BURNABY, B.C. — As the federal NDP struggles to find its financial footing, the party says it is completely normal that its leader, Jagmeet Singh, has participated in only one $25 fundraising activity this year.
That news, however, doesn’t sit well with Svend Robinson, a former longtime MP who has decided to run again.
“Are you serious? Since the beginning of this year?” Robinson responded when informed of the leader’s fundraising activities.
Robinson, who had just attended the official opening of his campaign headquarters in Burnaby North–Seymour on Saturday, said he raised more than $10,000 that afternoon. His supporters held a reverse auction after speeches wrapped up, calling on the audience of approximately 125 people to donate the maximum of $1,600. Nobody raised their hands to offer that amount but one person pledged $1,200, a few others $1,000, and several raised their hands to donate $500.
NDP spokesman Guillaume Francoeur told HuffPost Canada that Singh has attended only one fundraiser in 2019, an event in March.
“A $25 event in London–Fanshawe is the only ticketed event the leader took part in,” Francoeur said. There were other events at which donations were made, he added, but the events were free to attend.
Elections Canada has no record of any fundraising activity by Singh in 2019. According to new rules, any fundraiser attended by a party leader, interim leader, leadership contestant or a minister that requires a political contribution of at least $200 must be publicly reported. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his cabinet ministers, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, and the Bloc Québécois have all hit the fundraising circuit in the lead-up to the election year.
The Liberals disclosed 53 past and planned events at which ticket prices or donations required to attend ranged from $200 for a reception with International Trade Minister Jim Carr at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton to $1,625 for a breakfast reception with Trudeau at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto.
Watch: Singh says NDP would expand universal health care
The Conservatives reported seven events with price tags ranging between $250 for a banquet dinner benefiting the Don Valley East riding association and $1,600 for a “meet and greet” with Scheer at the Westin Calgary hotel. Bernier’s party reported six events, for which the entry price ranged from $200 for a brunch in Chilliwack, B.C., to $500 for a dinner with the leader at the Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier in North Vancouver.
Francoeur confirmed, however, that the NDP had held no similar events. “To date, we have not had any event in 2019 that would satisfy these criteria,” he said.
“It doesn’t seem right,” responded Robinson, the star candidate who served in the Commons from 1979 to 2004. Robinson said he assumed Singh would be hitting the fundraising circuit. “I’m shocked actually, $25 from January 1st until now? I am going to ask some questions.”
Francoeur was unable to say how many fundraisers Singh had participated in since becoming leader on October 1, 2017. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have this information,” he told HuffPost.
Jesse Calvert, the NDP’s director of operations, said the party’s strategy differs from the Liberals or Conservatives, who charge their supporters for “the privilege of speaking with and hearing” their leader.
“As Jagmeet tours the country, we bring donors and supporters together to speak with him, ask him questions, and listen to his vision. We don’t believe anyone should have to pay admission for this privilege,” Calvert said. “After speaking with the leader, those who are able can choose to make a contribution.”
The latest quarterly financial report posted on Elections Canada’s website suggests the NDP is running behind the Conservatives and the Liberals but still ahead of the Greens.
Between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2019, the NDP raised $1.227 million from 13,713 contributors. The Tories raised $8.01 million in the period from 50,026 contributors, while the Liberals raised $3.857 million from 33,321 contributors. The Greens raised only $783,279 from 9,786 contributors.
Last week, most political parties’ annual returns for 2018 were publicly posted. The NDP, however, requested an extension to its filing. The filings offer a view of the party’s financial health, total amounts raised as well as any debts and losses.
Conservatives still raking in cash
The Tories reported raising more than $26.8 million in donations and membership fees and, after $24 million worth of expenses, they posted a surplus of $3.6 million. The Liberals raised more than $16.6 million but spent nearly all of it, posting a surplus of $4,417. The Greens raised $3,067.097 in 2018 but spent $79,167 more than they raised.
Quarterly reports from 2018 indicate that the NDP raised $5 million last year, though they don’t offer any details on expenses. In 2017, the last year available for review, the NDP’s filings — which were also filed late — showed it had revenue of $5.8 million but spent more than $7.165 million that year. The party also started the year $1.7 million in the hole. A report from its auditors also noted outstanding loans worth nearly $4.8 million, including one for more than $3 million that was due last month.
Calvert noted that the information from the 2017 report was close to 1.5 years out of date. He said the loan, owed from the 2015 election campaign, had been renegotiated and that the 2018 report, when it is released, would show only $2.76 million still owing.
“This outstanding obligation is part of the work we have been doing with our financial lenders in preparation for the 2019 campaign. Other than the 2015 election loan, we have no other outstanding loans” he said. For the first time, the party put up its three-storey headquarters in downtown Ottawa this year as a $12-million collateral to secure new bank loans. The renamed Jack Layton building, at 279 Laurier St. West, was purchased in 2004, reportedly for $4 million, with funds raised primarily by organized labour before strict fundraising rules kicked in forbidding corporate and union donations.
Also on HuffPost:
The party’s director of operations said he was not prepared to comment on new loans with respect to the 2019 campaign until they have been fully finalized. But Calvert said he is confident the NDP will have the resources required to run “a full, robust and effective campaign.”
In a fundraising note to party supporters last month, he said he was concerned that if the party didn’t raise an additional $14,000, the party would have to “scale back our tour plans.”
“I’m worried we’re going to fall short,” he wrote about the tour’s fundraising target, in a note designed to spur more donors to contribute. “I emailed you about this 2 days ago, but my team still isn’t seeing the numbers we need. Can you chip in $3 right now to help us hit our Leader’s Tour target?”
Calvert told HuffPost that the party continues to “make strides towards a sustainable financial model” and he was “happy to report that we currently bring in more money, on average, per month, than we spend.”
“Generally speaking, our fundraising has been tracking in the right direction,” he said.