N.B. Progressive Conservatives dominate political fundraising in 2020

Premier Blaine Higgs, with his wife Marcia, arrives to address supporters after winning the New Brunswick provincial election in Quispamsis, N.B. on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. The Progressive Conservative leader called the first provincial election during the COVID-19 pandemic and there was no door-to-door canvassing and no distribution of hand-held brochures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative party raised over $1 million in 2020 and spent more than every other party combined on their way to a majority government in last summer’s election.

But at least one political watcher says the spending reveals more about the PC’s desire to turn their minority government into a majority than an inability of the other parties to fundraise.

“The PCs after the last provincial election when Higgs first formed the majority government understood that they wanted to gun for a majority and they got it,” said Jamie Gillies, a professor of communications and public policy at St. Thomas University.

“I would guess that the fundraising for the next provincial campaign will be much more even.”

Overall, the Tories spent $872,172 on the campaign, compared to $503,971 for the Liberals, $65,902 for the Greens, $28,226 for the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick and $10,573 for the NDP.

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That financial advantage was put to work by the PCs, who spent over $200,000 on polling and research to identify how to turn their 2018 minority into a majority.

“I think they benefitted from the idea of look, we need 26 for a majority and the speaker, how do we get there?” Gillies said.

“And they looked at five or six ridings they could target and they picked up most of them.”

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None of the other parties spent anything on research and polling, but interim executive director of the New Brunswick Liberal Association says that was a deliberate choice by the party, not one based on finances.

“When you have a snap election, polling research doesn’t become as effective,” said Greg Byrne.

“We decided that we wouldn’t spend money on polling research once the election was called.”

Byrne says fundraising was hampered in some ways by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the party deciding not to throw fundraising events like it normally would. But overall, he still thinks the party raised what it needed to in order to contest the election.

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“We did raise a significant amount of money to fight the election campaign and we raised what we thought we needed to have an effective campaign and we believe we spent exactly what we needed to spend,” he said.

The $1,054,926 raised by the PCs dwarfs the $628,614 raised by the Liberals. The Greens broke their own third party fundraising record with $345,988, while the People’s Alliance took in $80,287 and the NDP raised $64,458.

The gap between the Tories and the Grits in fundraising has been widening over the past few years. The PCs have pulled in more than the Liberals every year since 2018, the year after the province stopped allowing corporations to donate to political parties.

Byrne said the party has taken a hit adjusting to the new fundraising rules.

But the Liberal party is still in decent shape financially. They still have over $200,000 in the bank, while the PCs are $43,000 in the red after last year’s spending. Byrne said the focus of the next few years will be maintaining the fiscal health of the party as they go through the process of selecting a new leader, which can spur donations itself.

“There’s nothing like a contested leadership race to engage people politically and the candidates are out there raising money and the party is raising money to prepare for the leadership,” he said.

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No convention date or details on the selection process have been announced. One candidate has already declared, former Liberal MP T.J. Harvey.

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