Other Alberta parties trail Tories in size of election war chests

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“Jim Prentice is a fundraising machine,” political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said. “His tentacles are all over, in terms of his deep connections to the corporate sector.”
Photograph by: Jason Franson , The Canadian Press, file
EDMONTON – Albertans are bracing for the onslaught of political advertising that comes with an election campaign, but party financial records show only the Progressive Conservatives have enough money in their war chest to dominate the airwaves.

In a shift from the record-breaking 2012 advertising arms race, opposition parties — including the once-flush Wildrose — have small campaign war chests compared to the big money in Conservative coffers.

The result, observers say, is that the Tories will blanket the province with agenda-setting advertising while opposition parties focus on key ridings and make heavy use of social and mainstream media.

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Alberta Election spending 2015.


“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said. “It enables parties to define themselves, purchase media spots, respond to negative attacks and convey the party’s platform to the public.

“Parties that are unable to do so are simply not capable of mounting a serious contest in this kind of an election campaign.”

Alberta is one of just two Canadian jurisdictions that have no limits on election spending. Campaign expenditures have skyrocketed in recent years.

In 1979, parties spent $1.3 million to woo voters. They crossed the $2-million threshold in 1982 and hit the $3-million mark in 1989. It took nearly two decades to surpass $4 million.

In the 2012 election, Alberta parties spent $8.6 million, up from $4.9 million in 2008.

The Tory party has $945,000 in net assets at the start of the current campaign, plus roughly $3 million in constituency accounts, a Journal analysis of Elections Alberta records shows.

Those figures don’t include the $600,000 line of credit secured by the money that remains from the party’s controversial TAPCAL trust, which was dissolved in 2014. It was a previously secret $1.6 million savings account from the Lougheed era.

PC party executive director Kelley Charlebois did not respond to interview requests.

“Jim Prentice is a fundraising machine,” Mensah said. “His tentacles are all over, in terms of his deep connections to the corporate sector.”

The Tories are strongest in northern rural ridings, which hold $1.2 million in their collective savings accounts, and in Calgary, where they hold just over $1 million. There is less money in Edmonton ($474,000) and even less in southern rural ridings ($346,000).

The Wildrose has net assets of $123,000 and just over $1 million in constituency accounts.

“We will be nimbler, just-in-time, we’ll be frugal and economical — we have to find ways to do more with less,” Wildrose strategist Vitor Marciano said.

“What we lack for financial resources we’re going to make up for with good ideas.”

The Wildrose is strongest in the rural south, with $349,000 in constituency accounts, and in Calgary, with $297,000 raised in city ridings. In Edmonton, Wildrose constituencies have a combined $64,000 in savings.

Rachel Notley’s New Democrats raised a record $1 million in 2014, but posted a $125,000 deficit at the provincial level. Constituencies are healthier, with $259,000 available.

The bulk of that money — $190,000 — is held in Edmonton ridings, with an additional $22,000 in northern rural ridings. Just $13,000 is held in Calgary constituencies, and $34,000 in southern rural ridings.

“There’s no question that there’s a problem in this province with unfettered corporate donations,” Notley said, referring to the Tories’ heavy reliance on business donors. “Our position has always been that we should ban both union and corporate donations and make a fairer system.”

Her party has focused its financial resources in just a few ridings. Combined, two ridings in Lethbridge have $32,000 in the bank; in Calgary, the party has $9,000 to spend on Calgary-Mountain View. They are seats the NDP expects to win.

“The New Democrats have a serious ground game,” Mount Royal University political scientist David Taras said. “How that stretches beyond those areas of Edmonton that are politically comfortable for them remains to be seen, but they’ve identified ridings, and they’ve put their money there.”

Taras said only big money can win the war on the airwaves, but campaigns do matter.

“Looking people in the eye, being visible in the riding — that counts,” he said.

He pointed to NDP candidate Joe Ceci, likely to win in Calgary-Fort by virtue of his 15 years as an alderman, not money.

The Alberta Liberals have $118,000 in net assets at the provincial level and another $177,000 in the constituencies.

Eighty per cent of that $177,000 is socked away in ridings currently held by the party (Edmonton-Centre, Calgary-Mountain View) or recently held by the party (Edmonton-Gold Bar, Calgary-Varsity).

“We’ll run a lean campaign, we won’t go into debt, and we’ll use all our tools — the work is really on the doors,” interim Liberal leader David Swann said. “We don’t expect to have the money to compete with the Tories on the airwaves, but we’ll beat them on the doors.”