Politics·Analysis

Maxime Bernier's broad regional donor base edges out remaining rivals

Maxime Bernier is now the clear front-runner in the Conservative Leadership Index following Kevin O'Leary's withdrawal from the race.

After Kevin O'Leary's withdrawal, Bernier takes clear lead in Conservative Leadership Index

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier speaks during last week's debate in Toronto. Bernier is the clear front-runner after Kevin O'Leary quit the race. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

With Kevin O'Leary now out of the running, Maxime Bernier remains the Conservative leadership candidate with the broadest donor base throughout the country, giving him a decisive edge in a vote that will give equal weight to all of Canada's 338 ridings.

An analysis of fundraising data published by Elections Canada on Monday shows Bernier had the most unique donors in the first three months of this year in every region of the country except the Prairies, where Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer was ahead.

The data also shows, however, that O'Leary would have been a tough opponent for Bernier. In every province but Quebec and Saskatchewan, O'Leary had more donors than any of his former rivals — often by very wide margins.

With the addition of the new fundraising data to the Conservative Leadership Index, Bernier has retained and widened his lead. He has a score of 25.7 points, suggesting he would take about 25.7 per cent of the vote on the first ballot.

He has gained 5.8 points since the last update on April 14, putting him nearly nine points ahead of his nearest competitor.

In second place is Scheer with 16.9 points, followed by Ontario MP Erin O'Toole at 15.2 points. Scheer gained 3.5 points since the last update, while O'Toole picked up four points.

Kellie Leitch, who had the second-best fundraising performance of the remaining candidates, ranks in fourth with 11.8 points. She's followed by fellow Ontario MPs Lisa Raitt (7.1 points), Michael Chong (6.7 points) and Pierre Lemieux (5.6 points).

Lemieux has moved up three positions in the index thanks to his strong donor base. He raised money from 12 per cent of all donors so far in 2017, putting him behind only Bernier and Leitch.

The scores for the rest of the field can be found in the full breakdown of the Conservative Leadership Index at the end of this article.

Bernier strong in Quebec, Alberta

Though Bernier had the highest share of donors in most regions of the country, his best scores came in Quebec and Alberta.

In the first three months of 2017, Bernier received donations from 49 per cent of all leadership donors (excluding donations to O'Leary) in Quebec, the best performance by any candidate in any province.

Quebec MP Steven Blaney was second with 12 per cent of Quebec donors, down sharply from his 41 per cent share in the fourth quarter of 2017. Leitch was third in Quebec with 11 per cent of donors, followed by Lemieux at 10 per cent.

Bernier also led in Alberta, with 35 per cent of all unique donors. He was followed by Leitch at 17 per cent, Scheer at 14 per cent and Lemieux at 10 per cent.

Bernier has edge in Atlantic Canada, Ontario

Bernier's leads were smaller in other parts of the country. He had 23 per cent of the donors in Atlantic Canada and 22 per cent in Ontario.

Leitch was narrowly behind in Ontario with 18 per cent, followed by Lemieux at 13 per cent, O'Toole at 11 per cent, and Chong and Scheer at nine per cent apiece.

In Atlantic Canada, Bernier was closely chased by Leitch's 19 per cent of donors, while Lemieux and Scheer each had 12 per cent of the donor base. Raitt had nine per cent of the donors — aided by her 12 per cent share in Nova Scotia — and O'Toole had 8.5 per cent. 

Scheer ahead in Sask., Bernier in B.C.

Scheer dominated in his home province of Saskatchewan with 47 per cent of the donors. In Manitoba, Scheer had just nine per cent.

Bernier was ahead in Manitoba with 32 per cent, edging out Lemieux's 26 per cent. Leitch had 10 per cent of the donors there.

In Saskatchewan, only Bernier (16 per cent) and Leitch (11 per cent) joined Scheer in double digits.

The field was more dispersed in British Columbia, where Bernier was ahead with 26 per cent, Leitch had 14 per cent, Scheer 13 per cent and Lemieux 11 per cent. 

And Kevin O'Leary?

O'Leary bowed out of the leadership race based on his weak support in Quebec. The fundraising data does suggest Quebec was his weakest province, but he still would have been a strong second to Bernier among Quebec donors.

In fact, O'Leary had the broadest donor base of any of the candidates. He had donations from over 20 per cent of donors in every province except Quebec, where he had 18 per cent. His support was strongest in Alberta with 43 per cent of the donors and was consistently strong throughout the country and in the various regions of Quebec and Ontario.

Any notion that O'Leary's support was concentrated in only a few parts of the country appears unfounded. His total of 7,313 unique contributors was more than 50 per cent higher than Bernier's 4,704. That would have given him a leg-up in a vote that rewards broad regional support. 

But with O'Leary out of the way and supporting Bernier's candidacy (which should help boost his already strong numbers in Alberta), Bernier is now in the best position of the remaining contestants. A coalition that combines Quebec and Alberta, along with significant support in the other regions of the country, is a winning combination. 

The index is based on four different metrics: endorsements, fundraising, contributors and polls. In tests on 14 recent federal and provincial leadership races in which all party members could vote, the index has replicated the first ballot results with a median error of +/- 2.2 points per candidate.

A more detailed explanation of the index's methodology can be found here.

About the Author

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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