Alberta Politics
Rachel Notley during the NDP leadership campaign in October 2015 (Photo: Olav Rokne).

NDP leads UCP in 2020 fund-raising totals, significantly in the fourth quarter and marginally over the year

Posted on January 22, 2021, 12:36 am
7 mins

Alberta’s Opposition New Democratic Party noticeably out-raised the United Conservative Party in the fourth quarter of 2020, $2.3 million to $1.9 million, according to figures released yesterday by Elections Alberta. 

This left the NDP slightly ahead in donations for the full year as well, $5.06 million compared with $5.05 million.

It’s easy to read too much into such figures, of course. Still, the actual willingness of voters to part with cash may signal something more meaningful than a mere mid-term “voter intention” poll.

As the late U.S. president Lyndon Johnson famously observed about individual politicians, sometimes in their business overnight chicken poop can turn into chicken salad. (Not exactly the way LBJ put it, but we try to maintain a dignified tone around here.) 

One could argue that’s sort of what happened to the Alberta NDP after it chose Rachel Notley as leader in 2014, when the party went in very short order in the minds of the public from a respected third party that was barely on the radar, to a credible alternative to the seemingly unchallengeable Progressive Conservatives, to a majority government in 2015. 

Another risk of drawing conclusions from such data is that fund-raising from citizens isn’t the only sign of a party’s financial strength in an age when American-style Political Action Committees created to evade restrictions on campaign donations are a normal part of the political scene. 

Still, certain conclusions about these figures are obvious, among them that rise of the NDP in 2014 and 2015 was no fluke, but a real reflection of voter intention that has changed Alberta politics over the long term. 

Unless this phenomenon depends entirely on Ms. Notley’s charisma and reputation, in other words, the NDP victory in 2015 proved to Alberta voters that politics in this province are competitive and opposition parties can upset entrenched conservative parties. 

Furthermore, it showed the NDP was and continues to be the most credible opposition party, and therefore the one to which centrist voters dissatisfied with the current United Conservative Party Government will tend to give their cash donations and their votes. 

United Conservative Party Leader and Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So the increase in NDP donations in the final quarter of the year suggests both rising disillusionment with the UCP under Premier Jason Kenney, with ethical breaches, unpopular policies, and a flawed pandemic response seeming to grow worse as the year wore on, and the continuing strength of the NDP as the most credible alternative. 

These fund-raising numbers, like some recent polling, add to the narrative of a badly led government increasingly rejected by voters that has the potential to bedevil the UCP right up to the next election, especially if Mr. Kenney remains at the helm. 

After the NDP and the UCP, Elections Alberta’s statistics showed a trio of second-tier parties that were still able to raise enough money, all in roughly the same ballpark, to indicate they are on the radar, if unlikely on their own to pose a significant threat just yet to either of the Big 2.

The Alberta Party raised $50,739 in the quarter, and $126,233 over the course of the year. (Rounding up the spare change to the dollar.)

The Wildrose Independence Party raised $45,863 in the quarter, $78,341 for the year. 

The Alberta Liberals raised $44,747 in the quarter, $100,213 for the year. 

Wildrose Independence Party Leader Paul Hinman in 2010 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Conservatives would argue the Alberta Party is a party of the left, the NDP would place it on the right, arguably it’s more of the latter from a policy standpoint and the former as a strategic vote-splitting threat. 

The Liberals are a traditional Alberta opposition voice, for many years the official Opposition, with a base cadre of supporters that while aging will stick stubbornly to the party if given half a chance at election time.

The most interesting phenomenon is the appearance in this group of the WRIP, formed only last year through a merger of the Wexit Party of Alberta and the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta. The party only formally came into existence in July last year. Paul Hinman, a former Wildrose Alliance and Wildrose Party MLA, is its interim leader. It would appear it has fund-raising talent or some determined supporters. 

Surely this performance by the WRIP suggests a higher level of support for Alberta separatism, or at least sovereignty association, than one would have expected. More significantly, it says this party, like its namesake parties, has become the vessel for support of the growing disillusionment on the far right with the UCP under Mr. Kenney. 

However, it seems likely its separatist tendencies will limit the threat it will present to the UCP from the right. 

Below that, among the province’s remaining registered parties were the Green Party of Alberta ($17,847 for the quarter, $25,423 for the year); the Independence Party of Alberta ($2,990/$6,665); and – God bless ’em, even if you still think religion is the opiate of the people – the Communist Party ($100/$250). 

No one having figured out how to encourage curbside impulse purchases, all parties have likely benefitted from the fact people who have been cooped up at home but still able to draw a paycheque through the pandemic have cash on hand and fewer gratifying places to spend it.

10 Comments to: NDP leads UCP in 2020 fund-raising totals, significantly in the fourth quarter and marginally over the year

  1. Mike in Edmonton

    January 22nd, 2021

    “Wildrose Independence Party.” WRIP for short. Hmmm…should we call them the Rip party? Drop the W and say “R-I-P Party”? It’s not as bad as “You See Pee” but honestly, guys, who does your marketing research?

  2. Abs

    January 22nd, 2021

    Isn’t the goal of corporate welfare to put vast sums of money into the hands of those who can take advantage of PACs to perpetually re-elect those who throw cash at them? Just an endless feedback loop.

    • Neil Lore

      January 22nd, 2021

      The Alberta Liberals fundraised 100k???? How? Who would give them money? For what? At least when you donate to the Communists, you’re making a statement while you flush your cash. Let me state my objection in the form of a joke I made up years ago:

      What is the difference between a circle jerk and the Alberta Liberal Party?

      One of them produces something.

      Sorry if that’s too off-colour, I’ll understand if this post doesn’t make it.

  3. Anonymous

    January 22nd, 2021

    This should come as no surprise to anyone. The UCP are obviously in tatters. I pretty much know the UCP are done in 2023. The writing is on the wall, and from so many standpoints, it is very clear.

  4. Bob Raynard

    January 22nd, 2021

    Thanks for writing this, David. I think the issue of donations is an interesting metric, because it measures the enthusiasm party supporters feel. I may be disillusioned with the party I support, but I will still vote for them, and tell a pollster I will vote for them, but I won’t be making a donation.

    As I read your article, I found myself wondering, did the NDP support come up, or the UCP support come down? Thanks to your link, I was able to find the NDP & UCP totals for 2018 and 2019 as well.
    In millions of dollars:
    NDP (2018/2019/2020): 3.405/5.548/5.061
    UCP (2018/2019/2020): 5.331/6.379/5.046

    Twenty nineteen was a high water mark for both parties, which isn’t surprising since it was an election year. What I find most significant is how much the UCP support dropped in 2020, compared to the NDP.

    I don’t expect things to get much better for the UCP in 2021, with the travel scandal and Kenney’s KXL blunder further dampening supporters’ enthusiasm. The AFL organizing a boycott of businesses who donated to the UCP PACs will, I believe, stifle new donors to PACs as well. You may recall when we examined the list the AFL released last fall, many businesses were insulated from consumer boycotts because they sold their services to other businesses, rather than consumers directly. A retailer, on the other hand, would be nuts to risk a boycott by donating to a UCP PAC.

  5. Dave

    January 22nd, 2021

    The fundraising results are a definitely a confirmation of recent polling and other public sentiment. The NDP is doing well and the UCP starting to fall behind.

    Actually, it is probably even worse that it looks for the UCP, as they have three advantages in fundraising, but still did not come in first this year. One advantage is that governing parties tend to have an easier time raising money in general. Another is that Conservative parties generally have an advantage in fundraising over non conservative ones. The last one is inertia. People who donate money are the usually the more committed supporters, those who will stick with the party even if it is not doing well. Although they may reduce their contributions or give less often if they are not as enthusiastic. I suspect some of this is starting to happen with the UCP.

    The UCP had a very bumpy ride in late 2020 and for much of this January. It will be interesting to see how this affects fundraising for them in the upcoming quarters. I would not be surprised if there is even worse news for them to come.

  6. John Kolkman

    January 22nd, 2021

    For most of the time I was a party member before Rachel was elected leader, the party couldn’t raise $1 million per year, let alone over $5 million. For elections before 2015, the party had to secure a bank loan to even be able to mount a bare bones election campaign.

    Rachel has instilled discipline in party messaging and professionalism in fundraising. She has my full support to lead us in the next provincial election.

  7. Scotty on Denman

    January 22nd, 2021

    Arguably, the 2015 NDP win was by default as the hitherto well-nested political right swarmed into a number of separate angry hives. The person of leader Rachel Notley might have contributed to half the winning, but by how much is doubtlessly attributable to her alone, the pivotal moment televised when the diminutive female pretender deftly lanced a condescending quip by the ProgCon heir presumptuous, unhorsing him for good. The electoral upset mirrored the economic just as the province was entering the denial phase of grief when the market price for bitumen collapsed. Notley’s few Dippers simply rode up on the wave of right-wing factions as they calved, PLOP (Peter Loughheed’s Old Party) by PLOP, off the conservative glacier which hadn’t moved so quickly until in full retreat. A lucky break for the NDP, yes, but exploited by Notley’s superb skill at surfing between the bobbing bergs, big and small, of hapless libertarians, SoCons, and wild-rose popsicles. All she had to do then was be a good Premier of a good government, and most objective estimates would agree she did all that pretty well.

    Still, it was unlikely the NDP would govern for longer than their single term. It wasn’t so much the historical anomaly, nor all that partisan: the NDP’s energy policy wasn’t much different than what the new UCP challenger could have proposed itself: honest reassessment of bitumen export and sensible measures to deal with it. Notley secured federal purchase of the TMX pipeline on the province’s behalf, another of her deft moves that left Jason Kenney sputtering absurdly that Trudeau was out to kill Alberta’s “oil” industry. Yet nature dealt her the Fort Mac wildfire which only added to the unfortunate, pre-baked human bitumen pie with a humbly iced with creamy constitutional crisis, certainly no fault of her government’s which, in these straits, might have seemed one of the unluckiest of all. No, it was mostly due to the K-Boy’s ginning of some very fine people in the soldiery of washed-up Norse gods, and more ordinary Albertans who, by the end of Notley’s term, had reached the anger phase of grief as the reality of the tanking bitumen industry continued to sink in.

    Yet again Notley’s governing skill, despite considerable misfortunes, disasters and plain bad luck, was as recognized almost as much as Kenney’s skill in demagogic organization, True Believer momentum, and psephological cheating: the 2015, come-from-nowhere Dippers retained 24 seats in defeat in 2019 to form the first real parliamentary opposition in Alberta for generations. One could say the NDP’s growing popularity has been luckily defaulted to it by the UCP leader who stubbornly ignores a politically palatable policy for Alberta’s energy sector and instead wages an ultra partisan war that looks more ulteriorly motivated every day. The K-Boy’s implacable odium seems at least half to do with his rumoured aspiration to lead a federal Conservative Party government. After his ridiculous bravado yesterday—threatening a trade war being a federal slip Freud would disqualify for the job —Notley, again deftly, showing the lauded Napoleonic skill of not interrupting the opponent while he does himself in.

    I’m continually fascinated by parallels between tRump, the candidate who had no working political experience, and Kenney, the candidate with no other work experience but political. One of course is their refusal to concede anything, to continually attack and scapegoat, and to resort to perfidy without hesitation to gain advantage. But it’s a wonder to me how they both seem blind to policies which could have helped them, how they didn’t have to attack symbolic bogeymen to garner popularity. tRump, for example, might have won the recent US election had he adopted the no-brainer Covid response policy, proven effective everywhere, and then let medical experts manage the effort while keeping his own trap buttoned. But now he awaits his fate in courts of law.

    Had Kenney not aped tRump’s dismissal of Covid’s seriousness, and not gambled on a pipeline tRump’s rival Joe Biden vowed to scrap if he won, he might not be quite as unpopular as he is right now. Instead he awaits his fate in the court of voter opinion. They probably both think they have time yet to turn their misfortunes around—the difference being tRump has no choice but to start doing it sooner whereas Kenney does have a choice, whether he takes it or not.

    Meanwhile, Notley is still doing her best and, if K-Boy keeps being K-Boy like tRump keeps being tRump, stands a good chance of being rewarded. She can honestly blame bad luck and legitimately take credit for skill—a well rounded, balanced sort of politician, big enough not to hold grudges and steady enough not to change canoes midstream. Perhaps the final stage of Alberta’s grievance will be acceptance.

  8. jerrymacgp

    January 24th, 2021

    Before 2015, pundits, commenters & various other Alberta politics watchers were calling for the NDP to merge with Liberals and/or the Alberta Party, to “unite the left” or the “progressives”. That was thought then to be the only way to unseat the PCs.

    But now, it’s the Alberta Party & the Liberal Party are the ones who should consider a merger. Separately they are completely irrelevant in Alberta politics — together, perhaps, they might be able to begin to have some impact.


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