Albertans donated the most to federal parties — and Quebecers the least — ahead of the 2019 election
Data reveal how money can influence politics but can't necessarily 'buy an election'
In the lead-up to the 2019 election, Albertans donated the most money, per capita, to federal political parties — giving at four times the rate of people living in Quebec.
That's according to a CBC News analysis of donor data from Elections Canada, which publicly reports the names and postal codes of people who donate more than $200 in a single year.
Between January and September, the five major parties received $5.14 million from such donors in Alberta. That works out to $1.18 per Albertan — the highest donation rate of all provinces.
Quebec, by contrast, had the lowest rate of donation, at $0.27 per person.
The data point to how much the Conservatives lean on Western and rural voters for their financial support, while the Liberals rely on urban donors in Ontario and Quebec. These pockets of financial support often (but not always) overlap with where the parties find the most electoral success.
The numbers also show something else: while money has an influence in federal politics, it doesn't win elections on its own.
For donations (per capita), the West is the best
The top three provinces for donations were the three westernmost provinces, all of which saw more than $1 per capita given to the major parties.
Alberta led the way, followed closely by Saskatchewan and B.C.
The vast majority of Albertans' donations went to the Conservative Party of Canada, which received $4.12 million from major donors in the province. That represents 29 per cent of the party's nationwide donations, from a province with just 12 per cent of the national population.
The Liberals drew most of their financial support from Ontario, where major donors gave them $5.85 million. That's 56 per cent of total Liberal donations coming from a province that's home to 39 per cent of Canadians.
These numbers come from Elections Canada and represent most — but not all — of the donations that parties received in 2019.
$200 threshold for disclosure
The law only requires parties to publicly disclose the names and postal codes of people who donate at least $200 in a single year.
That covers just 56 per cent of total donations to the major parties this year — meaning we don't know exactly where the other 44 per cent of donations came from.
David Coletto, CEO of the polling and research firm Abacus Data, said he believes the geographic distribution of the two types of donors will be roughly similar.
"I think it's fair to make that assumption," he said. "The only thing to keep in mind is that parts of the country, perhaps, where people with lower incomes typically live may be underrepresented because they're unable to give more than $200."
Coletto also noted there is typically "a strong correlation" between where parties get their money and where they enjoy the most electoral success.
The interactive map below shows donations by postal code (the first three digits). You can zoom, scroll, search and click on the map for more detail. Click on the ">>" button to add a map layer depicting the 2019 election results as well.
The Conservatives, for example, won all but one seat in Alberta and swept every riding in Calgary — so Coletto wasn't surprised to learn that four of the top five districts for Conservative donations were in and around the Calgary area.
As defined by the first three digits of a postal code, these were the top areas for Conservative donors per capita (among areas with at least 1,000 residents):
- T3Z — Springbank / Rocky View County (just west of Calgary)
- T4E — Red Deer County (just southeast of Red Deer)
- V6C — Vancouver - Coal Harbour
- T2S — Calgary - Elbow Park, Britannia, Elboya, Rideau-Roxboro, Mission
- T2P — Calgary - Downtown
The top five areas for Liberal donations, meanwhile, were all in central parts of Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal — and all in areas where Liberal candidates won in 2019:
- M5H — Toronto - City Hall vicinity
- K1M — Ottawa - Rockcliffe Park, New Edinburgh, Lindenlea
- H3Y — Montreal - Westmount
- M4W — Toronto - Rosedale, Governor's Bridge
- K1S — Ottawa - the Glebe, Old Ottawa South, Rideau Gardens
Across the country, the Conservatives also received a higher level of support from rural postal codes (defined by Canada Post as those that have a zero as the second digit), which accounted for 17.6 per cent of their donations in 2019, up from 15.4 per cent in 2015.
Only the Bloc Québécois received more, proportionally, from rural donors.
The Liberals relied the least on rural donors, who accounted for just 7.2 per cent of their donations in 2019, down from 8.1 per cent in 2015.
Coletto said the overlap between financial support and electoral success can create a feedback loop, as there is a tendency for parties, "whether consciously or subconsciously," to cater to the voters in the places where they receive the most money and votes.
But that can also inhibit their ability to win over voters in other areas.
"I think for the Conservatives, there's a lesson here: How do you appeal to a broader cross-section of the country when so much of your money and so much of your own caucus and so much of your membership comes from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba?" he said.
"And the same is true for the Liberals, whose power base is much more focused on urban centres — and urban centres based in Ontario in Quebec."
That said, the data also show there's a limit to the influence of money on politics in Canada.
Can't 'buy an election'
Lori Williams, a political scientist with Calgary's Mount Royal University, notes the correlation between fundraising and electoral success is strong — but not universal.
"Obviously, money is a significant influence," she said. "But we have lots of examples where people spend very large amounts of money and don't win."
Factors other than party fundraising also play a significant role, Williams added, citing the rise of third-party advertisers (which Elections Canada tracks separately) and the increasing influence of social media.
"A lot more is happening on social media these days and that's not so much about money as it is about strategy," she said.
In broad strokes, the overall election result also shows how the connection between money and political success only goes so far.
While Quebecers donated the least to federal parties this year, they were the most satisfied with the election outcome, according to a post-election Nanos survey.
Voters from the Prairies were the least satisfied, despite Alberta and Saskatchewan having the highest donation rate.
"So it's not that money doesn't make any difference," Williams said. "But nor is it the case that that you can buy an election."