PC membership jumps
The Ontario Progressive Conservative party has massively increased its membership in the runup to the June provincial election campaign.
While the governing Liberals currently claim 18,000 dyed-in-the wool members, the PCs have topped 200,000 — a record number of supporters, leader Patrick Brown says.
“Our Party has the most members today than we’ve ever had before,” Brown said in an email Friday. “The Ontario PCs are diverse, modern, inclusive and we are energized to work hard in every riding across the province in the lead-up to June 7.”
The party’s membership previously reached a high-level mark of 100,000 during the hand off between former premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, Tories say.
However, at the end of the last provincial campaign in 2014, following four consecutive campaign losses, the PC membership had dropped to about 12,000 cardcarrying members.
In the three years since then, Brown grew membership support by more than 1,500 per cent.
Carleton University Professor William Cross said people typically join Canadian political parties around contested candidate nominations because you have to be a member to vote.
“It does seem like a robust, high number to me,” Cross said. “And if it’s a big increase, it does show signs of life for the party at the grassroots ... It shows that there might be something going on — some vibrancy at the local level where there’s people running for nominations that are signing up a lot of folks.”
When high profile, strong candidates contest a nomination, they can bring in a significant number of new memberships, he said.
In the run up to the 2015 federal election, membership in the federal Liberal Party spiked under Justin Trudeau who went on to win a majority government, Cross noted.
Trudeau announced in 2014 that the national membership of the Liberal Party of Canada had hit 300,000, up from 60,000 the previous year.
“And why it’s important then is it shows that the local association is active; there are people who think they might have a chance to win in ridings that they currently do not hold,” Cross said.
Political party membership in Canada is usually strongest just before elections, when candidates are being nominated, and also during leadership contests, but can rise and fall dramatically between these types of events, he said.
The federal NDP announced a threefold increase to 124,000 members across the country last year as the party got set to elect a new leader, Jagmeet Singh.
In between elections, party membership often shrinks to the “real diehards” or core organizers, Cross said.
Ontario PC president Rick Dykstra said the Ontario party membership numbers are unheard of in a provincial party, and reflect the work of Brown and the quality of candidates.
All three major political parties, meanwhile, are gearing up for what’s expected to be the most contentious campaign in more than a decade, pitting the Liberal government’s scandal-plagued record against an NDP that has been crowded on the left by the Liberals and Brown’s more middle of-of-the-road Conservatives. Membership is critical for parties, for everything for fundraising to volunteers.
Numbers released by the Tories show growth in membership in a number of key GTA ridings such as Mississauga East-Cooksville that grew to 6,004 members from 41, and Markham-Thornhill where membership has hit 5,366, up from 56.
Patricia Favre, a spokesperson for the Ontario Liberal Party, said the majority of their memberships are on a yearly cycle, and the party is currently in the process of membership renewal.
“We currently have about 18,000 members, with an additional 23,000 members up for renewal,” Favre said. “Given we are in the process of competitive nomination meetings and the lead up to an election, we expect that number to keep growing.”
The Ontario NDP did not respond to a request for membership numbers.
Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown says his party has more “members today than we’ve ever had before.” Party membership now tops 200,000.