Alberta, Quebec could carry more weight in NDP leadership race than in 2012

Ontario and B.C. might still be the most important provinces in the NDP's leadership vote, but Alberta and Quebec are starting to pull more of their weight, fundraising data suggests.

Ontario and B.C. are still the prizes, but the NDP's membership has shifted since 2012's leadership vote

Data suggests the distribution of NDP membership has changed across the country, and the four candidates vying for party leader will have to transcend regional boundaries to win. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

When New Democrats last voted to select a new leader in 2012, most of the party's eligible voting members were in British Columbia and Ontario. An analysis of NDP donors suggests these two provinces will again carry the most weight in this year's leadership vote, but that Quebec and Alberta might be more important than they were five years ago.

The party did not provide a breakdown of its current membership, but looking at the regional distribution of NDP donors provides clues to how the profile of that membership might have changed since 2012 — and what that might mean for the four candidates currently in the running.

Members and donors do not entirely overlap, but the regional patterns of NDP donors in 2011-12 broadly reflected the breakdown of the 128,351 members who were eligible to cast a ballot in the vote that selected Tom Mulcair. Both the donor base and membership rolls were disproportionately concentrated in B.C. and the Prairies, with disproportionately low numbers in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

This indicates that trends in donor numbers today can tell us what the membership may look like as the leadership race kicks off.

The decisive vote in Ontario and B.C. 

According to Elections Canada's fundraising data for 2016, 39 per cent of contributors who donated at least $200 to the NDP (the names of those who donate less than $200 are not reported) came from Ontario, down only slightly from the province's share of all NDP contributors in 2011-12.

Another 21 per cent of donors were from British Columbia, down nearly a tenth from 2011-12.

(Natalie Holdway)

In 2012's leadership race, 30 per cent of members eligible to vote called B.C. home, while another 29 per cent were from Ontario. The two provinces are still likely to carry much of the weight in this upcoming leadership vote — they represented the two largest sources of donations in 2016.

But the trend line indicates that Ontario, rather than B.C., could now be home to the largest share of the NDP's membership.

Bigger role for Quebec, Alberta

At the time of the last leadership vote, the party's prospects in Alberta were virtually nonexistent. But today that province is home to the country's only NDP government.

Alberta produced eight per cent of party members in 2012 and just under 10 per cent of donors. But the growth of the NDP's donor base in Alberta has been significant, increasing to 14 per cent in 2016.

The rate of growth in Quebec has been even greater. Less than five per cent of donations to the party in 2011-12 came from the province. That has increased to 7.6 per cent — still a disproportionately small share but representing the highest rate of growth of any province. 

In 2012, just 9.6 per cent of NDP members were from Quebec, and reports suggest the raw number of members has dropped — possibly linked to the rejection of Mulcair, a Montreal MP, last year. But the fundraising data indicates Quebec could carry more of the weight in the 2017 vote than it did five years ago.

Importance of Prairies, Atlantic Canada dropping

The share of donors in the Prairies has dropped by about a point to 12 per cent — a similar rate of decline as in Ontario. That decrease occurred primarily in Manitoba, where the NDP lost power in 2016.

Together, Saskatchewan and Manitoba represented 18 per cent of the NDP's members in 2012, more than twice the Prairies' share of the Canadian population. Despite the negative trend line in donors, the two provinces are likely to still punch above their weight.

That is not the case for Atlantic Canada, which was home to just five per cent of NDP members in 2012 and just over six per cent of donors. In 2016, that share of donors slipped below five per cent. 

The impact on the field

The four candidates in the running for the NDP leadership will spend the next few months wooing both current and new members. The makeup of the party's membership will change by September, when voting begins.

But the bulk of the people who will select the next leader of the NDP are likely already members of the party, so their regional distribution will have an impact on the field of four.

Charlie Angus, an MP from northern Ontario, has only a small regional base from which to draw — just three per cent of all donors in 2016 were from the region. 

Left to right: Guy Caron, Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton and Peter Julian react to the audience as they arrive on stage for the first debate of the federal NDP leadership race, in Ottawa on March 12, 2017. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Quebec's disproportionately small membership could limit the potential of Guy Caron, who represents a riding in eastern Quebec (a region that itself produced just one per cent of the NDP's donors).

The decrease in donors in Manitoba may not bode well for Niki Ashton, an MP from the northern part of the province.

B.C. MP Peter Julian may have the most formidable donor base. B.C. carries disproportionate weight, and half of B.C. donors were from Julian's Metro Vancouver region. But the increase in members in Alberta could mitigate Julian's regional advantage. He is positioning himself within the environmentalist wing of the party, which could put him at odds with the growing and more pipeline-friendly Alberta New Democrats.

But none of the candidates appears to be in a position to depend primarily on a regional base to get over the top. The winner will need to transcend geographic boundaries if he or she is to replace Mulcair — though a little help from the locals wouldn't hurt.


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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