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Five things we learned from the latest Conservative leadership fundraising data

By Chelsea Nash      

Ex-Liberal Senator Pana Merchant appears to have donated to Conservative contender Andrew Scheer.

Lisa Raitt, left, received a donation from former cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who has yet to endorse anyone, as did Erin O'Toole, centre. Andrew Scheer, right, appears to have received a donation from a former Senate Liberal. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Former Senate Liberal Pana Merchant, who just retired at the end of March, appears to have made a donation of $199 to Andrew Scheer’s Conservative leadership campaign.

The donation was made in the last quarter of 2016, on Dec. 12, returns from Elections Canada show. Ms. Merchant retired on March 31, though her office, which remains open for 60 days after her departure from the Senate, did not respond to The Hill Times’ requests for comment. She and Mr. Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) both come from the same province, Saskatchewan.

Ms. Merchant was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau expelled all Liberal Senators from his party’s parliamentary caucus in 2014, but Ms. Merchant remained sitting as a Senate Liberal.

Here are four other headlines coming out of fundraising data released by the Conservative Party through Elections Canada last week on donations to leadership contenders up until the end of March. A new leader from the 13 remaining contenders will be announced at a party convention in Toronto on May 27.

2. High-profile Conservatives aren’t endorsing, but donating

Jenni Byrne donated the maximum allowed donation, $1,550, to her friend Erin O’Toole’s (Durham, Ont.) campaign on Jan. 3, following an October donation to him for the maximum allowed donation at that time, $1,525.

Ms. Byrne was responsible for leading the Conservative Party’s 2015 election campaign, and also served as a deputy chief of staff for former prime minister Stephen Harper.

In an email to The Hill Times, she said she’s “friends with him as well as a number of people on his campaign.”

Her financial support doesn’t equal an endorsement, though. She said she has no plans to endorse anyone, but will make her “final decision” on who she is supporting this week and mail her ballot in.

She also said she’s “friends with several other candidates as well, and people on almost all the other campaign teams.”

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay appears to have made financial contributions to both Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.) and Mr. O’Toole.

Mr. MacKay did not return a request for comment. He has previously said he is staying neutral in the leadership race, though he said last November he’s impressed with Ms. Raitt, Mr. O’Toole and former cabinet minister Chris Alexander. Returns from Elections Canada show a Peter MacKay in Toronto donated $200 to Ms. Raitt on March 30, and $180 to Mr. O’Toole on March 31. He told iPolitics he’s also donated to Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.), Mr. Scheer, Mr. Alexander and Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.). Fundraising data for donations since the end of March has yet to be released.

Mr. MacKay also headlined at a fundraising event in support of Mr. O’Toole on March 28. And he appeared at a fundraiser for Mr. Alexander April 18.

3. Maxime Bernier earned the most maximum donations

The perceived front-runner of the race Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.) collected the highest number of maximum donations in the first quarter of 2017, raking in 309 contributions of $1,550.

Some of those donations came from the Asper family, a prominent wealthy family from Winnipeg. David Asper used to serve as chair of the National Post, and also played a role in the governance of the Post‘s parent company, CanWest Global Communications Corp., over the years (which became Postmedia). He donated $1,550 to Mr. Bernier in January, and has also endorsed him publicly.

The Elections Canada returns also listed Ruth Asper, Mr. Asper’s spouse, as having donated $1,000 to Mr. Bernier’s campaign on Feb. 11. Rebecca Asper and Daniel Asper, Mr. Asper’s children, are also listed as having donated $1,550 each to Mr. Bernier’s campaign.

Mr. Asper’s executive assistant said Mr. Asper “is not active in any political campaigns and he is unavailable for comment on his donations to the Maxime Bernier leadership campaign,” given his recent appointment as chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board.

After Mr. Bernier, former candidate Kevin O’Leary earned the next highest number of maximum contributions, with 148. Eighty-seven donated $1,550 to Mr. O’Toole, 74 gave that amount to Kellie Leitch (Simcoe Grey, Ont.), and 54 to Mr. Scheer, rounding out the top five.

4. Tony Clement paid off his campaign debt

Former leadership contender Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) has raised enough money to pay off any debt lingering over him since withdrawing from the race last fall.

Mr. Clement, who has since endorsed Mr. Bernier, told The Hill Times he’s managed to “close the books” and that he will be filing his final accounting of leadership expenses within the coming weeks.

He said raising money after dropping out of the race was no easy task, but to his “relief as well as delight, people did come through,” raising “tens of thousands of dollars” to help Mr. Clement with his expenses.  

Mr. Clement was recorded in the Elections Canada returns as having been returned a $1,550 donation from his own pocket.

Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann said contributions are returned to donors when they exceed the maximum amount allowed by Elections Canada.

Because Mr. Clement paid the maximum amount of $25,000 to his own campaign in 2016, he was no longer permitted to contribute any money to his campaign at all, even if it was a new calendar year.

“The rules are the rules,” he said. “That was something that was unclear, or obscure, but I understand why they wanted to err on the side of caution.”

5. Money from ineligible memberships remitted to chief electoral officer

Mr. Hann confirmed that a chunk of “anonymous” donations that were listed as having been remitted to the chief electoral officer were the result of ineligible memberships.

The party said it found 2,729 ineligible memberships, or one per cent of its total 259,010 members as of March 28. The issue of fake memberships arose during the campaign after Mr. O’Leary made a public accusation that members were being registered fraudulently. 

The party said it was unable to determine which campaign was behind two IP addresses used to anonymously pay for 1,351 memberships online, which the party later cancelled for not being paid for by each individual member.

The amount remitted to the chief elections officer came to $20,115, and was remitted in nine different instalments ranging from Jan. 6 to March 28.

The total amount of returned donations came to $71,259.88. Mr. Hann said donations that are returned are “usually accidental over-contributions,” or a cash donation over $20, which is not permitted.

—with files from Kristen Shane

cnash@hilltimes.com

@chels_nash

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