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Liberal fundraising momentum stalls

Federal Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau. - The Canadian Press
Federal Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau.
— image credit: The Canadian Press

By Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The federal Liberals are partly blaming the Ontario provincial election for a slowdown in fundraising going into the summer months.

The Ontario vote, however, doesn't appear to have had a similar impact on the federal New Democrats, who gained ground in their second quarter party fundraising drive.

Newly released fundraising numbers, deemed "scary" by the Liberals' fundraising director, show the Liberals raked in more than $2.8 million in the second quarter of this year.

But that's roughly $100,000 less than what the party collected in the same three-month period in 2013 when Justin Trudeau was chosen to lead the Liberals.

The party also saw a decline in the number of donors, from just over 38,000 in April, May and June of 2013 compared with the slightly more than 32,000 who gave the party money over the same time frame this year.

In a fundraising message delivered to party supporters earlier this week, Christina Topp, the Liberals' senior fundraising director, said her party's numbers are troubling.

"Q2 fundraising numbers were just released and they are scary," Topp wrote in her email.

She thanked supporters while encouraging them to do more.

"Our own progress is incredible — we've rallied over 30,000 donors for the past five quarters!" she wrote. "But they (the Conservatives) are pushing on strong and we need your help to keep up our great momentum."

Nonetheless, another party official said the Liberals are pleased with the latest numbers given that fundraising efforts were scaled back to accommodate for the Ontario provincial election.

"We have kind of the same broad donor base (as the Ontario Liberals)," said party spokesman Olivier Duchesneau. "So if you take that into account, I don't think the three per cent (decline in donations) is very significant. We're maintaining our results from last year."

Last year's results may have also been boosted by the so-called honeymoon effect, when political leaders tend to enjoy a high level of public support in the months after being elected.

Trudeau was chosen to lead the Liberals in the first month of last year's second quarter.

The 2014 second-quarter results may have also been affected by the expulsion in January of Liberal senators from the party's caucus. Trudeau not only decided to force Grit senators to sit as independents in the upper chamber in the wake of the Senate expense scandal, but he also prohibited them from raising money or campaigning for the party at the national level.

Some Liberal senators, such as David Smith, who headed national Liberal campaigns under Jean Chretien, had previously been key party operators and fundraisers.

But Sen. Jim Munson, who has not raised money for the party in the past, said he and his colleagues are growing more comfortable over time with the notion that they are now sitting largely as independent members of the red chamber, although they still call themselves the "Liberal Senate caucus."

He said Liberal senators understand the new political landscape.

"If you're asked by some local candidate to do some work or to have a fundraiser, there's nothing to say you can't do that," he said. "But not at the national level."

The Conservatives also took in less money in the second quarter of 2014 that during the same period last year, but from more donors.

Nearly 36,000 people donated $4.7 million to the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the 2014 second quarter. In the same period last year, the Tories collected $4.86 million from 30,437 donors.

Despite the slight decline in overall donations, the Conservatives said they, too, are happy with the amounts they've taken into their party coffers.

"These results show again that Canadians know we're better off with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and are choosing his strong, stable leadership over the poor judgment of Justin Trudeau," Cory Hann, Conservative party communications director, said in an email.

The New Democrats took in about $1.5 million in the quarter from 21,013 donors.

That's up significantly on both counts for the Official Opposition, which saw donations totalling more than $1.37 million from fewer than 19,000 donors in the second quarter of 2013.

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