Where the parties are raising the money to fight the 2019 election

The latest filings with Elections Canada show which riding associations are the top performers in the country. But will money talk in 2019's federal election?

Top fundraising riding associations are Liberal, while the ridings with the deepest pockets are Conservative

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Calgary Centre MP Kent Hehr at the Calgary Stampede this past weekend. The Liberal riding association in Calgary Centre raised the most money of any riding association in Canada in 2017. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

A charismatic leader, a message that resonates, a desire for change — all factors that, on their own, can elect and defeat governments. But in their absence, money and a good local organization can go a long way.

And it appears that the Liberals and Conservatives are far ahead of the New Democrats on this score, according to annual riding association returns filed with Elections Canada.

Both parties raised millions of dollars at the local level in 2017 and their ridings report net assets of over $30 million between them, with the Conservatives claiming the lion's share of financial resources at the local level.

Not all riding associations have filed their returns yet, though most have. The annual returns that have been filed show that the Liberals raised at least $4.6 million at the riding level last year — more than twice the $2.1 million that has been reported in Conservative ridings.

The New Democrats, at about $800,000, trail further behind among the ridings that have submitted their final numbers to Elections Canada.

But despite the Liberals' better performance in local fundraising (the fundraising done by the Conservative Party at the national level still significantly outpaces that of the Liberals), the Conservatives have more money on the balance sheet. The party's riding associations reported total net assets of at least $20.4 million at the end of 2017, ahead of the Liberals' $12.2 million and the NDP's $2.9 million.

This is partly because the Conservatives transfer more of the money raised at the national level to their riding associations than the Liberals do.

The Conservatives have more resources available to them at the riding level in every province west of Quebec, while the Liberals are in a better position in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Liberals have eight of top 10 fundraising ridings

The top six riding associations in terms of total contributions received in 2017 — and eight of the top 10 overall — are Liberal. Top of the list is MP Kent Hehr's organization in Calgary Centre, well ahead of the others at $150,486 in donations.

Hehr was dropped from cabinet earlier this year over allegations of sexual harassment but remains in the Liberal caucus after the conclusion of an internal investigation.

Next on the list is the B.C. riding of Surrey–Newton ($119,175, Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal), followed by Don Valley North ($111,165, Liberal MP Geng Tan) in Ontario, Burnaby North–Seymour ($108,347, Liberal MP Terry Beech) and Vancouver South ($102,720, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan) in British Columbia, and the Quebec riding of Saint-Jean ($92,070, Liberal MP Jean Rioux).

The only Conservative riding association to crack the top 10 was Calgary Centre at $91,025. (Unlike the other associations on that list of 10 best performers, the Conservative association in Calgary Centre does not have a sitting MP.) The lone NDP riding association in the top-ranked list was Burnaby South, which raised $86,690 in 2017.

The NDP riding association that raised the most money in 2017 was MP Kennedy Stewart's association in Burnaby South. (CBC)

The riding currently is occupied by NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who plans on resigning his seat to run for Vancouver's mayoralty. With 1,205 contributors, Burnaby South was also the riding association with the most contributors in the country. The next closest competitor was the Liberal association in the Manitoba riding of Kildonan–St. Paul, with 573 donors.

Among those that have filed, just seven NDP riding associations raised more than $25,000, compared to 19 for the Conservatives and 67 for the Liberals.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May's riding association in Saanich–Gulf Islands raised $62,018 — the party's only riding association to raise more than $25,000.

The Bloc Québécois's top performer no longer has an MP sitting with the party. It's the riding association in Bécancour–Nicolet–Saurel, represented in Ottawa by MP Louis Plamondon — who quit the Bloc earlier this year and is still sitting with the fledgling Québec Debout party.

Flushest ridings are Conservative

But while the Liberals had the top fundraisers, the Conservatives had the richest. The party can claim three-quarters of the 40 ridings reporting at least $150,000 in net assets.

The flushest riding association in the country is the Conservative association in Calgary Heritage, the riding former prime minister Stephen Harper occupied before he stepped down as leader in 2015. The association, now represented by Conservative MP Bob Benzen, claimed $370,000 in net assets at the end of 2017.

Bob Benzen's Conservative riding association in Calgary Heritage has the highest reported assets of any association in the country. (Todd Korol/Canadian Press)

Next on the list is the Conservative association in Lanark–Frontenac–Kingston (MP Scott Reid) with $345,546. The only other riding association with over $300,000 in net assets was Hehr's Liberal assocation in Calgary Centre, at $305,387.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal riding association in Papineau was fourth on the list, with $293,443.

The Conservatives have at least 79 ridings with over $100,000 in net assets — just over half of them in western Canada — with the Liberals claiming at least 30 and the New Democrats just two. The most financially sound NDP riding association was the one in Regina–Lewvan — the seat occupied by former NDP MP Erin Weir. After being booted out of caucus following allegations of sexual harassment, Weir has been sitting as an MP for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner party of the NDP that hasn't existed since 1961.

Kind of thing that money just can't buy

Having a well-stocked war chest is better than the alternative — but it's no magic bullet.

Going into the 2011 federal election, the Bloc Québécois had $3.1 million in assets parked in its riding associations. By comparison, the NDP's associations in Quebec had just $129,000 in assets between them — and a sixth of that was in Tom Mulcair's riding in Outremont, the only seat the party held in the province at the time.

By the end of the campaign, the Bloc fell from 47 to four seats in Quebec and the NDP went from one to 59.

The last election also demonstrated how money can only do so much. Of the 10 richest riding associations in the year before the 2015 vote, four of them ended up losing their seats. Of the 10 associations that raised the most money in 2014, five went on to defeat.

But three of those deep-pocketed riding associations — all of them Liberal — won a seat that they had previously lost. These were associations without a sitting MP — a signal that the ridings were up for grabs.

The fact that 2015 turned out to be a 'change' election — one in which a large number of voters are looking for an alternative to the party in power — might have had more of an impact on the outcome than the amount of money the parties had in the bank.

In 2017, few riding associations without a sitting MP were among the top fundraising performers — a signal, perhaps, that 2019 is not yet shaping up as a change election.

When the election narrative isn't being driven by a widespread desire to 'throw the bums out', parties may have to work a lot harder to get their messages out. And that's where a good local organization with money to spend can make a big difference.


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.