just $11,000 in the riding during the last election.

The largest jump in donations came from Montreal. In the former Montreal riding of Westmount–Ville-Marie, voters gave the NDP more than $70,000 last year, up from less than $30,000 in 2011. The area is a traditional Liberal stronghold that has nonetheless tended to spread its donations among the parties it expects could win an election.

The Montreal riding of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie donated more than $32,000 to the NDP last year, up from $5,500 in 2011. The riding is held by the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice, one of a handful of the party’s Quebec candidates who have criticized the NDP’s support of women being allowed to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

In Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s riding, Papineau, the NDP raised more than $22,000 last year, up from less than $3,000 during the last election – and well above the $13,000 that voters in the riding donated to the Liberals.

Outside of Quebec however, the party has added fewer than $300,000 in new donations since 2011. Despite the election of a provincial NDP government in Alberta this year, the national party raised $582,000 in that province, roughly what it raised in 2011, although it is more than the party historically raised in Alberta.

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Explore the data

Find out for yourself how party financing has shifted over the past decade. Tap on a riding to highlight it. Then select from the drop-down menus to see how much that riding has donated to a specific party and how that has changed compared to previous years.

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While the analysis includes only donations over $200, which are required to be reported to Elections Canada, they represent the majority of the money raised by federal parties each year in Canada.

This project is based on a database compiled by Leon Lukashevsky, an independent developer who published all contribution records online. His post also covers some limitations and concerns with the data.

View the original data

The chart below compares the amount a party raised per capita to the percentage of the vote it captured in each riding in a given year. Hover over a circle to see the details behind each riding. Circles are sized according to total amount that riding contributed to a party in the year selected.

- Ridings in Alberta