Modest money: small sums obscure more than 40 per cent of federal political donations

Since the 2015 election, Canadians have donated nearly $75 million to the five political parties with seats in the House of Commons— but federal law makes it impossible to tell where more than 40 per cent of it came from.

Ottawa Centre and Toronto ridings Rosedale and The Annex are top three for donations since last election

The Canada Elections Act only requires political parties to publicly disclose the names and addresses of people who donate $200 or more in a single year. Since the last election 40 per cent of political donations have come in under the threshold. (CBC)

Since the 2015 election, Canadians have donated nearly $75 million to the five political parties with seats in the House of Commons — but federal law makes it impossible to tell where more than 40 per cent of it came from.

The Canadian Press analyzed Elections Canada financial data on donations to parties between Oct. 20, 2015 — the day after the federal election that vaulted Justin Trudeau's Liberals into power — and June 30, 2017.

In total, $74,792,986.82 was donated directly to political parties during that time frame.

The Conservatives were responsible for 42.5 per cent of it, or $31.8 million, followed by the Liberals, with 38 per cent or about $28 million. The NDP was a distant third, raising $9.3 million, about 12.5 per cent of the total.

The Green party came in with 6.2 per cent, or $4.6 million, while the Bloc Quebecois brought up the rear with $1.1 million, or 1.4 per cent.

Fully 42 cents of every dollar the parties raised — $31.1 million — can't be traced by donor or by the province or city they live in, thanks to a clause in the Canada Elections Act.

The law only requires parties to publicly disclose the names and addresses of people who donate at least $200 in a single year.

Fully half of what the Bloc and the Greens raised, and 47 per cent of what the NDP brought in, came from donations less than $200. That group accounted for 43 per cent of all Conservative donations and 32 per cent of what the Liberals raised.

The rules are different when it comes to leadership contests, however: parties must report all donations to leadership candidates and include the names and addresses of the donors, regardless of whether the donation was $1 or $1,500.

Since the last election, $11.4 million was donated to leadership contestants, mostly for the Conservative contest that wrapped up in May and the NDP race that's currently underway.

Every cent of it can be traced, right down to the postal code.

For example, 54 per cent of all leadership donations came from Ontario, while just 0.2 per cent came from Prince Edward Island.

By postal code, Elora, Ont., a small town of about 8,000 people 100 kilometres west of Toronto, was the biggest player in the Conservative leadership battle, donating more than $34,000.

Since Elora is former leadership hopeful Michael Chong's hometown, it is perhaps no surprise he was the biggest beneficiary there, though some of his neighbours showed a preference for six of his opponents.

Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley deflected questions about the differences in the rules for leadership campaigns versus that for party donations.

Caley noted that Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould has introduced legislation that would require all parties to advertise at least five days in advance any fundraiser where tickets are at least $200, and to publicly report the names and addresses of attendees.

The party has already started doing so on its website, and also has a policy to ensure all those fundraisers are held in public spaces and are open to the media, Caley added.

He said the Liberals have challenged the other parties to follow suit.

NDP spokesman Guillaume Francoeur said his party supports the fact donations less than $200 can be made anonymously.

"The law currently allows individuals to make relatively small donations without having their names appear publicly," Francoeur said. "We have seen no evidence which would raise concerns with this aspect of the law."

Some 70 per cent of donations to the NDP in the last four years fall into the under-$200 category.

Green party deputy leader Daniel Green called for a lower threshold for anonymity, but added his party would rather see stricter limits on the size of donations in general.

The Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Analyzing the information available for those who donated more than $200, there are some notable trends.

More than 61,000 people donated at least $200 to at least one of the five parties since the last election, with an average donation of about $700. The riding of Ottawa Centre accounted for the highest total amount of donations, followed by Toronto neighbourhoods of Rosedale and The Annex.

The Conservatives raised the most money in all four Western provinces, but the Liberals topped the ranks in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Quebec residents make up 25 per cent of the registered voters in the country but accounted for just eight per cent of those who donated more than $200. Western Canadians account for 30 per cent of the voters, but 44 per cent of those who donated more than $200.

Christian Bourque, executive vice president of Quebec's Leger polling firm, said studies have shown when it comes to philanthropy in general, Quebeckers donate on average half of the amounts other Canadians donate.

"Quebeckers basically culturally feel more distant from politics in Ottawa," he said.