Conservative election spending outpaced Liberals by a little and the NDP by a lot

Conservatives spent nearly $3 million more than the Liberals in the 2019 federal election, and nearly three times as much as the NDP.

Conservatives spent $28.9 million in 2019 election, compared to $26.1M for the Liberals and $10.3M for the NDP

The Conservatives under Andrew Scheer spent more in the last federal election campaign than Justin Trudeau's Liberals and significantly more than Jagmeet Singh's NDP. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press; Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press; Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Conservatives spent nearly to the limit in the 2019 federal election — more than the Liberals did and almost triple the amount shelled out by the New Democrats.

Campaign returns filed by most parties and posted to Elections Canada's website show the Conservatives spent $28.9 million during the fall election campaign, nearly hitting the $29.1 million limit. This was narrowly more than the $26.1 million the Liberals spent.

Both parties spent significantly more than the New Democrats. The NDP's election expenses totalled $10.3 million — barely a third of what the party was allowed to spend during the campaign.

The Green and People's parties requested and were granted filing extensions by Elections Canada. The filings for the Bloc Québécois had not been posted as of Monday evening.

The numbers show that the Conservatives and Liberals were fighting on a level playing field as far as money is concerned. This parity extended to the pre-election period, when the Conservatives spent $1.8 million and the Liberals spent $1.7 million on partisan advertising. The NDP spent only $66,000 on partisan advertising over the pre-election period. (The legislated limit on that spending was just over $2 million.)

The Conservatives shelled out most of their pre-election spending on television ads — $1.2 million of their pre-election advertising went on TV. The Liberals spent just $344,000 on pre-election TV advertising, opting instead to spent nearly half of their pre-election dollars on online ads.

During the campaign period itself, the Conservatives spent $15.9 million on advertising. About $9.3 million of that went to TV spots, $4.6 million was spent online and $1.7 million went to radio ads.

In all three categories, the Conservatives outspent the Liberals. The Liberals spent $14 million on ads during the campaign, including $5.2 million for TV ads and $3.8 million for online ads. The Liberals spent another $3.8 million on ads categorized as "other" in the election filings.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer take part in the the federal leaders French language debate in Gatineau, Que. Oct. 10, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Nearly all of the $3.9 million the NDP spent on ads went online and on television. In both total dollars and as a share of their total election expenses, the New Democrats spent far less on advertising than either the Liberals or the Conservatives. The two bigger parties spent just over half of their money on ads. Ad spending represented just 38 per cent of the total for the NDP.

One reason for this may be that the New Democrats appear to have run a top-heavy campaign. The party spent about $2.9 million on the national office, professional services and salaries and benefits — about 28 per cent of all the expenses it booked during the campaign.

While the Conservatives and Liberals both spent more on these line items ($4.8 million and $3.7 million, respectively), the percentage of their campaign budgets going to these expenses was about half the share of the NDP budget that went to staffing.

The NDP's overall financial disadvantage was felt in other areas. The Conservatives and Liberals each spent more than twice as much as the NDP did on polling and research. While the NDP spent $2.1 million on Jagmeet Singh's campaign tour, the Conservatives spent $4.9 million sending Andrew Scheer across the country and the Liberals spent $6.7 million on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's tour.

The money the NDP spent on the campaign is not money they would have had in the bank, either. Throughout 2019, the New Democrats raised just $8 million, compared to $21 million for the Liberals and $31 million for the Conservatives.

Election ad spending moves online

It's difficult to compare the spending in the 2019 election to what was spent in the 2015 campaign, since the 2015 campaign was nearly twice as long. On a per-day basis, however, both the Conservatives and Liberals spent more in 2019 than they did in 2015. The NDP, which entered the last campaign as the Official Opposition, spent significantly less on every expense category except non-leader travel and "other expenses."

The Conservatives spent less on a per-day basis in 2019 on voter contact services and on their national office, while they spent more on everything else. The biggest jump in Conservative spending was for advertising outside of radio and TV — suggesting a bigger shift of ad dollars to the online market in 2019 than in 2015.

The Liberals spent more on a per-day basis on everything except radio and TV ads — their spending on those two items actually dropped between the two campaigns. The Liberals' biggest increases in spending were for the leader's tour and for non-traditional advertising.

In raw dollars, however, the 2015 campaign was far more expensive. Both the Liberals and Conservatives spent over $40 million in that campaign, while the NDP spent nearly $30 million.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives still spent $2.9 million more in 2019 on non-radio or TV advertising than they did in 2015, despite the campaign being half as long. They also spent more on professional services and travel that was unrelated to the leader's tour. The only thing the Liberals spent more on in 2019 than in 2015 was election surveys (an increase of $34,000).

Wilson-Raybould, Philpott had money to spend

Elections Canada also has posted the campaign returns for hundreds of local campaigns whose expenses are tracked separately from those booked by the national campaigns. The filings are incomplete, so it isn't possible to do a full accounting of what was spent by each party across the country just yet.

But the filings do give us a glimpse of a few key local contests.

After leaving the Liberal Party over the SNC-Lavalin affair, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott each ran as independent candidates in their ridings.

Wilson-Raybould was not hurting for money in her successful bid for re-election. The filings show she received $222,000 in contributions during the campaign — double the spending limit in her Vancouver Granville riding. She spent $97,203 in election-related expenses.

Her Liberal opponent's return has yet to be filed, but the Conservatives' Zach Segal spent $98,740 on his third-place showing in the riding.

Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould received more than twice as much in contributions than she could spend in her Vancouver Granville riding during the 2019 federal election. (Jonathan Hayward / Canadian Press)

Philpott, running in the Ontario riding of Markham–Stouffvile, was not as fortunate as Wilson-Raybould. While she had a fully-stocked war chest after receiving $148,000 in contributions during the campaign, and spent $101,000 on her re-election bid, she fell over 11,000 votes short of the Liberals' Helena Jaczek, who spent $102,000.

In Regina–Wascana, where the Conservatives unseated long-time Liberal MP Ralph Goodale by 7,000 votes, the party spent just $75,000 against Goodale's $92,000.

People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier outspent the Conservatives' Richard Lehoux in his riding of Beauce by a margin of $92,000 to $89,000, but finished 6,000 votes behind.

Money helps in politics but it can't buy you love — or votes.


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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