PC mem­ber­ship jumps

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - NATIONAL - ANTONELLA ARTUSO

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.

POST­MEDIA NET­WORK FILES

On­tario PC Leader Pa­trick Brown says his party has more “mem­bers to­day than we’ve ever had be­fore.” Party mem­ber­ship now tops 200,000.

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