Despite millions in donations, UCP ends year with $2.3M deficit

Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party ended 2019 with a $2.3-million deficit and net liabilities of $1.1 million, according to year-end financial statements posted by Elections Alberta. 

Party blames spending prior to start of 2019 election period for financial woes

The United Conservative Party led by Premier Jason Kenney won a majority government one year ago. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Alberta's governing United Conservative Party ended 2019 with a $2.3-million deficit and net liabilities of $1.1 million, according to year-end financial statements posted by Elections Alberta. 

The party's liabilities, which combine the 2019 deficit, the net assets from the previous year and the deficit from the provincial election campaign period, were $1,117,489. 

The NDP, Alberta's Official Opposition, had a surplus of $748,548 as of Dec. 31, 2019, with a net liabilities of $376,977. 

An email the UCP sent to members at the end of March that suggested the party, which raised $7.37 million in 2019, was in financial trouble.

"Our leader (Jason Kenney) asked us to stop fundraising when the (COVID-19) crisis began," the email said. 

"That means we have received almost no revenue this month, and we are getting close to hitting the maximum of our line of credit.

"We have cut costs, but if we do not receive some revenue to support our basic operations we will be unable to pay our bills, and will have to cease operations."

UCP president Ryan Becker was not available for an interview on Wednesday but sent a statement by email.

The party's decision to spend "aggressively" on political messaging in the months leading up to the April 2019 election, he said, led to the party's current fiscal situation. 

"We are in the business of winning elections, and with the largest vote total in Alberta history, we achieved what we set out to do," Becker wrote.  

"Before the current economic crisis, we dedicated a significant amount of resources to reducing our overall debt, and had made substantive progress before the pandemic and related economic consequences that shook Albertans." 

The revenue and expenses portions of the annual financial statement cover the period outside of the campaign period, which ran from Feb. 1 to June 16. 

The UCP had revenue of $3.95 million and expenses of $6.21 million outside that campaign period. 

The UCP won 63 seats in the provincial election, reducing the NDP to 24 seats and official opposition status. No other party elected MLAs to the 87-seat Alberta legislature. 

Fundraising challenges

Gatherings of 15 people or more are prohibited under current public health orders aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. 

Political parties, which have traditionally relied on large fundraising events such as leader's dinners to raise money, now have to revise their tactics.

Brandon Stevens, provincial secretary of the Alberta NDP, said the party decided last month to continue fundraising in order to keep paying the bills, which includes staff salaries and office rent. 

The NDP wants to start holding fundraising events using video conferencing apps like Zoom, but at the moment primarily relies on phone calls and email solicitations to raise money. 

Matching the tone of email pitches and telephone scripts with the reality of the pandemic can be a challenge, Stevens said. 

"How do we do it in a respectful way that respects the very real health and economic anxieties people are facing," he said. 

In his email to CBC News, Becker said the party is also looking at new ways to raise money during the pandemic. Like Stevens, he acknowledged the tone of those requests must be respectful. 

"We have generally limited our appeals, and have emphasized to our supporters that taking care of their families must be priority during these very difficult times," he said. 

Parties were required to file their financial statements for the first three months of 2020 with Elections Alberta by Wednesday. 

Stevens said the NDP had a successful first quarter, raising $582,145. He said 5,912 people donated to the party, with 572 making contributions for the first time. 

The first-quarter reports for all parties are expected to be posted on the Elections Alberta website in the next week.