The spending limit for federal parties’ nomination contestants in the 2019 election cycle is almost double what it was in 2015, chiefly because of the long election campaign last time around, and some say the higher donation limit is a barrier to recruiting new female candidates.
“There are so many barriers to recruit women candidates, we don’t need any more barriers for women candidates,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “I would think every increase in the financial challenge of running will disproportionately affect potential women candidates.”
According to the Canada Elections Act, the spending limit for nomination contests in any given electoral district is 20 per cent of the candidate election expense limit during the previous federal election. The act requires that the length of an election campaign should be at least 36 days long but does not currently specify a maximum length. During every election, Elections Canada determines spending limits for national parties and candidates, calculated based on the population of the riding, the length of the campaign, and geography, as well as a cost of living adjustment.
Typically, federal elections in Canada have seen a roughly 37-day campaign. The 2015 election campaign, however, was 78 days long—the longest since 1872. Because of the longer campaign period, the spending limit for candidates in the last federal election was more than double of what it was in 2011. This now is affecting the spending limits in party nomination campaigns for 2019. In the current election cycle, the spending limit in most electoral districts across the country is now around $40,000—with others around $50,000—compared to 2015 when it was around $20,000.
In nomination contests, it’s illegal for candidates to pay the party membership fees of their supporters. But, candidates for party nominations do need money for literature, hiring campaign workers, travel, refreshments for supporters in meetings, ‘Get Out the Vote’ work on the nomination election day, and the like.
In closely contested nominations, especially where a given party has a high probability of winning in the subsequent federal election, nominations can be very expensive. For example, in Alberta the Conservative party nomination race is largely seen as the ‘real’ election, as the winner is most likely to carry the riding in a general election. Although it’s illegal to pay a supporter’s membership fee, there’s anecdotal evidence that candidates seeking the Liberal and Conservative nominations in the past paid the membership fees of their supporters.
Fundraising in nominations is more challenging compared to general elections because, unlike donations to riding associations, official candidates and political parties, donations in nomination races are not tax deductible.
The federal Liberals and Conservatives follow the spending limits set out by Elections Canada in nomination contests. But in an attempt to provide a “level playing field,” to all candidates, the NDP has set its own internal spending limit of $6,500 per candidate in its nomination races.
“The idea is to level the playing field so that members in the riding have about the same access to resources,” said five-term NDP MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) in an interview with The Hill Times.
“It [higher spending limits in nomination contests] limits accessibility for a lot of folks that may want to contest a nomination meeting.”
Rookie Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton, Ont.) in an interview disagreed that high spending limits in nomination campaigns is a barrier in recruiting female candidates. She said that nomination contests are all about how many supporters a candidate has and supporters pay their own party membership fee. Ms. Gladu said that in her case, she won her nomination prior to the 2015 election with a less than $10,000 budget and questioned why candidates need a lot of money in nominations.
“It’s really more about signing up memberships. It’s a numbers game,” Ms. Gladu told The Hill Times.
Braeden Caley, senior director of communications for the Liberal Party, said in an email that the party has taken a number of measures to recruit quality female candidates, as well as to ensure that women hold positions such as campaign managers. Prior to opening a nomination in an unheld riding, the party requires that the local EDA prove that they undertook a “thorough search” to find candidates from diverse backgrounds before a nomination can proceed, said Mr. Caley in the email.
“The Liberal Party of Canada has continued to step up promotion of the inclusion of women as candidates, campaign managers, party staff, and volunteer leaders through initiatives like #InviteHerToRun and the Judy Lamarsh Fund (which adds direct financial support to Liberal women candidates),” he wrote.
University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman told The Hill Times that spending limits in nomination contests are “irrelevant” because of the central party and their leaders’ tight control over the process. He said that very few nomination contests are actually free and fair in national political parties. Prof. Wiseman said if a leader wants a specific male or female candidate to win a party nomination, the party plays around the rules to deliver the result.
“Do I agree or disagree about the [spending] limit?” said Prof. Wiseman. “To me, it’s irrelevant.”
Meanwhile, the federal Liberal Party has set a certain thresholds in terms of fundraising and supporter sign-ups for their incumbent MPs if they want to avoid nomination challenges. To carry their party’s banner next time around, incumbent Liberal MPs have to fulfill some conditions, including: taking part in at least two “voter contact day of action” door-knocking events in the last year; knocking on at least 3,500 door or making 5,000 phone calls; raising 50 per cent of the expected election expense limit in the riding; and securing signatures of support from at least 150 registered Liberals in the riding, among others.
All Liberal MPs are required to meet these conditions by this month, but the party has also told MPs that they are flexible in terms of deadline as long as they see progress.
To meet these conditions, Liberal MPs have been working hard to raise tens of thousands of dollars in recent months. In April, rookie Liberal MP Raj Grewal (Brampton-East, Ont.) raised about $300,000 at a fundraiser in his riding in one night, and Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton, B.C.) raised more than $200,000 at a fundraiser in his riding last month. Mr. Grewal was not available to be interviewed for this article, but Mr. Dhaliwal told The Hill Times that he raised all this money for the Liberal Party itself, as he already has an adequate amount of money to fight the next election with more than $200,000 in his riding association’s bank account. He said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) also attended this $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in his riding on Sept. 4, and he sold all 250 tickets himself in less than a week. For those 35 years of age and under, the ticket price was $750. Mr. Dhaliwal said he holds a fundraiser for his riding association every year, and with sufficient funds already on hand, he decided this year to hold the fundraiser for the Liberal Party instead.
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