Long campaign favours Tory deep pockets: analysis
The imminent federal election campaign will see more money splashed around than ever before in Canada and the deep-pocketed Conservatives can claim a decided advantage — an edge that increases exponentially if Prime Minister Stephen Harper opts for a longer campaign than usual, new number-crunching shows.
While much as been made of the ruling party’s fundraising prowess at the national level, the biggest impact of an extended campaign will be felt by candidates in local riding contests.
An in-depth analysis by The Canadian Press of financing at the grassroots level shows that Conservative candidates’ riding-based war chests are flush with cash, dramatically outpacing their political rivals in efforts to raise and stash away money.
A review of the most recent financial statements filed by riding associations to Elections Canada this month show candidates for the NDP, Liberals, Greens, Bloc Quebecois and other smaller parties simply don’t have the money to compete on a level playing field with Conservative contenders, whose local war chests are overflowing.
Those 2014 financial reports in each of the country’s 338 constituencies shows that Conservative electoral district associations ended the year with net assets totalling more than $19 million — more than the riding associations of the Liberals, New Democrats, Greens and Bloc combined.
Liberal riding associations reported a total of about $8 million in net assets, NDP associations more than $4.4 million, the Greens at almost $1.2 million and the Bloc at about $410,000.
Under the 2007 fixed-date-election legislation introduced by Harper’s government, Canadians will go to the polls on Oct. 19. While the legislation specifies that the campaign must be a minimum of 37 days, it does not specify a maximum length.
That’s important because the new Fair Elections Act provides that for every day beyond the typical five-week campaign, spending limits for national parties and their candidates will increase by one-thirty-seventh, meaning extra days on the campaign trail would benefit parties with hefty bank accounts.
That means a party running a full slate of candidates is entitled to spend almost $25 million for a 37-day campaign, with every additional day worth an extra $675,000 to each party’s national spending limit and an extra $2,700 for each candidate who is entitled to spend an average of about $100,000.
So, if Harper fires the official starting gun in mid-August, as widely speculated, that would boost each party’s spending cap by a whopping $19.6 million and each candidate’s limit by $78,300.
At the national level, the Liberals and NDP have upped their fundraising game considerably since the last election but they’re still behind the Conservatives, raising $15 million and $9.5 mil- lion respectively compared to $20.1 million for the Tories, based on Elections Canada financial returns for last year. Still, for their national campaigns, the New Democrats and Liberals can borrow money if necessary to spend the maximum, or close to it.
Smaller parties, like the Greens, will have more trouble keeping up and banks are less likely to help them.
At the riding level, however, very few opposition party associations have built up war chests that would help their candidates spend the maximum for a 37-day campaign, much less for a longer one.
Falling behind in the fundraising wars will be more problematic for candidates this year than in previous elections.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the Calgary Stampede earlier this month. Analysis shows a long federal election campaign might favour Conservatives ridings which are flush with cash.