Conservatives Crush Trudeau at Fundraising, With Backing From Business Leaders

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

(Bloomberg) -- Canada’s corporate titans are helping the country’s Conservative Party build a financial war chest to oust Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as frustration grows among business leaders about the country’s economic performance.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The Conservatives have raised C$2.45 in donations for every C$1 Trudeau’s Liberal Party has pulled in since the start of last year. Their support base is broad, but the donor lists include a roll call of executives from the upper echelons of Canadian finance and business — including telecommunications billionaire Edward Rogers, private equity executive Paul Desmarais III and Dan Daviau, head of brokerage firm Canaccord Genuity Group Inc.

Political-party filings underscore how Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has cemented a huge financial advantage ahead of an election that’s due in 2025. Polls suggest he’s the favorite to win.

A cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper who’s spent most of his adult life in politics, Poilievre, 44, became leader of the Conservatives in September 2022. Since then, he has relentlessly attacked Trudeau over taxes, budget deficits and the cost of housing, tapping into voters’ fatigue with the prime minister after more than eight years in power.

That’s helped build a double-digit lead for the Conservatives in national polls, which they’re converting into a commanding edge in donations. The party raised C$46 million ($33.7 million) in the 15-month period ended March 31, compared with less than C$19 million for the Liberals.

The influence of wealthy donors in Canadian politics is restricted by tight financing rules. Companies and unions are banned from giving to political parties; only individual donations are allowed under a strict limit — it’s C$1,725 per person this year.

Adam Breslin, a partner at Toronto-based private lender Penfund Management Ltd., said he believes Trudeau’s policies “have really been spectacular disasters across the board.”

Breslin is critical of what he sees as too much government spending, a focus on wealth redistribution rather than growth, and a “reckless” approach to immigration. He said he was deeply offended by Trudeau’s “vague” response to the Israel-Gaza war and related protests in Canada, some of which have sparked safety fears among Jewish groups.

Breslin said he’s a longtime conservative who has been getting more active in backing the party: he attended a Conservative event in Toronto recently, and he and his wife are now running fundraisers, too.

Canaccord’s Daviau, who gave the maximum amount to the party in February, according to party records, said he believes Canada needs “more accommodative policies that help make Canada a world-class destination for growing businesses.”

Trudeau’s government has the most seats in Canada’s House of Commons but lacks a majority, so it relies on an alliance with the left-leaning New Democratic Party to pass budgets and legislation. The government has announced sweeping measures in recent months to boost housing supply, help renters and create a new program that covers the cost of insulin and contraceptives.

To help pay for it, the government is raising the effective tax rate on capital gains, a measure it expects to raise almost C$20 billion in tax revenue over five years.

Read More: Canada Hikes Capital Gains Tax to Raise Billions for Housing

The prime minister has pitched the tax move as a matter of fairness, and one that will only hit the wealthiest. In a video posted Monday to the social media site X, Trudeau gives a hypothetical example of an investment banker who’s making C$800,000 a year and who has assets he sells for a large gain. The current tax rates on those profits are too low compared with taxes applied to wages, he says, “and it’s not really fair.”

Mary Throop, founder of Summerhill Capital Management and a former managing director at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said she’s supporting the Conservatives “because for all Canadians to prosper, we desperately need dramatic change.”

The government’s policies are stifling innovation, discouraging investment and “leaving future generations with an enormous unproductive government debt burden to pay for,” she said. Throop contributed close to the maximum amount in the first quarter, as did Rogers Communications Inc. CEO Tony Staffieri.

Election Spending

Somewhat unusually for a Canadian politician, Poilievre’s combative communications style and slick online videos have gone viral, and he recently won praise from Joe Rogan, Spotify’s most listened-to podcaster. Reaping extra donations — helped by sales of merchandise emblazoned with his slogans — allows him to further dominate the advertising war.

Although the amounts are minuscule compared with what’s raised and spent in US political contests, the gulf in fundraising will allow the Conservatives to build a bigger campaign machine and mold Poilievre’s image through advertising ahead of the election.

Canada imposes spending limits on parties during its relatively short election period. For the 2021 vote — the third straight win for Trudeau’s Liberals — the limit was about C$30 million per party.

But this far out from an official campaign, the Tories will enjoy a spending advantage, said Yaroslav Baran, a former communications strategist for Harper’s government who now works at consulting firm Pendulum Group.

“Right now, we are a year and a half before the election — you can run all the ads you want,” he said. That situation is already playing out, with the Conservatives running TV campaigns featuring Poilievre and his young family in an effort to soften his attack-dog image.

A party with full coffers can pay for higher-quality public opinion research, including polling that helps parties understand key electoral districts and focus campaigning. And the extra cash can also pay for cross-country tours featuring not only the leader, but other high-profile members. “You tend to see things like this during the summer when Parliament isn’t sitting,” Baran said.

Liberal Party spokesperson Parker Lund said the party holds fundraisers in publicly available spaces and is more transparent about who attends, while Poilievre holds “closed-door fundraisers in private homes that bar media access.”

“The Liberal Party’s strong grassroots fundraising has propelled us to three straight election wins — and we will once again be ready to fight the next election, whenever it may arise,” Lund said in an email.

Sarah Fischer, a spokesperson for the Conservatives, said the fundraising gap shows Canadians are frustrated with Trudeau’s economic management. “Canadians across the country, and from all walks of life, are putting their support behind Pierre Poilievre and his plan to axe the tax, build the homes, fix the budget and stop the crime,” she said by email.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.