Convoy donors gave more than $460K to CPC leadership race — and many were first-time federal donors

Canadians who donated to the Ottawa convoy protest contributed more than $460,000 to Conservative leadership candidates — and many of them were donating to a federal political party for the first time — an analysis by CBC News shows.

Most of the convoy donors' leadership campaign donations went to Pierre Poilievre

Police enforce an injunction against anti-vaccine mandate protesters near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 19, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Canadians who donated to the Ottawa convoy protest contributed more than $460,000 to Conservative leadership candidates — and many of them were donating to a federal political party for the first time — an analysis by CBC News shows.

A comparison of donations to Conservative leadership contenders up to Aug. 1 with the GiveSendGo crowdfunding campaign for the convoy protest found over 3,100 people who contributed to both campaigns, based on identical combinations of names and postal codes.

The lion's share of convoy donors' leadership campaign donations went to Pierre Poilievre's campaign.

The actual number of people who contributed both to the convoy and to Conservative leadership candidates could be higher. CBC News' data-matching formula did not list those with slight differences in their names or postal codes as having donated to both campaigns. And some convoy donors may have contributed to a leadership campaign after July, the latest month for which data is available.

University of Alberta political science professor Jared Wesley said people involved in protest movements often get involved in politics.

"People that are engaged will do both," he said. "So, yeah, it is possible that the convoy is bringing people into electoral politics for the first time."

While the number of people involved is small, Wesley said it's "a lot more" than he would have expected and is in keeping with his own polling and research.

CBC's analysis found that convoy donors made up 4.2 per cent of the approximately 74,000 people who contributed to Conservative leadership candidates before August. Their donations represent 3.8 per cent of the $12.2 million in contributions made before Aug. 1.

Poilievre received over 70 per cent of the money contributed by convoy donors. Leslyn Lewis received 16 per cent of that money, while  Roman Baber collected 12 per cent.

Jean Charest, who sharply criticized Poilievre for supporting the convoy protest, received contributions from two convoy donors, while Scott Aitchison received 13.

Only one other political party — the People's Party of Canada (PPC) — drew significant support from convoy donors over the first two quarters of this year. The PPC received money from about 60 convoy donors.

The Liberals received only one donation from a name matching one on the convoy donors list, as did the Greens. Neither the Bloc Québécois nor the NDP received donations from any name matching one on the convoy donors list.

Support from convoy donors represented only a small portion of CPC leadership candidates' overall support — roughly five per cent for Poilievre and Lewis, just over eight per cent for Baber.

Poilievre took in about 55 per cent of the total CPC leadership donations but over 70 per cent of the money from convoy donors. Charest took in about a fifth of the overall fundraising but essentially collected nothing from convoy donors.

Four men and one woman are seen in this composite photo.
Conservative leadership candidates (left to right) Pierre Poilievre, Roman Baber, Leslyn Lewis, Jean Charest and Scott Aitchison. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The analysis also found that the convoy protest appears to have mobilized a number of Canadians who weren't very active in federal politics to contribute to the Conservative leadership campaign — something that could be a factor in Canadian politics going forward.

A closer look at 50 of the top donors to the convoy who also donated to a leadership candidate shows that 25 of them have no previous record of donating to any federal political party or candidate in the Elections Canada contributions database, which goes back to 2004.

Of those 25 convoy donors, 22 donated to Poilievre, two donated to Lewis and one sent money to Baber.

Eleven of those 25 new donors are from B.C., eight are from Ontario, four are from Alberta, one is from Nova Scotia and one is from Saskatchewan.

A surge in political engagement

A search of federal political donations from convoy donors since 2015 indicates the CPC leadership contest was by far their most active moment in federal politics in terms of donations.

Outside of leadership races, only a few hundred convoy donors have donated in any given year since 2015. More were active in Conservative leadership contests — but even the 2020 leadership contest drew less than half the number of donations from those who eventually would contribute to the convoy than the 2022 race did from convoy donors.

Jamie Ellerton, spokesperson for Aitchison's campaign, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's divisive rhetoric and politicization of vaccine mandates prompted some people to act.

"I'm not surprised that those who engaged in a popular protest have sought to get involved with a political party to help to see the change that they want to see realized," he said.

Other leadership campaigns refused to comment or didn't respond to interview requests.

The lion's share of convoy donors' leadership campaign donations went to Pierre Poilievre. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

One of those prompted to act by the federal government's handling of the pandemic is Kevin Blackman. The Prince Rupert, B.C. businessman contributed $1,000 to the convoy protest and $550 to Poilievre's campaign. He said his donation to Poilievre is the first he can remember making to a federal political party or candidate.

"I heard a lot of his comments on YouTube that he'd been making in the House, so I could relate to the guy and I thought he'd stand up to this regime, which is crazy and so dictatorial," Blackman told CBC News. "Human rights have been flushed down the toilet."

Blackman said he agrees with the truck convoy protesters' argument that the government's COVID-19 mandates weren't based on science.

"They were peaceful, and I was very happy to support a peaceful protest," he said. "And I think we still have a right to protest."

Blackman said he would like Poilievre to focus on fiscal responsibility.

"I'd like to see him have minimalistic government and try not to overtax the people that are producing," he said.

Holden Rhodes said he contributed both to the convoy protest and to Pierre Poilievre's campaign because he believes strongly in personal rights and freedoms. (Erik White/CBC )

London, Ont. businessman Holden Rhodes contributed $25,000 to the convoy protest and $1,675 to Poilievre's campaign. He said he believes strongly in personal rights and freedoms.

"Those rights and freedoms are enshrined in the Canadian charter, yet they have been trampled on, violated and quashed by governments at all levels in the most horrific manner over the last two and a half years," Rhodes said in an email.

Rhodes said he supported the convoy because it was made up of grassroots truckers and Canadians from all walks of life who froze in the middle of winter to stand up for their rights.

"It was so refreshing to see my fellow citizens showing government in a very visceral way that they had had enough of government overreach and abuse," he said.

Rhodes said he donated to Poilievre because of his positions.

"He believes in the same things I do, freedom of speech and other freedoms, promotion of a healthy lifestyle, education, family, individual rights, and reduction of government and those that get in the way of positive growth, to name a few," he said.

Eric Merkley, political science professor at the University of Toronto, said one major challenge for parties or candidates able to activate new voters is getting them to come back for a second election.

"You might come out the first time, but how do you get them out the next time?" he said. "Especially as you take away things like the pandemic."

University of Toronto political science professor Chris Cochrane said it's important to note that convoy donors were comfortable with backing the frontrunner and eventual winner, Poilievre.

"He is not simply appealing to what ... many would call a fringe element of Canadian politics," he said. "He is appealing to the mainstream of the Conservative Party and also to this narrower element of Canadian politics."

A man stands in front of a sign.
University of Alberta professor Jared Wesley says a Conservative government could find it challenging to live up to the expectations of donors who contributed to both the convoy and the CPC leadership race. (Jared Wesley)

Wesley said a future challenge for a Poilievre government would be meeting the expectations of people who contributed to both the convoy and the leadership race.

"Will they actually be able to live up to those expectations? And if not, then what happens?" he said. "Where do these folks go, right?

"One hopes that it doesn't turn toward insurrection, but that's what happened south of the border."

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