Maxime Bernier was a top Conservative fundraiser before he left the party

Before Maxime Bernier left to form the People's Party, his riding was a top fundraiser for the Conservative Party — thanks largely to donors who lived elsewhere.

But while he was a Conservative MP, most of his donations came from people living outside his riding

People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier was a top fundraiser for the Conservatives and his Beauce riding association before he left his former party to launch his new one. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Before Maxime Bernier left it to start his People's Party, he was one of the Conservative Party of Canada's top fundraisers — but most of the money he brought into his riding association came from contributors who lived in other parts of the country.

The annual financial return for the Beauce Conservative riding association shows that it raised $136,427.79 from 947 contributors in 2018, ranking it first among the 187 Conservative riding association returns that, as of Tuesday, had been filed to and posted by Elections Canada.

That represents a significant increase over the $15,610 raised by the riding association in 2017 — the year Bernier finished a close second to Andrew Scheer in the Conservative Party's leadership race and subsequently asked his supporters to join and donate to his "Mad Max Club" to help him pay off his campaign debts and "defend principled conservative ideas."

It appears that call was successful.

Elections Canada only posts the identities and donation dates of contributors who gave at least $200, so the data in the Beauce riding association filing is partial — just under half of the money raised came from donors who gave less than $200.

But the partial data suggest that most of the money that came pouring into the riding association in 2018 arrived before Bernier left the Conservative Party on Aug. 23, 2018. About $56,000 was raised from donors giving at least $200 before that date, while only $17,000 was raised after Aug. 23, 2018 (and a third of that $17,000 sum came from the family of Richard Lehoux, the Conservatives' 2019 candidate in Beauce).

Beaucerons were not Bernier's base

Lehoux, however, appears to have raised more money locally in a few months than Bernier did for most of the year. All but one of the riding association's donors after Aug. 23 came from within the Beauce region in southern Quebec.

Bernier, on the other hand, raised a little more than $10,000 from donors giving at least $200 who lived in the region — just 19 per cent of the $56,000 total raised. Another 10 per cent came from other parts of Quebec.

The bulk of the money Bernier raised for the Beauce riding came from elsewhere in the country — 40 per cent from donors in Western Canada and 31 per cent from donors in Ontario.

Breakdown of fundraising by the Conservative Beauce riding association among donors who gave at least $200 in 2018. (CBC)

A sampling of the next five top fundraising riding associations for the Conservatives (the ones whose returns have been posted, at least) suggests Bernier's fundraising pattern is unusual.

Look at the contributions from donors giving at least $200: virtually every cent given to the Calgary Heritage, Edmonton Centre and Sturgeon River–Parkland riding associations came from within Alberta. In Oakville North–Burlington, 70 per cent of those dollars came from Ontario residents. Pierre Poilievre, Conservative MP for Carleton, raised 53 per cent of his money from Eastern Ontario (about a third came from Albertans).

Bernier's ability to raise so much money from elsewhere in the country might have given him a sense of confidence that a new party venture under his leadership could do the same thing. But People's Party spokesperson Martin Masse said that "at that time, the goal was to have a substantial treasure chest for Maxime's re-election in Beauce and to get rid of the debt."

"We knew already we could successfully raise money during the leadership campaign," he said. "This did not play any role in the decision to launch the party, which was made in late August."

From the launch of the party to the end of March, the People's Party says it raised about $1.4 million.

Richard Lehoux (right), seen here with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (centre), will be the Conservative candidate in Beauce for the 2019 federal election. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

But the money raised before Bernier launched his new party is money that went into the Beauce riding association's bank account — and stayed there, as he was not allowed to bring any of that money with him. (Nearly all the members of the Beauce association followed him to the People's Party, though.)

So Lehoux does have some resources to work with ahead of the fall federal election. The records show the riding ended 2018 with about $39,000 in net assets. As the People's Party was only officially registered as a party in 2019, there are no similar numbers we can use to gauge the health of Bernier's new riding association in Beauce — or his chances of securing re-election.

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Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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