Steep drop in donations hits Ontario parties ahead of election

Ontario's political parties raised vastly less money in 2017 than in previous years, posing challenges for how they will run their election campaigns this spring.

New campaign finance law banned corporations, unions from contributing in 2017

PC Leader Patrick Brown waves to supporters after addressing the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party convention, in Toronto on Saturday, November 25, 2017. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ontario's political parties raised vastly less money in 2017 than in previous years, a direct result of new restrictions on political donations 

Figures compiled by CBC News, based on donations reported to Elections Ontario, show total contributions to the three main parties were down 77 per cent from 2016.

new law on political fundraising in Ontario that took effect in 2017 banned corporations and unions from donating to provincial parties and candidates, and slashed the maximum amount that individuals can donate each year. 

The Progressive Conservatives led the fundraising race in 2017, with $2.62 million in donations reported. That's more than the Ontario Liberals and the New Democrats combined, but it is some $10 million less than the PCs' record haul in 2016.

Donations to the Liberals dropped to $1.37 million in 2017, down $5 million from their 2016 total. 

"Ontario families are tired of the Wynne Liberals and want a change at Queen's Park," said Tony Miele, chair of the Ontario PC Fund, in a statement. "It's why in the past year we out-fundraised the Liberals." 

Officials from the Ontario Liberal Party were not available for comment. 

The NDP raised $1.22 million last year, which was $2.5 million less in donations than in 2016.

For the first time, the parties received taxpayer-funded allowances in 2017. Those subsidies in large part made up for the drop in donations.

Allowances paid to political parties2017
Liberal$5.06 million
PC$4.09 million
NDP$3.1 million

Once all the figures are taken into account, the Progressive Conservative head into the 2018 campaign in the best financial shape of all the parties.

The PCs are the only party not in the red, according to the latest annual financial statements, submitted to Elections Ontario last May. They were sitting on a surplus of $2.1 million, while the Ontario Liberal Party was saddled with debt of $2 million, and the NDP faced an even larger debt of $3.3 million. 

Campaign years invariably result in an increase in donations, but the fundraising restrictions mean the parties will need to be creative. The election spending limit under provincial law means each party will be allowed to spend no more than about $8 million on the campaign, the bulk of which is likely to be devoted to advertising.