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At least five ex-Tory leadership candidates still paying off campaign debt

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Andrew Scheer finished his victorious campaign without any debt, but his three closest rivals weren’t so lucky.

Many of the 16 candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, including victor Andrew Scheer, left, emerged from their campaigns debt-free. Those who did not, including, from second from the left to right, Kevin O'Leary, Rick Peterson, and Maxime Bernier, are raising funds to pay off their debts. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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At least five of 16 former Conservative leadership candidates still have outstanding campaign debts, two months after the contest wrapped with a dramatic victory for Andrew Scheer.

Mr. Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) came away without any campaign debt, according to his former campaign manager, but his closest rivals in the contest were among those saddled with debts ranging from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars

Kevin O’Leary appears to have one of the highest totals. The CBC reported in June that his campaign was $300,000 in debt. Runner-up Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.) is in the hole about $200,000, he said, and third-place candidate Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.), said his debt is in the “mid-five-figures range.” Fourth-place contender Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University, Sask.) has some outstanding bills too.

Several of the candidates still in the red say they are confident they will be able to raise the money needed to pay off those debts by reaching out to former donors. Elections Canada rules dictate that leadership candidates must fundraise to pay off campaign debts, instead of reaching into their own pockets. Candidates can’t contribute more than $25,000 to their own campaigns.

Mr. O’Toole said he had already sent out an email to previous donors asking them to help cover the outstanding debt from his campaign.

“If you want to show support…as we wrap it up, please let us know,” he said, describing the pitch to donors. “It wasn’t an aggressive appeal.”

Unsuccessful leadership candidates don’t have the luxury of pitching would-be donors on supporting a potential future party leader, as they would during their campaign. Mr. O’Toole said he believed his supporters were happy, and hence may be more willing to donate, because of his strong third-place finish in the race, and because many had Mr. Scheer marked lower down on their ballot, helping to push him to victory in the final round. He said he may hold a fundraising event of some kind in Toronto in the months ahead if needed.

Mr. O’Toole said his biggest campaign expense came from mailing a pamphlet promoting his campaign to every member of the Conservative Party. While that may seem unremarkable, he said he believed he was the only candidate to do so, and the associated cost—about $150,000—may explain why.

The mail-out cost about $50,000 more than the O’Toole campaign had anticipated, he said. That’s because the Conservative Party and leadership candidates together signed up far more members during the race than was expected; the final total of 259,010 blew past projections from insiders and analysts by 50,000 to 100,000 members.

Mr. Bernier said his debt of about $200,000 mainly came from taking on staff from Mr. O’Leary’s campaign when the TV personality dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr. Bernier in April. The leadership contest finished May 27. 

Mr. Bernier says he hopes to pay off his debt by the end of the year. He plans to hold fundraisers in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver in the fall, charging about $200 per ticket.

When asked about his pitch to potential donors, Mr. Bernier said he would be inviting supporters who already knew him and believed in the ideas he campaigned on. Mr. Bernier has long styled himself as a champion of libertarian economic principles. He also said his decision to stay on as an MP after narrowly losing the leadership race, and to continue to fight for those ideas, will make the fundraising pitch stronger.

“That would have been more difficult for me if I decided, personally, not to be in politics,” he said.

Mr. Trost said he will be in debt if the Conservative Party decides not to return a $50,000 deposit it has withheld as a fine against his campaign. The fine was imposed after the party concluded that Mr. Trost’s campaign leaked a party membership list to the National Firearms Association, as first reported by the CBC.

Mr. Trost’s team denied responsibility for the leak, and is still in talks with the party about whether the deposit will be returned, he said.

Mr. Trost’s other outstanding costs include the final month’s pay for his former campaign manager, and a few other bills, he said. If necessary, he will hold fundraising events targeted to previous donors to pay off the debt.

“We’d probably pitch it on, ‘Brad went out there and fought for the cause, and if you support the cause, could you pitch in?’” said Mr. Trost, who ran on a socially-conservative platform and enjoyed support from popular anti-abortion groups including the Campaign Life Coalition.

Mr. O’Leary may have the largest remaining debt of all of the former candidates. When asked to confirm his campaign’s debt total, and comment on his plans to repay it, a spokesperson for Mr. O’Leary, Nancy Cheung, replied with an emailed statement, saying Mr. O’Leary was “fully committed to paying every outstanding bill,” and was “dedicating all [his] resources to gather enough contributions so that we can all help the party move forward together and get ready to win the next election.”

Businessman and former candidate Rick Peterson told The Hill Times his campaign owes less than $10,000, and hopes to have it paid back by the beginning of September. He will do so by raising funds from previous donors, “people who respect and support what we’ve done.”

Kellie Leitch’s campaign also had a minor amount of debt as of last month, the CBC reported. The Hill Times could not reach Ms. Leitch to confirm whether that was still the case. 

Randy Kerr, the former campaign manager for Daniel Lindsay, said Team Lindsay may have “a little” debt from its short-lived leadership run, but he could not be sure of that without seeing final figures for the campaign, when reached by The Hill Times before deadline.

Former candidates Chris Alexander, Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), Pierre Lemieux, and Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.), and a spokesperson for Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) all told The Hill Times they did not have any outstanding campaign debt. The Hill Times was unable to reach the remaining former candidates for comment: Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.), Steven Blaney (Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Lévis, Que.), and Andrew Saxton. 

Scheer raised $1-million, debt free

Mr. Scheer, the winner of the leadership contest, was able to raise just shy of $1-million during his leadership campaign, emerging debt-free, according to his ex-campaign manager, Hamish Marshall.

Most of the donations were made online in response to emailed fundraising pitches, said Mr. Marshall, who no longer works for Mr. Scheer.

Salaries were the biggest expense for the Scheer campaign, which had about 13 paid staff, he said. Mail was another big expense; the campaign sent a brochure to every household in which a Conservative Party member lived, he said.

Mr. Scheer won despite raising much less than some of his competitors. Elections Canada figures released July 31 show Mr. Bernier raised nearly $2.5-million during his campaign, and Mr. O’Leary and Ms. Leitch both raised more than $1.4-million. Mr. Scheer, meanwhile, raised just over $989,000.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

Leadership Debt 101: Elections Canada rules for candidates

Former candidates owing debts from the campaign have three years to pay them off from the day the leadership contest is decided, unless they are given more time from a judge or Elections Canada. The Conservative race ended May 27. 

The ex-candidates must file a return to Elections Canada no more than six months after the contest ends, including details of loans or lines of credit, and repayment schedules for them.

The former candidates must file an update to Elections Canada on their progress repaying their campaign debts a year and a half after the contest, and another after the three-year mark.

Those who come out of the campaign with a surplus must transfer their spare cash to the party or a registered association of the party.

The Conservative Party imposed a $5-million limit on candidate expenses.

Conservative leadership fundraising totals

$2,471,315.06, Maxime Bernier

$1,475,817.94, Kellie Leitch

$1,413,018.48, Kevin O’Leary

$989,006.30, Andrew Scheer

$878,594.33, Erin O’Toole

$834,612.21, Michael Chong

$462,497.50, Lisa Raitt

$445,574.84, Pierre Lemieux

$370,812.84, Brad Trost

$249,292, Chris Alexander

$235,758.25, Andrew Saxton

$153,875.66, Steven Blaney

$149,773, Rick Peterson

$134,451.50, Deepak Obhrai

$89,478, Tony Clement

$32,105, Daniel Lindsay

—Source: Elections Canada

Who owes what?

Kevin O’Leary: $300,000, the CBC reported last month

Maxime Bernier: about $200,000

Erin O’Toole: in the “mid-five-figures range”

Brad Trost: outstanding costs include the final month’s pay for his former campaign manager, and a few other bills. The party could also take his $50,000 deposit as a fine for allegedly leaking the party’s membership list.

Rick Peterson: less than $10,000

Kellie Leitch: minor amount of debt as of last month, the CBC reported

Andrew Scheer: none

Chris Alexander: none

Tony Clement: none

Pierre Lemieux: none

Deepak Obhrai: none

Michael Chong: none

Lisa Raitt: unknown

Steven Blaney: unknown

Andrew Saxton: unknown

Daniel Lindsay: unknown

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