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UCP suggests soliciting donations from seniors by playing on 'fear, anger' during AGM session

The United Conservative Party is being accused of targeting a vulnerable population after it advised playing on seniors' negative emotions during a fundraising strategy session at its annual general meeting.

Doctor who works with seniors fears they could be taken advantage of

This slide from the UCP's virtual AGM on Oct. 24 suggests the target fundraising audience is over 70. A follow-up slide suggests playing on seniors' emotions like fear and anger to solicit donations. (UCP Virtual AGM 2020)

The United Conservative Party is being accused of targeting a vulnerable population after it advised playing on seniors' negative emotions during a fundraising strategy session at its annual general meeting.

The session, held virtually on Saturday, was titled Local Fundraising 101. It was hosted by vice-president of fundraising for the UCP, Sonia Kont, and party executive director Dustin van Vugt. 

After the session, two slides from the presentation that focused on donors who send money by mail circulated online.

The first asks "Target audience?" and is accompanied by two captioned photos: "This is not your donor…" with a photo of a middle-aged man lighting a cigar on a $100 US bill, and "This is your donor!" with a photo of two smiling seniors. 

At the bottom, the slide reads "The average [mail-out] donor is over 70 years old."

The second slide offers advice on drafting a fundraising letter, from creating urgency, using a large font — "Remember, average donor is 70+. No small font." — and using "simple language and emotion (i.e., fear, anger, greed, guilt.)"

No positive emotions are listed.

A slide from the UCP's 2020 virtual AGM suggests using emotions like 'fear, anger, greed, guilt' to raise funds for the party. (UCP Virtual AGM 2020)

The median age in Alberta is 36.7, according to Statistics Canada. 

Trevor Byers, a family doctor who is trained to work with elderly patients, said he was concerned to see the slides single out seniors as a target.

"Doing geriatric practice, I've seen numerous patients over the years who have been targeted by financial scams, mail-in scams, emails … because of the population and the increased risk for cognitive impairment and medical problems that can impair judgment. I worry that there are many people who can be taken advantage of and manipulated into paying for something they would not otherwise pay for," he said. 

Byers said he understands parties need to fundraise, but he doesn't think focusing on negative emotions like fear is the right way to do it for any age group — but it's especially concerning for seniors. 

"Using your platform, messages of hope would be better," Byers said. 

"The rest of the slide being honest and transparent, talking about tax deductions, the length of it, the different fonts, I don't see an issue with it — that's marketing and sales."

CBC News reached out to the UCP for comment but has yet to receive a response. 

Professor says brazenness surprising, but not the strategy

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said the strategy itself was not surprising — but the brazenness was. 

"The bigger thing is, saying out loud what is normally said quietly," he said. "This wasn't like something that was leaked, this was something that was promoted."

Bratt wonders if the fundraising push could be because the party is in a money crunch, as the NDP neared its fundraising numbers in the last quarter. 

The UCP raised nearly $1.2 million in fundraising in its third quarter while the NDP raised over $1.1 million, according to Elections Alberta. The UCP has raised $3.1 million this year to date and the NDP $2.7 million. 

"You want to go after emotion, emotion is a major driver. So if you look at the NDP appeals, a lot of it is about fear of the UCP," Bratt said.

"You also have to put it in the context that the whole 'fight back' strategy of the UCP is that they see enemies everywhere … those foreign-funded environmental groups, Trudeau, Notley, teachers, nurses, I mean, 'they're all evil — please send us money.'"

With files from Elise Von Scheel

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