As governments struggle with pandemic response, political parties shift gears on fundraising

A number of Canada's federal parties say they will continue to call on their supporters for financial contributions in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — while others are reconsidering those fundraising requests or abandoning them altogether.

Some parties have been attacked online for issuing fundraising appeals during a public health emergency

Top: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Bottom, from left: Green Leader Elizabeth May, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. (Adrian Wyld, Justin Tang, Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A number of Canada's federal parties say they will continue to call on their supporters for financial contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic — while others are now reconsidering those fundraising requests or abandoning them altogether.

Political parties have come in for pointed criticism on social media for continuing to solicit donations from their supporters during a public health emergency that is crippling the economy and throwing large numbers of people out of work.

But those parties are also in a jam: they still rely on fundraising to offset operational costs, emergency or no emergency — and quarterly deadlines to lock in those funds are looming.

Parties are required to deliver financial reports to Elections Canada at the end of each quarter detailing the contributions they've received — which often means there's a fundraising push at this time of year.

Here is how the parties have responded to the challenge so far:

The Liberals step back

The Liberal Party of Canada is now avoiding issuing appeals for donations as the federal government's response to the novel coronavirus brings the country to a virtual standstill.

There are no references to fundraising or attempts to solicit donations in any of the emails the party sent its supporters over the past 12 days.

The most recent Liberal Party message mentioning fundraising was dated March 12; it focused specifically on the party's end-of-quarter fundraising goals, making no mention of the pandemic.

Braedan Caley, the party's senior director of communications, took to Twitter Sunday to push back at accusations that the Liberals are fundraising off the crisis. He said that the party webpage offering information on the federal government's response to the pandemic includes a donation button at the top of the page — as do webpages for other federal parties.

"Like the CPC & NDP websites, the site header is part of the template on each webpage," he wrote.

"Our focus over this past week has been on communicating the key information, resources and announcements that Canadians need to know," Caley said in a statement to CBC News.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about party fundraising during his daily address to Canadians on Sunday. He said that a pandemic is "not a situation" for such requests.

The Conservatives shift gears

The Conservative Party of Canada has abandoned calls for donations after it directly linked requests for contributions to criticisms of Trudeau's ability to handle the crisis.

"Trudeau spent the cupboards bare when times were good and now there is nothing left to address the inevitable economic downturn," a March 8 email reads, before providing supporters with suggested donation amounts. 

On March 16, the party sent a second email to its supporters about the pandemic, which also included requests for donations.

But fundraising appeals have "decreased significantly of late," Cory Hann, the party's director of communications, said in an emailed statement.

"COVID-19 ... is having an impact on our team, party, and operations, and we're doing our best to adjust to this new reality," Hann wrote. "We are also an organization that relies heavily on the donations of individuals, especially for our day-to-day operations which are 100% funded by our donors."

Hann said that more recent messages from the party are focused on sharing information related to the government's pandemic response rather than asking for money.

A Conservative Party email to supporters issued Sunday includes a list of measures the government is taking to support Canadians, and includes only one request for donations in the email's generic footer.

NDP pledges to "re-evaluate" fundraising appeals

The New Democratic Party of Canada also has asked its supporters for funds in emails related to the pandemic, but now says it plans to "re-evaluate" its approach.

An email dated March 20 asks for donations of $3 or more before the March 31 quarterly deadline — while also acknowledging in the same message that Canadians are feeling a "great deal of stress and anxiety."

"You might not be in a position to give today, and that's entirely OK," reads the email, signed by NDP National Director Anne McGrath.

When reached for comment by phone, McGrath said that the NDP will "greatly" scale back its fundraising appeals, adding that she's aware that many NDP supporters are no longer able to donate.

A fundraising email from the NDP dated March 20 asks for donations of $3 or more, while acknowledging that Canadians are feeling a "great deal of stress and anxiety." (CBC News)

"That doesn't mean that we can completely stop," she said. "We have obligations, we have bills to pay, we have suppliers to pay and we have employees. I don't think laying off employees is the direction that we want to go [in]."

McGrath said she hasn't received much blowback from the emails but acknowledged that "some people ... have been upset."

On Monday, the NDP sent out a new email asking for donations and linking to the party's donation page — while acknowledging that it's a "difficult time to talk about things like fundraising."

Green Party slashes fundraising efforts

The Green Party of Canada's own pandemic-period fundraising appeals drew criticism from its supporters. 

In an email issued last Friday, the party acknowledged that the crisis presents a "difficult time" for Canadians as it asked for financial assistance through a link directing readers to the party's donation form.

Interim Green leader Jo-Ann Roberts said the party is reconsidering its fundraising efforts after some members of the party's base called the message inappropriate and insensitive.

This fundraising email went out March 20 to federal Green Party supporters. (CBC News)

"Everyone is trying to balance the need to keep operating with being very respectful of what's going on," said Roberts, adding that the email did generate some new donations.

But calling a halt to fundraising requests now would deal a blow to the party's future operations and staffing, she said.

"We have decided to cancel our end-of-quarter fundraising push. This is a major concession for us. We are going to have to adapt to the loss of revenue from it."

Bernier joins in

The People's Party of Canada also made a point of asking for donations earlier this month in an email criticizing the Liberal government for taking too long to limit the number of Canadian airports accepting international inbound flights.

Martin Masse, director of communications for the party, said that the message — which was signed by party leader Maxime Bernier — did not amount to "fundraising off the crisis" but rather "fundraising off the government's incompetence, which it is our job to denounce."

The Bloc Québécois did not respond to questions about whether the party had sent similar emails to its supporters.


Raisa is a writer and producer with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. You can find her on Twitter at @R_SPatel.

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