Ontario Liberal Party millions ahead of rivals in fundraising

The Ontario Liberal Party has raised $11.3 million in little over a year, giving it a lead in fundraising that the opposition parties will find all but insurmountable.

WIth ban coming on big donations, PCs and NDP will be hard-pressed to catch up by next election

The Ontario Liberal Party has built up a significant lead in fundraising over its rivals, as Premier Kathleen Wynne prepares to reduce the amount of donations each party can raise. (Pierre-Olivier Bernatchez/CBC)

The rules of the political fundraising game are about to change in Ontario, and Premier Kathleen Wynne's party will have a head-start on the opposition when they do.

CBC News has learned that the Ontario Liberal Party has raised more than $11 million since the start of 2015, more than the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats have raised combined during the same time period. 

Data compiled from Elections Ontario puts the Liberals about $6 million ahead of the PCs and about $8.5 million ahead of the NDP. The latter figure is more than the Liberal Party's total spending on the 2014 election campaign. 

With Premier Kathleen Wynne proposing to ban corporate and union donations starting next January and promising to drastically reduce the maximum donation by individuals, the other parties will find it almost impossible to catch the Liberals in fundraising by the next election. 

"That will work to (the Liberals') advantage when the end for corporate and union contributions comes," said Robert MacDermid, associate professor of political science at York University. 

Fundraising totals since Jan. 2015:

  • Ontario Liberal Party: $11.3 million.
  • Progressive Conservative Party: $3.9 million.
  • New Democratic Party: $2.4 million.

Elections Ontario figures show the Liberals raised a staggering $9.2 million in 2015 and have reported $2.1 million in donations so far this year, for a total of $11.3 million.

The PCs have raised $3.9 million since the start of 2015 and the NDP $2.4 million

The PC figure could be as high as $5 million, thanks to money that candidates for the 2015 leadership race were required to pass on to the party. But even taking that into account, the Liberals still have a lead of at least $6 million. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath calls the timing of Wynne's move to reform political fundraising in Ontario 'curious.' (David Donnelly/CBC)
Wynne denies her party's financial standing relative to the opposition has anything to do with the timing of her reforms. 

"It's just not true," Wynne told reporters at a news conference last Friday in Barrie.

"I know that allegation has been made a couple of times and it's just not true." 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath described the timing of Wynne's decision to change the fundraising rules immediately after the Liberals held their biggest fundraising event of the year "curious." 

"Why is it that all of a sudden, after a lot of coffers have been filled presumably, suddenly this is on the agenda?" Horwath said Tuesday in an interview with CBC News. 

"It's all a bit suspect."

PC Leader Patrick Brown is less suspicious of the Liberals' motives for proposing to end corporate and union donations. 

"There may be some short-term financial advantage but I think over the long term it will not be to their benefit," he told CBC News Tuesday. 

All parties began 2015 deep in debt

Getting a clear picture of the current state of the fundraising race is a challenge because the parties have not yet filed their financial statements for the 2015 year-end. CBC News compiled these figures from the donations each party has reported to Elections Ontario since the start of last year. 

All three parties entered 2015 with significant debt. Financial statements filed for the 2014 year-end showed the Liberals at $5.3 million in the red, the PCs with a $7.2 million shortfall and the NDP $4.9 million in the hole.

Wynne said last week that the Liberals are still in debt today, despite the money the party has raised.

"We have a debt and we'll have to tackle it under a new set of rules once the new legislation comes in," Wynne said.

Party officials put that debt at nearly $4 million.

All parties must file their balance sheet for the 2015 year-end to Elections Ontario by May 31.


Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.