OTTAWA — At least 103 NDP candidates received fewer than 10 per cent of votes in their ridings, rendering those campaigns ineligible for partial reimbursement for election expenses.
It’s extra money the party won’t have in its war chest should a snap election be triggered by the collapse of the Liberal minority government.
Melissa Bruno, the NDP’s outgoing national director, told HuffPost Canada the party spent roughly $11 million during the 40-day campaign, just over a third of the spending limit. She declined to share which battleground ridings got financial support from the party, but said it’s “not hard to see” where the money went when looking at the electoral map results.
“We’ve been saying pretty consistently that we were going to focus on the areas that we currently house seats and obviously some of the pickups that we lost in 2015,” Bruno explained Thursday.
“There’s always an eye towards building infrastructure in all the ridings across the country, but it’s not really a surprise that there are some areas of this country that are harder for the NDP to break into.”
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Eighteen-year-old Kevin Hua led one of those hard-to-win campaigns in the Ontario riding of Carleton, just south of Ottawa. He lost to high-profile Conservative incumbent Pierre Poilievre, who won 47 per cent of the vote.
The NDP netted 9.3 per cent of the vote in the Conservative stronghold, just shy of the threshold needed for partial reimbursement for campaign expenses from Elections Canada.
There are two kinds of campaign expenses eligible for reimbursement: election expenses paid from the campaign bank account (for example, signs and office supplies) and personal expenses (such as childcare and costs incurred related to a disability). Candidate campaigns that receive at least 10 per cent of valid votes are eligible to have 60 per cent of campaign expenses reimbursed. Any “surplus” money is transferred to the registered party or the riding association for future use.
“Even for a bare-minimum campaign, we still did pretty well, I think,” Hua told HuffPost. Carleton is “not a competitive riding for the NDP to begin with,” he said, adding that impacted how his campaign was financed.
The first-time voter and federal candidate said his campaign didn’t get any money from the party’s headquarters.
He said his campaign spent more than $3,000 on various expenses, including lawn signs, literature, and money for ad placements in local newspapers. It was mostly driven by donations from people in the riding, Hua said, plus $500 from his own pocket.
‘We were hoping to get a return’
Mackenzie Thomason ran his campaign in Fredericton on even less money. He told HuffPost his election expenses cost approximately $1,200. The biggest expense was lawn signs, which chewed up $900 from the budget. About $100 was spent on wood and screws, Thomason said, and $55 was paid to his “sign guy” for gas money.
“We knew what we had in the bank and we did some fundraising, and we made sure we lived within our means,” the former NDP candidate said. “We were hoping to get a return, obviously, that’s not what happened.”
Thomason received six per cent of the vote, which doesn’t qualify his campaign for partial repayment of campaign expenses. He said he didn’t ask the federal party for financial help because he knew the NDP didn’t have a strong shot at winning the riding.
“In my mind, the money that needed to be spent, needed to be spent in places where the NDP was going to do much better,” he said.
Parties are no longer eligible for a per-vote subsidy, which was axed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government before the 2015 election. The subsidy gave major parties obvious financial advantages, providing multi-million dollar boosts according to the number of votes cast in the party’s favour.
A report from the parliamentary budget officer last year estimated if the Jean Chretien-era subsidy were to be brought back, it would cost at least $45 million annually for four years.
New Democrats return to Ottawa with smaller caucus
The NDP won 24 seats on election night, well short of the 39 the party had before Parliament was dissolved.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday that he wasn’t happy with the election results, saying he won’t be satisfied until his party forms government.
“We’re in a good financial situation.”
Singh’s answer was short when he was asked if his party is in a financial situation to be able to sustain a hypothetical campaign if an election is called in the near future.
“We’re in a good financial situation. We had great results out of the campaign,” he said.
The NDP headed into the election in a precarious financial situation. The party started 2019 in the red, with balance sheets showing $4.5 million in negative net assets, according to Elections Canada. The Toronto Star reported the party mortgaged the building that houses its party headquarters in downtown Ottawa for $12 million earlier this year to bootstrap the campaign.
Fundraising levels also haven’t been inspiring.
According to financial returns to Elections Canada, Conservatives raised the most money in the third quarter right before the election, collecting $10.1 million from 62,000 donors. Liberals pulled in $7.3 million during the same period from 53,000 donors.
The NDP raised $2.65 million from approximately 21,000 contributors in the third quarter. To put that figure into perspective, the party raised $9.1 million in the same quarter before the 2015 election.
The NDP’s outgoing national director said the party is exceeding expectations in other areas.
Bruno said the party raised approximately $2 million during the 40-day campaign. The fundraising results “probably doubled” internal fundraising targets the party set, she said.