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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by supporters after his keynote address to the Conservative convention in Ottawa, Friday June 10, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by supporters after his keynote address to the Conservative convention in Ottawa, Friday June 10, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Don't letup in fundraising, senator warns Conservative faithful Add to ...

The governing Conservatives' chief bagman is warning party faithful against complacency in fundraising now they've won a majority, saying the Tories must fill a $12-million revenue hole as a result of per-vote public subsidies being chopped.

Irving Gerstein, speaking to the Tory party's convention in Ottawa, defended the government's decision to scrap the $2 per-vote.

He said any of the Conservatives' political rivals could duplicate their fund-raising success, which saw the party solicit $17.4-million in contributions last year.

"There is no magic potion; there is no secret sauce. it's just good old plain work and that is all," Mr. Gerstein told delegates.

"The other parties will do our utmost to catch up with us. Do not relax. do not relent and do not let the momentum slip away."

He said the Tories are currently in good financial shape, though he omitted precise details on how much the Conservatives have in the bank "Thanks to you and thousands of other dedicated Conservatives across this great land, I can say to you today the party is enjoying blue skies, fair winds and a following sea."

Mr. Gerstein said the Tories will be able to retire all the debts incurred in the May 2 election after they receive reimbursement from Elections Canada for the outlay. The party spent $21-million on the campaign, he said.

"Here's the bottom line: the Conservative Party's 2011 election campaign is paid for, we are debt free and the party has cash on hand."

He said the Tories' fundraising so far this year has been strong, raising $7.4-million in the first quarter of 2011, up from $4-million in the previous year's comparable quarter.

Mr. Gerstein played up the role of the party's supporter database in both raising cash and winning seats.

"Just because the threat of an election is no longer imminent does not mean we can afford to procrastinate or rest on our laurels."

The party's direct voter-contact program, drawing on the sophisticated database, reaches out to Canadians and mobilizes them for the party.

"In the recent election, voter identification and ... get out the vote programs, accounted for the margin of victory of some 40 Conservative MPs," he told party faithful.

"Yes, you heard me: there are roughly 40 Conservative Members of Parliament in the House of Commons today who would not be there if it was not for our party's extremely effective use of its database."

The per-vote subsidy was created to fill the gap created when former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien curbed corporate and union donations.

The Conservatives are nevertheless scrapping it, saying the generous tax credits that Ottawa gives for political donations are sufficient public support.

The Tories have outdone other parties in fundraising in recent years, due in no small part to their skill at broad-based fundraising.

Mr. Gerstein said rival parties have not yet grasped this.

"Our fundraising success is not built on the depth of our donors'

pockets. It is built on the breadth of our donor base," he said.

The average donation received by the Conservative Party in 2010 was only $120, Mr. Gerstein said.

"To raise money successfully, a political party must appeal to a large number of Canadians of ordinary means. That is still what some parties do not understand and that is why some parties are lagging behind."

He said after the per-vote subsidy is cut, the strength of a party's message will be among the most crucial factors in keeping it fiscally afloat.

"Message creates momentum creates money," Mr. Gerstein said.

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