Why conservatives cannot turn their backs on their western base

Why conservatives cannot turn their backs on their western base

To win the next election, the Conservatives must leave their base in western Canada and win seats in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

The party is already winning in Alberta and Saskatchewan with gigantic margins. So it follows that sacrificing some of that surplus for the more decisive votes in central and eastern Canada would be good business.

But could the Conservatives afford such an exchange?

The issues that matter to western Canada are particularly important to the Conservatives. Since the start of the year, COVID-19 has been the one issue raised more often in the House of Commons by Erin O’Toole than pipelines. During the first question period of 2021, the Conservative leader prioritized a question about the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline over delays in vaccine delivery.

In a media interview last week, O’Toole was asked about an Alberta MP’s proposal to hold a referendum on the independence of Alberta and the role of the Conservative leader in the reduction of political alienation in Western Canada. Instead of directly addressing the issue of Alberta’s separation, O’Toole attributed the problem to a lack of confidence in the Trudeau government and said his party would propose a parliamentary committee on Canada-U.S. Relations.

Conservative MPs from Alberta and Saskatchewan make up almost two-fifths of the Conservative caucus, so it is only natural that the party represents these constituents and their concerns.

But that poses some problems for a party trying to expand its base in parts of the country where pipelines are not a major concern – or even something that a significant number of voters support.

A article written by Conservative strategist Anthony Koch for The Line newsletter set out the challenge for the party.

“A general consensus seems to have emerged around the idea,” Koch wrote, “that in recent years the Conservative Party has become increasingly hyper-focused on“ the grassroots ”to the detriment of its ability to do so. appealing to swing voters who decide the elections. in this country. “

The Conservative vote is not very effective. Despite winning the popular vote in the 2019 federal election, the Conservatives finished well behind the Liberals in seats. That’s because of their broad support in parts of Western Canada: the 34 ridings won by the biggest margins in the last election were all Conservative victories in Alberta, Saskatchewan, rural Manitoba and the interior of British Columbia.

But while these massive victories did not give the party additional seats, the Conservatives still have plenty of reason to satisfy these voters.

It is not possible to know where each donor lives; Elections Canada only publishes the names and addresses of contributors who donate at least $ 200. But these donations give us an indication of where the party money comes from. For the Conservatives, most of it comes from the west.

Disproportionately Conservative Fundraising in the West

In 2020, the Conservatives raised about $ 10.5 million from donors who gave at least $ 200 in a quarter, or 51% of all the money the party raised last year.

The breakdown of the source of the Conservatives’ donations by province shows that Ontario donors contributed the most – but at 39% of the total, this share is only slightly higher than the province’s share of the Canadian population and in the Conservative caucus.

Second on the list was Alberta, which provided 25%. 100% of all dollars given to the party by donors giving at least $ 200. This percentage is more than double the share of the Canadian population in the province, although it is roughly equal to the weight of Alberta in the Conservative caucus.

The other three western provinces followed Alberta in total donation amount, with British Columbia providing 19% of conservative fundraising and Saskatchewan and Manitoba combining 10.5%.

Alberta and Saskatchewan alone – where the Conservatives hold 47 of 48 seats – accounted for 31 percent of the Conservatives’ fundraising.

By comparison, Quebec and Atlantic Canada (where the Conservatives hold 14 of the 110 seats) were a small number. Only 3 p. 100 of the dollars collected by the Conservatives came from Quebec. Three percent came from Atlantic Canada.

The Conservatives actually raised over $ 200 and more in donations west of the Manitoba-Ontario border than east of it.

As their electoral fortunes are decided east of that border, the Conservatives – who spent $ 28.9 million in the 2019 election – need the money coming from the west of it. here to be competitive.

Fundraising for other parties is not so imbalanced

Although there are regional variations, the other parties do not share the Conservatives’ unbalanced funding profile.

The Liberals, who raised 63 percent of their donations from donors giving at least $ 200, received 56 percent of that money from donors in Ontario. This is more than the share of the population of the province. About half of the Liberal caucus is from Ontario.

In 2020, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau raised just over half the money they raised through contributions worth at least $ 200 from donors in Ontario. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

British Columbia was second at 13 percent, followed by Quebec with 9 percent and Alberta – where the Liberals do not have a seat – with 8 percent. In total, about 27.5% of Liberal fundraisers came from Western Canada, 72% from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. This roughly matches the representation of each region in the House of Commons.

The NDP won 43%. 100 of his money from donors who have given at least $ 200. The main NDP donor provinces were Ontario (45.5%) and British Columbia (26%), the two provinces that make up the bulk of the NDP caucus.

Compared to each province’s share of population, British Columbia was significantly over-represented among New Democrat donors, while Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island were under-represented. In total, 54 per cent of New Democrat donors who gave at least $ 200 lived in eastern Manitoba.

The Greens had the lowest percentage of funds raised from donors, giving at least 200-36%. Ontario and British Columbia are over-represented among green donors, while Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador are under-represented. In total, 62% of green donors were from central and eastern Canada.

Are the Conservatives looking in the rearview mirror?

It is clear that the Conservatives do not have much competition for funding in western Canada. They also don’t have a lot of competition for seats. Only two ridings in Alberta and Saskatchewan were cut by less than 10 percentage points in the 2019 federal election.

But a stronger political focus on the issues that matter to voters in the GTA and other key parts of the country could have a big impact on the support the Conservatives receive in their strongholds – both in terms of fundraising and voting.

The party does not face a serious threat to its right at the moment. But he faces a potential threat in the rise of parties motivated by Western alienation.

The Buffalo Party, which wants more autonomy for Saskatchewan and supports an independence referendum, garnered 2.6% of the vote in last year’s provincial election and 9% in ridings where it presented candidates .

In Alberta, a survey conducted by Mainstreet Research last month the separatist Wildrose Independence Party won 10% support. At the federal level, a survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute found about 9% of Albertans saying they would vote for Wexit Canada, now renamed the Maverick Party.

In 1988 Preston Manning’s Reform Party was small enough that the Progressive Conservatives ignored it. In 1993, the Reform Party replaced the PCs as the first choice of western Canadians. (Ron Poling / Canadian Press)

And of course, Maxime Bernier’s Popular Party is still active, even if it votes only around 2% nationally.

But there was once a fringe group called the Reform Party that also polled at about 2%. This was before it contributed to the implosion of the old Progressive Conservative Party – when the PCs were seen as no longer defending the West.

More than most, the Conservatives know what can happen when a party stops listening to its base.

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