PCs lead 2020 fundraising, NDP outstrips Liberals

By Sabrina Nanji January 29, 2021

Despite Covid, Ontario’s political parties still managed to add millions to their coffers last year.

The governing PCs came out on top, raking in nearly $3.4 million during the 2020 annual period, according to Elections Ontario’s real-time disclosures. The average contribution punched in at $357, with more than 9,500 individual donations.

It was a banner year for the official Opposition. While Elections Ontario pegged the NDP’s donations at about $1.7 million, the party’s provincial director Lucy Watson said it’s actually more like $2.5 million when you include donations under $100, which are not disclosed by the elections agency. Using the party’s figures, the average donation was $29, with more than 90,000 individual donations. That’s a party record for a non-election year.

Watson says the Opposition’s message, particularly its push for better long-term care and paid sick leave, is resonating with Ontarians to the point where they’re willing to open their wallets to help the cause.

“It’s obviously been a really, really challenging year for folks, but what it has done is really highlighted the issues that are really important to them, and those are the issues that we’re speaking to,” Watson said in a phone interview.

Per the NDP’s figures, the party outstripped the third-place (legislatively unrecognized) Liberals, which is a shift from last summer when the Grits ranked second to the PCs.

The Liberal fundraising machine turned out just over $2 million for the 2020 annual period, with an average donation of $146, from nearly 14,000 individual contributions. (The party did not provide its under-$100 numbers, which may have given them an edge over the NDP.)

The Greens rounded out 2020 with about $775,000 and an average donation of $70. Counting contributions under $100, the Greens say they raised $1.2 million, representing a “record-breaking” year for the party that elected its first-ever MPP Mike Schreiner in 2018.

“In spite of the pandemic, our supporters still wanted to donate … this reflects that people are interested in and recognize the need for Green voices at Queen’s Park,” party spokesman Nav Dhaliwal said in a statement.

Political parties have had to adapt their money-making efforts for pandemic times. While the Ford government brought back fundraising events (banned by the previous Liberal rulers in the face of a cash-for-access scandal), in-person gatherings are majorly restricted amid Covid. That means using email blasts, phone banks and direct mailers, and sometimes getting creative — such as the virtual chili cook-off hosted by NDP MPP Taras Natyshak in December.

“People are home, so they’re getting their mail and they’re reading their mail,” Watson said.

All parties suspended fundraising activities last March, around the time the first state of emergency was declared, and slowly restarted their efforts by the fall. The NDP were the earliest out of the gate and sent fundraising email blasts in May.

The PC’s director of communications Christina Wramhed said the governing party closed out 2020 with a “strong” showing despite pausing all fundraising efforts for almost six months.

“We are a grassroots party and are lucky to boast some of the most loyal members and supporters,” Wramhed said by email.

The PCs hosted a handful of big-ticket Zoom fundraisers with Premier Doug Ford and other cabinet ministers at the end of the year; admission prices were as high as $1,000 a pop.

Del Duca’s paycheque raises ‘uncomfortable questions’
Meanwhile, Liberals are buzzing over the fact the Liberal Party is paying Leader Steven Del Duca an MPP’s salary of $116,500, which Queen’s Park Today scooped earlier this week.

Reaction has been mixed. While some Liberals say he should get paid because seatless Del Duca doesn’t receive a paycheque from the legislative assembly, others are concerned because “it’s not like our fundraising is brilliant.” One high-ranking Liberal said it raises “uncomfortable questions” given “he has way less duties” than MPPs, who also have constituency and legislative responsibilities.

A Tory insider quipped Del Duca is “the Liberal Maxime Bernier,” a nod to the salary the People’s Party is paying its leader after he failed to win a federal seat in 2019.

During the leadership race Del Duca indicated he wouldn’t take a salary, but the party now says its “financial challenges” are long gone and it’s on solid footing to prepare for 2022. Party president Brian Johns also boasted 75,000 new card-carrying Grits, though party memberships are free.

The Liberals came out of the 2018 election $10 million in debt; according to the most recent financial returns filed with Elections Ontario, the party recorded over $2.3 million in borrowings and overdraft in 2019. Spokesperson Will Wuehr declined to comment on this story.