VANCOUVER – The Conservative party spent $42 million during last year’s election campaign that saw it reduced to Opposition status in the House of Commons.
That’s $12 million less than the $54 million cap allowed by Elections Canada.
“I have heard no one suggest that we lost the election because we did not spend enough money,” Conservative Fund chairman Irving Gerstein told delegates to the party’s convention on Friday.
The party went into the campaign with $15 million in the bank, the result of saving three years of the per-vote subsidies that the Tories eliminated while in power.
They topped that up with a $28 million loan to finance the historic 11-week campaign but that debt has now been paid off using a combination of tax and Elections Canada rebates and party fundraising, Gerstein said.
So far in 2016, the party has raised $5.7 million – a record first quarter amount for the Conservatives in a non-election year, he said.
Gerstein said the party aims to go into the 2019 campaign with at least $10 million in the bank, as the election period is expected to be far shorter than last year’s.
To build that war chest, the party will need to cut its expenses, he said.
Gerstein has been involved in political fundraising for decades and was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2009.
He noted that appointment was not without controversy, with many referring to him as a party bagman.
That’s not a slur, he said.
“The job of raising funds for the Conservative party or for that matter any party is both necessary and honourable,” he said.
Gerstein announced that Harper will be appointed to the board of the Conservative Fund at its next meeting in June.
The transparency of party finances is a sore spot with some members of the party and Gerstein was heckled during his remarks by someone who demanded to see the actual paperwork to back up his claims.
There are several resolutions potentially up for debate at the convention that would change the way the fund is managed.