How Conservative and NDP leadership contenders stack up on the money

How MPs have fundraised in their ridings in the past can be an indicator of future strength as a leadership candidate, and an analysis suggests that a few leadership contenders for both the Conservative and NDP races that have been written-off could have more staying power than expected.

Past fundraising suggests which leadership contenders may have hidden strengths

From left, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, Conservative MP Jason Kenney and the NDP's Nathan Cullen are seen as potential candidates for their parties' respective leadership. Conservative Kellie Leitch, right, has already formerly declared her candidacy and Maxime Bernier will do so on the weekend. (Sean Kilpatrick and Adrian Wyld photos/Canadian Press)

Money talks — especially in party leadership races, and the money raised in recent years by potential Conservative and NDP leadership contestants suggests that a few candidates could prove to be more formidable than currently thought.

And others may have more of an uphill climb ahead of them.

Contributions received by sitting MPs, as reported in the financial returns of their electoral district associations can be indicative of a leadership contestant's potential success.

In the two calendar years preceding the beginning of their party's respective leadership races, both Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau had raised more money from more people than their future leadership rivals in their own ridings. And those rivals who were more effective than others in fundraising ranked more highly in the leadership vote as well.

During a leadership race, money can be even more telling. Trudeau out-paced his rivals by a wide margin in the Liberal leadership campaign he won in 2013. Mulcair raised the most money during the NDP's leadership race, with Brian Topp and Nathan Cullen finishing second and third in both the vote and in fundraising.

So, money will be one metric to watch closely during the Conservative and NDP leadership races. In the meantime, however, the recent fundraising history of potential candidates gives us a hint of which contestants to watch.

Note that efforts that went towards raising money for the party's national organization or other EDAs are not represented in the totals below, and that contestants that might come from outside each party's current and past elected MPs have also been excluded in this analysis.

The Conservative contenders

A trio of former Conservative cabinet ministers put up strong local fundraising numbers in 2013-14 (returns for 2015 have yet to be filed by all EDAs).

  • Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, now Calgary Midnapore) raised $138,979.08 from 809 contributors.
  • Tony Clement (Parry Sound–Muskoka) raised $161,323.93 from 549 contributors.
  • Lisa Raitt (Halton and Milton) raised $107,866.50 from 666 contributors.

These three all raised a lot of money from a long list of contributors, signaling organizational strength. Clement, however, did the most from the smallest base of voters. He raised $6.24 per vote received in the previous election in 2011, managing to get a donation from 2.1 out of every 100 Conservative voters. Raitt and Kenney represented ridings with more Conservatives than Clement, but raised less money from fewer people on a per-vote basis.

During the 2015 election, however, both Raitt and Kenney raised a lot of money — $74,998 and $86,930, respectively. And Kenney did so from 568 donors, far outpacing his other potential rivals.

  • Kellie Leitch (Simcoe–Grey) raised $165,569.40 from 477 contributors.
  • Maxime Bernier (Beauce) raised $148,380.00 from 572 contributors.

​The two candidates already in the race, Leitch and Bernier, both ranked highly in fundraising — far better numbers than the going odds on the chances of either of these two winning would suggest.

Leitch raised the most money in 2013-14 among the list of putative candidates. Her base of donors was smaller, though.

Maxime Bernier ranked third on the list in both money raised and number of contributors. His take was more impressive than Leitch's, however, as he raised that money from a base of fewer Conservative voters in his home riding of Beauce than Leitch did in her riding of Simcoe–Grey.

  • Peter MacKay (Central Nova) raised $103,340.00 from 256 contributors.
  • Michelle Rempel (Calgary Centre-North/Calgary Nose Hill) raised $57,166.00 from 357 contributors.
  • Erin O'Toole (Durham) raised $82,164.48 from 244 contributors.

MacKay, who did not run for re-election last year, did not have impressive fundraising numbers in 2013-14, ranking him sixth and seventh on the list on these respective metrics. This suggests he may prove to be a weaker candidate than expected, though his high profile could make up for any organizational deficiencies.

Peter MacKay has a high profile as a former cabinet minister and leader of the Progressive Conservative party before it merged with the Canadian Alliance to become the Conservative Party, but his fundraising trails other potential leadership candidates. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Rempel and O'Toole ranked further down in terms of money raised, though Rempel did so from a larger base than either O'Toole or MacKay.

  • Andrew Scheer (Regina–Qu'Appelle) raised $39,209.20 from 153 contributors.
  • Michael Chong (Wellington–Halton Hills) raised $29,965.00 from 119 contributors.

Both Scheer and Chong were below-average fundraisers, taking in less money from fewer contributors than the average Conservative MP. All the other candidates listed above were above-average fundraisers.

The NDP's hopefuls

It is less clear who among the NDP's current and past caucus members will run for the leadership. But one Quebec MP may have appeal among party supporters that has been under-estimated.

  • Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie) raised $74,945.83 from 1,156 contributors.
  • Nathan Cullen (Skeena–Bulkley Valley) raised $24,504.00 from 289 contributors.
  • Peter Julian (New Westminster–Burnaby) raised $41,828.50 from 111 contributors.

Boulerice far outpaced his potential rivals in 2013-14, raising almost four times the money for his EDA as the average NDP MP. He had more contributors than even the potential Conservative leadership candidates, who hail from a party that raises far more money than the NDP. Boulerice also had higher fundraising and contributor totals per vote than his potential rivals.

Nathan Cullen, right, finished third behind winner Thomas Mulcair, left, and Brian Topp in the NDP's 2012 leadership race. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Cullen, seen by many as a likely NDP front runner, only raised slightly more than the average New Democrat MP, but did so with a high number of contributors. During the 2015 election, he raised almost $32,000, more than he did during the entirety of 2013-14.

Julian raised more than the average NDP MP, but did so from a smaller base of contributors.

  • Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre) raised $24,730.00 from 111 contributors.
  • Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette–Témiscouata–Les Basques) raised $17,340.00 from 143 contributors.
  • Ruth Ellen Brosseau (Berthier–Maskinongé) raised $4,943.06 from 241 contributors.

Dewar, who raised almost $50,000 during the election campaign for his EDA in a losing bid, did not have high fundraising totals in 2013-14. Caron had below-average fundraising and contributor totals, while Brosseau raised little money from a relatively large pool of contributors.

  • Niki Ashton (Churchill, now Churchill–Keewatinook Aski) raised $23,590.00 from 69 contributors.
  • Peggy Nash (Parkdale–High Park) raised $3,250.00 from 16 contributors.

Ashton, who hails from a riding with a lower number of voters, raised an above-average amount of money from a very small donor base in 2013-14, while Peggy Nash's performance was well below the party's average. She did, however, raise more money than anyone but Dewar among this list in the last election, which she lost.

Conservative and NDP futures

What to take from these numbers?

Some candidates, like Leitch and Bernier on the Conservative side and Boulerice for the NDP, may be able to out-perform expectations as they have shown themselves capable of raising money from a large number of people. That may indicate they may have the organizational chops to mount a competitive bid.

Perceived strong candidates like Kenney, Raitt and Cullen have the numbers to back up the belief they could mount an effective campaign of their own.

But the real test will come once the leadership campaigns start rolling and contributions start flowing into each candidate's war chests. Money will have lots to say at that point. 

Unlike the financial markets, however, past performance here may be one indictor of future results.

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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.