September 16, 2013 5:03 pm

Ontario byelection donations show strong Liberal fundraising machine

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks with taxi driver Joseph Addai while campaigning at the Islington subway station for Etobicoke-Lakeshore byelection candidate Peter Milczyn.

Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The five Ontario byelections held in early August were bruising for the governing Liberals – three out of the five Liberal-held seats fell to the Conservatives and NDP.

But party donations connected to the byelections shows the Liberals are headed toward the next general election better-funded than their rivals: The $1.7 million that flowed into Grit coffers was more than both opposition parties combined. (The PCs raised $1.1 million; the NDP, $315,000.)

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Under Ontario’s election finance laws, a byelection doubles the maximum amount donors can give, to $9,300. But that doesn’t mean the party will spend it all in one place.

Each party could have spent a total of $819,146 on the Aug. 1 five byelections. Their expenditures aren’t yet public, but records from last year’s byelections in Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo indicate the Liberals spent close to their limits.

A party in power has a natural advantage in fundraising, says York University political scientist Robert MacDermid.

“People want a chance to influence government policy. And they hope, by giving money to a party, to influence a cabinet minister or the government in general – to pursue policies that are sympathetic to that industry or that company.”

Traditionally left-leaning unions gave more to the Liberals ($348,800) than to the NDP ($186,539). Large union donations to the NDP were largely from public sector, teaching and service workers’ unions, while large union donations to the Liberals were almost entirely from building trades unions.

Strong fundraising gives the minority Liberals an edge going into the next general election, which could take place in a matter of months.

“It means they go in with an advantage in terms of the advertising they can run, particularly in the pre-campaign period when there are no restrictions on spending,” MacDermid said. “During the campaign itself, they’ll be able to spend up to the limit, while other parties will have to borrow.”

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Donors maximizing byelection-related giving

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