Bernier's broad donor base still tops the Conservative leadership field

The Conservative leadership race will be decided riding by riding and, according to an analysis of fundraising data, Maxime Bernier could have the broad national support to win the vote. That's assuming the candidacy of late-entrant Kevin O'Leary hasn't changed the course.

Other contenders might lack the broad regional backing to win — with the possible exception of Kevin O'Leary

Fundraising data for the fourth quarter of 2016 shows Quebec MP Maxime Bernier has the broadest donor base in the Conservative leadership race. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Maxime Bernier's donor base remains the broadest and deepest among the contestants for the Conservative Party leadership, according to an analysis of fundraising data from the fourth quarter of 2016 — before Kevin O'Leary threw his hat into the ring.

But while the data provides no clue of O'Leary's impact, it does suggest that none of the other candidates have the diversified regional backing needed to win a vote that will give equal weight to each part of the country.

In the last three months of 2016, Bernier was the candidate with the most or second-most donors in every region of Canada. The rules of the leadership vote make each riding in the country worth an equal number of points, so that kind of broad regional backing is a significant advantage if donor dollars align with the support of party members eligible to vote.

Kellie Leitch, who received money from the second-highest number of donors in the fourth quarter of 2016, ranked well behind Bernier and had little support in Quebec, which will represent 23 per cent of all points available in the vote.

In addition, Leitch's proposal to screen immigrants for "Canadian values," which has been denounced by some of her rivals as well as party grandees like Peter MacKay, might limit her appeal among supporters of the other candidates.

Ontario MP Kellie Leitch raised money from more donors in the fourth quarter of 2016 than all her rivals except Bernier. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

This could prove to be a problem for her because a preferential ballot will be used to select the next Conservative leader. This makes it almost as important to be a voter's second choice as it is to be his or her first.

Accordingly, candidates like Andrew Scheer, Erin O'Toole and Lisa Raitt appear to be vying to be the consensus second choice. The fundraising data, however, suggests they might have some difficulty getting ahead of Bernier.

Nevertheless, without any data for O'Leary, the standings at the end of 2016 might not say much about where things will stand on May 27, when the votes will finally be cast. But the regional profile of each candidate's donors does provide hints of where they have strength and where they're struggling.​

(A full breakdown of each candidate's share of donors in each region of the country can be found at the end of this article.)

Bernier's Alberta-Quebec axis

Even in his weakest regions of the country, Bernier placed no worse than second.

Leitch, with relatively uniform donor shares outside of Quebec, fell behind Bernier in Ontario after leading him there in the second and third quarter fundraising.

Bernier's strongest results came in Quebec and Alberta, where he accounted for nearly half of donors.

Fellow Quebec MP Steven Blaney beat Bernier with more individual donors in their home province, but that's unlikely to give Blaney more of Quebec's points.

Just over a majority of Blaney's donors hailed from his own riding of Bellechasse–Les Etchemins–Lévis, while Bernier beat Blaney by comfortable margins in the rest of the province. That distribution of donors should net Bernier many more points if voters follow the same trend.

'Consensus' candidates lagging

Still, the points Blaney could garner from his concentration of support in Quebec could put him ahead of other candidates on the first ballot, including Scheer, O'Toole and Raitt.

Scheer's donor support is also concentrated in one region of the country, but that region carries far less weight than Quebec. Scheer accounted for 54 per cent of donors in his home province of Saskatchewan, which will only award four per cent of the points in the leadership vote.

In Ontario and Quebec, which will award 59 per cent of the points, Scheer had just six and two per cent of donors, respectively.

There are no fundraising numbers for campaign newcomer Kevin O'Leary, so his impact on the race remains a bit of a mystery. (Canadian Press)

O'Toole and Raitt did best in the parts of the country where they have links.

O'Toole accounted for 14 per cent of donors in Nova Scotia, just barely ahead of Raitt's 13 per cent (her best region). The two also posted better numbers in central Ontario and Toronto, where they have seats. But those two regions accounted for 51 per cent of O'Toole's donors and both he and Raitt put up poor numbers in Quebec (1 per cent apiece) and in Western Canada.

Regional pockets for other candidates

The fundraising data suggests the support of several candidates with respectable donor numbers is regionally concentrated in even smaller pockets of the country.

Michael Chong, who is running as the standard-bearer of the progressive wing of the party, had some of his best results in Canada's three largest cities: he placed second in Montreal, third in Toronto and fourth in Vancouver. 

But he did poorly in Western Canada, Atlantic Canada and in most parts of Ontario with the exception of Toronto and his home territory in the western region.

A majority of Pierre Lemieux's donors resided in eastern Ontario, where Lemieux used to hold a seat. He finished second in that region behind Bernier.

And Brad Trost, though he had relatively consistent support in most parts of English Canada, did best in the Prairie provinces, with 15 per cent of donors in Manitoba and 14 per cent in his home province of Saskatchewan.

Leadership candidates, left to right, Rick Peterson, Chris Alexander, Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt and Maxime Bernier greet each other prior to a debate Monday in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Other candidates with low donor totals found most of their support in very specific regions of the country.

Almost half of Deepak Obhrai's donors were in his home town of Calgary (placing him third there), three-quarters of Chris Alexander's were from Toronto and central Ontario, 83 per cent of Rick Peterson's were in B.C. and Alberta, and 87 per cent of Andrew Saxton's donors resided in the Greater Vancouver region (placing him second there).

None of these candidates had significant pockets of support elsewhere, suggesting they may do well in only a handful of ridings in their local regions when the votes are counted.

Apart from Blaney, who may disproportionately benefit from the point-system due to the dominance he and Bernier have exhibited in Quebec, the data suggests few candidates have the potential to parlay their regional pockets of support into a strong performance on the first ballot.

That leaves the advantage with Bernier, who likely has high first-ballot regional support and strong second-choice potential. And, judging from the attacks coming his way at Monday's leadership debate, O'Leary is probably there with him.

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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.