Peter MacKay widens lead in Conservative leadership fundraising with late surge in donations

Former cabinet minister Peter MacKay has raised $3.1 million, according to the latest filings, with an increase in his fundraising over July and August.

MacKay raised nearly twice as much money as rival Erin O'Toole in July and August

Peter MacKay has raised $3.1 million in his bid to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, according to filings with Elections Canada. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

If money talks, then it's saying Peter MacKay is the clear front runner to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.

With nearly $3.1 million in donations, MacKay has raised significantly more than any of his rivals, according to the latest fundraising reports filed by the four contestants for the Conservative leadership with Elections Canada.

The second interim report provides the last hint at the state of the race before the winner is announced on Sunday.

Trailing in second place behind the former cabinet minister is Ontario MP Erin O'Toole. The filings show his campaign raised $2.5 million through to Aug. 9. While MacKay's filings have a few more days of fundraising on the books, it adds only $82,000 to his total — not enough to make-up the $600,000 gap between the two candidates.

Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis is reporting $1.8 million in fundraising through to Aug. 9, a significant amount for a relative newcomer to politics. Lewis's only previous political experience is an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the 2015 federal election.

Ontario MP Derek Sloan had raised $852,000 through to the end of July. Sloan's filing does not include any donations received in August.

While the fundraising totals bode well for MacKay — money is often predictive of the outcome of leadership contests — the strongest signal that MacKay is heading into these final stages with some sustained momentum is how much he has raised over the last few weeks of the campaign.

From July 1 to Aug. 9, MacKay reported $812,000 in total donations, representing about 26 per cent of all the money he has raised since the beginning of the race. That compares to just $452,000 for O'Toole and $376,000 for Lewis, representing about 18 and 21 per cent of their totals, respectively.

It suggests a shift in recent weeks. Up to June 30, the fundraising battle was looking much closer, with MacKay having raised $2.2 million against $2 million for O'Toole, $1.4 million for Lewis and $580,000 for Sloan. MacKay had raised only eight per cent more than O'Toole up to that point. Since then, he's raised about 80 per cent more.

There is little separating MacKay, O'Toole and Lewis in the number of unique donors, however. After removing duplicates from the dataset — some donors give multiple donations over the course of a campaign — O'Toole narrowly has more donors than his rivals. He has received money from 13,226 individuals. Lewis was just behind with 13,162, followed by MacKay at 12,204. Sloan is well behind with 6,106.

Money raised tends to be more predictive of final results than the number of donors, however.

MacKay dominates in Atlantic Canada, close race elsewhere

There are some important regional variations in each contestant's donor base, but the clearest pattern is a hometown advantage for MacKay in Atlantic Canada.

He's raised $475,000 in the region, most of it in his home province of Nova Scotia. But he's also raised a majority of the money donated to the leadership race in the three other Atlantic provinces. Lewis is the distant runner-up in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, while O'Toole is second in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Conservative leadership contestants (left to right) Erin O’Toole, Peter MacKay, Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis have raised over $8 million combined. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Elsewhere, the money battle is less one-sided.

MacKay has raised the most money in Ontario with $1.5 million, followed by O'Toole at $1.2 million, Lewis at $760,000 and Sloan at $427,000. MacKay has also raised the most money in Manitoba. At $187,000 from the province, he's raised more than three times as much as O'Toole or Lewis, who each raised about $55,000.

MacKay and Lewis are tied in the three northern territories with $12,000 apiece.

O'Toole is the narrow fundraising champion in British Columbia with $375,000 raised to $364,000 for MacKay and $338,000 for Lewis, while he has a wider lead in Alberta. He's raised $582,000 there, compared to $423,000 for Lewis and $327,000 for MacKay. Sloan, with $157,000 raised, was fourth, as he was in every province.

Lewis has raised the most money in Saskatchewan with $115,000, followed by MacKay at $88,000 and O'Toole at $56,000.

Quebec is a close fight between O'Toole and MacKay, with the Ontario MP edging out the Nova Scotian with $123,000 to $101,000. The province, however, has been a fundraising laggard compared to the rest of the country — despite having about 23 per cent of Canada's population, only three per cent of the funds donated to Conservative leadership contestants have come from Quebecers.

MacKay, O'Toole boosted by geography

Quebec's disproportionately low share of fundraising is reflective of the province's small representation within the Conservative Party membership. But that doesn't mean Quebec will punch below its weight when it comes time to vote — quite the opposite.

The Conservatives give equal weight to every riding in the country regardless of how many members it has. A riding in eastern Quebec with a few dozen voting members will be worth as many points in the leadership tally as a riding in Alberta with over a thousand voting members.

This voting system, which MacKay has fought to keep in place ever since he merged the Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance in 2003, is also used by the federal Liberals and the Ontario PCs, among other parties. It is likely to boost a candidate like MacKay, and potentially O'Toole as well.

In 2003, Peter MacKay led the Progressive Conservative Party into a merger with the Canadian Alliance, led by future prime minister Stephen Harper. One of the terms of the merger was a leadership voting system that gave equal weight to every riding in Canada. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Consider this: there are 110 seats in Quebec and Atlantic Canada and 104 seats in Western Canada. If the fundraising totals are reflective of each candidate's regional support, MacKay could capture some 47 per cent of the points east of Ontario and just 31 per cent of the points west of it.

But despite the two regions' nearly equal demographic weight, nearly four times as much money was raised in Western Canada as in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, which means the better fundraising of Lewis and Sloan in the west masks their weaknesses in the east.

While O'Toole has not raised much money in Atlantic Canada, he is significantly out-performing Lewis and Sloan in Quebec, which on balance gives him an advantage over those two.

When the points are tallied, both O'Toole and (especially) MacKay could find the point system working to their advantage, giving Lewis and Sloan fewer points than their share of the national vote

But unless any candidate gets at least 50 per cent of the points on the first ballot, this contest will be decided by second and third choices. Fundraising gives little hint of how that could play out. A poll by Mainstreet Research for iPolitics suggests the second and third choice support of members voting for Sloan or Lewis will go disproportionately to O'Toole — enough for him to narrow the first ballot gap between him and MacKay.

It could go down to the wire, just like it did in 2017's leadership race. In that contest, Maxime Bernier raised more than twice as much money as Andrew Scheer and was the clear first ballot leader. But it was Scheer who gathered enough support on subsequent ballots to catch and beat Bernier on the very last round of voting.

Money talks, yes. But it doesn't always get the last word.

CBC News will have special coverage of the Conservative leadership race results on Sunday Aug. 23 on cbc.ca, CBC Television and CBC News Network starting at 5 p.m. ET, and on CBC Radio One starting at 6:30 p.m. ET.


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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