Four federal byelections in Toronto and Alberta last June were widely seen as a preview of the next general election.
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- Federal byelections test extent of Liberal comeback under Trudeau
From the pitched battle between New Democrats and Liberals over the centre-left vote in the fight to fill the Toronto seat left vacant by NDP MP Olivia Chow, to the Liberals' unabashed attempt to make inroads in the Conservative heartland of Fort McMurray, Alta., pundits and party strategists seemed ready to read the results of those local races as a possible roadmap for the 2015 election.
Six months later, the official campaign filings — which include detailed financial information on both donations and expenses — are finally available on the Elections Canada website.
Here's what was found sifting through the fine print:
Conservatives still hold fundraising lead nationally — but Liberals catching up locally
According to Elections Canada data, rookie Liberal MP Arnold Chan pulled in nearly $60,000 over the course of his successful bid to win the Ontario riding of Scarborough-Agincourt, which had unexpectedly opened up following the surprise decision of long-time Liberal incumbent Jim Karygiannis to switch to city politics.
That's the largest haul reported by any of the 17 byelection candidates to file campaign returns for the June 2014 races.
Mobile users, view an Excel spreadsheet of money spent
In second place, with just over $30,000 in claimed campaign contributions, is Chan's new caucus colleague, Adam Vaughan, who beat out New Democrat hopeful Joe Cressy to take Chow's seat by a double-digit margin, 18,547 votes to 11,802 for the New Democrats.
Cressy, by comparison, pulled in just over $21,000 in donations.
That puts Cressy fifth, behind two of the contenders in the Macleod race: Conservative John Barlow, who collected just over $27,000 and won the Alberta seat with a whopping 77 per cent of the vote, and his Christian Heritage-aligned rival, David Reimer, who managed to raise more than $23,000 despite netting just 774 votes at the ballot box.
Liberals kept pace with competitors in fundraising and spending
On the other side of the ledger, the Liberals were able to keep pace with their closest competitors in three of the four races.
Mobile users, view an Excel spreadsheet of money raised here
The once cash-strapped party spent about $1,000 less than the Conservatives in Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Scarborough-Agincourt, and actually managed to win Trinity-Spadina on a slightly smaller budget than the New Democrats.
Even in the Macleod riding, Liberal standard-bearer Dustin Fuller was outspent by just under $10,000, which works out to approximately eight per cent of the maximum permitted under the spending cap.
Although it would be foolhardy to assume the Liberals will be able to match the Conservatives in all 338 ridings up for grabs this fall, if they can keep boosting those fundraising numbers, they may close the gap in some key races.
Conservative candidates still pouring resources into 3rd-party calling services
So, where did that money go?
For the Conservative candidates, a good chunk of it — just over $158,000 across the board — went to the Responsive Marketing Group call centre, which is still, it appears, doing a brisk business on the Conservative campaign trail.
Three of the four candidates forked over between $40,000 and $50,000 to the company for "election surveys and other research," which typically refers to voter Identification and related get-out-the-vote efforts.
The only Tory hopeful not on the RMG client list during that particular byelection cycle was Trinity-Spadina challenger Benjamin Sharma, who spent less than $20,000 total on his campaign, or 17 per cent of the allowable limit.
The Liberals, in contrast, spent about $36,000 total on third-party surveys and research — just over $18,000 in Scarborough-Agincourt, where Chan availed himself of the expertise of two firms, Mainstreet Technologies and ServiCom. The party paid $10,400 to PrimeContact Inc. in Trinity-Spadina and $6,000 to ServiCom in Fort McMurray.
There were no reported expenses on surveys for the Liberal candidate in Macleod, and none at all for the New Democrats in any of the four races.
Conservatives reduce ad buys, as top parties focus marketing dollars on non-broadcast platforms
In a trend first spotted in the annual financial statements filed by the parties last year, both the New Democrats and the Liberals spent significantly more on advertising than the Conservatives during the byelections — approximately $84,000 total for each opposition party, across the board, compared to just under $60,000 for the Tories.
Liberal campaigns in Trinity-Spadina, Scarborough-Agincourt and Macleod reported ad buys of roughly $18,000 per race, with Fort McMurray markedly higher, at $29,000.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, poured more than $50,000 into what turned out to be a losing battle to hold onto Trinity-Spadina, compared to $19,000 spent in Fort McMurray, $12,000 in Scarborough Agincourt and just $399 in Macleod.
The Conservatives reported spending slightly more than the Liberals in Fort McMurray, an additional $15,000 in Macleod, and $7,000 in each of the two Toronto-area ridings.
And while the amounts per race may have varied dramatically, all three parties directed the bulk of their ad budgets away from traditional broadcast media outlets — radio and television— in favour of print and online vehicles, particularly local publications.