By Kayla Zhu and Michael Wong
Local News Data Hub and Investigative Journalism Foundation
Jan. 18, 2023

Edmonton provided lucrative territory for federal political party fundraisers during the five years after the 2015 election, suggests a new analysis of Elections Canada political donations data.

Donors in the riding of Edmonton Centre contributed $2.1 million to federal political parties in the years following the Liberals’ sweeping 2015 election victory through the end of 2020. This was substantially more than the national average of about $853,000, according to an analysis by the Local News Data Hub at Toronto Metropolitan University and the Investigative Journalism Foundation, a non-profit journalism startup tracking political donations and lobbyist activity in partnership with scholars from Canadian universities.

Edmonton Centre ranked 17th out of 338 ridings nationwide in terms of total donations greater than $200 to federal political parties, electoral district associations and 2019 election candidates. Affluent ridings in major cities, especially those represented by higher-profile politicians, dominated the top of the list.

Among the reasons for Edmonton Centre’s high ranking:

  • Donors dug deep: The average donation in the riding was $1,089, compared with the national average of $831.
  • More people donated: 1,970 residents in the riding, or 237 out of every 10,000 registered voters, reached into their pockets to support political parties. By comparison, the national average was 971 donors per riding, or about 119 per 10,000 registered voters.

The Conservative Party was the main beneficiary of donor largesse in Edmonton Centre, drawing $955,712, or 45 per cent of total donations.

Nationally, Ottawa Centre led the country in political contributions. The riding, which includes Parliament Hill and is home to many public servants, lobbyists and others with a stake in public policy, generated $5.9 million in donations.

Geoff Turner, chair of the Ottawa Centre Federal Liberal Association, said residents in the riding tend to work and volunteer in the public sphere.

“There’s just a higher level of [political] activity,” he said. “There’s a higher proportion of people who spend their professional and personal lives focused on public policy.”

Ranking second and third for total donations were Toronto’s University–Rosedale riding, which encompasses the wealthy enclave of Rosedale-Moore Park, and the riding of Toronto–St. Paul’s, home to part of the tony Forest Hill neighbourhood. Together they contributed nearly $9.5 million to federal parties over the five-year period.

The analysis, which mostly focused on the 17 ridings in the 95th percentile, meaning that total donations were greater than in 95 per cent of all ridings, found a clear relationship between median income and total donations.

People who are well-off are also more likely to vote, said Erin Crandall, an associate professor of politics at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, noting that research has consistently linked voter turnout with affluence. “They feel like they’re a part of the democratic system and party system,” she said.

In Edmonton Centre, median income was higher than national levels. The median income in the riding is $40,633, as compared with the national median of $34,204.

In the 2019 election, however, 64 per cent of registered electors in Edmonton Centre voted, while the national turnout was 67 per cent.

Erin Tolley, an associate professor of political science at Carleton University, said that compared with the United States, where “wealthy donors can really have considerable influence over political direction,” Canada’s political fundraising landscape is more focused on frequent, small donations.

Political financing experts and experienced fundraisers said federal laws limit donors’ influence on elected officials, with Elections Canada auditing party fundraising records and requiring parties to publish donor information for contributions greater than $200. Donations are currently limited to a maximum of $1,675 to each registered political party per year, an additional $1,675 spread among contestants in a party leadership race, and another $1,675 per party spread among local electoral district associations, candidates running for office and nomination contestants in a riding.

What political donations can buy donors is access.

“You might get a phone call returned faster. You might get invited to the exclusive little meet and greet … at some large donor’s house [or a] backyard barbecue,” said former Ontario finance minister Janet Ecker, who fundraised in her suburban riding just east of Toronto and has helped other Conservative candidates raise money. “But just because somebody’s got the ability to meet with you, or talk to you, doesn’t mean you're doing what they want you to do.

“[A donation] might get you in the door, but it won’t guarantee you an outcome,” Ecker said, adding that as a legislator, she met with many people who never donated to her campaign or her party.

The involvement of well-known politicians also drives donations, Ecker said. Seven of the MPs elected in the 17 top ridings entered the 2019 election as cabinet ministers, including Ottawa Centre’s Catherine McKenna, who was environment minister; Jim Carr from Winnipeg South Centre, the then-minister of international trade diversification; and former transport minister Marc Garneau, from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount in Montreal.

People donate because their values align with those of a party, said Michael Roy, a former national digital director for the NDP’s 2015 campaign. They believe their money will “help move those values forward,” he said.

Nationwide, counting donations of all amounts, the Conservative Party of Canada raised the most money over the five years. The federal party, Tory candidates and riding associations pulled in nearly $179 million, while the Liberals amassed $142 million. The NDP raised $52 million, the Green Party raised $24 million and the Bloc Québécois collected $7 million.

Top ridings for federal party fundraising (Oct. 20, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2020)

  1. Ottawa Centre: $5.9 million
  2. University–Rosedale: $5.4 million
  3. Toronto–St. Paul’s: $4.1 million
  4. Calgary Centre: $4 million
  5. Don Valley West: $3.4 million
  6. Vancouver Quadra: $3.3 million
  7. Ottawa–Vanier: $3.1 million
  8. Vancouver Centre: $2.7 million
  9. West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country: $2.6 million
  10. Victoria: $2.6 million
  11. Saanich–Gulf Islands: $2.5 million
  12. Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount: $2.3 million
  13. Winnipeg South Centre: $2.3 million
  14. Vancouver Granville: $2.3 million
  15. Eglinton–Lawrence: $2.3 million
  16. Oakville: $2.2 million
  17. Edmonton Centre: $2.1 million

This story was produced by the Local News Data Hub, a project of the Local News Research Project at Toronto Metropolitan (formerly Ryerson) University’s School of Journalism, and the Investigative Journalism Foundation, a non-profit journalism startup tracking political donations and lobbyist activity in partnership with university researchers. The Canadian Press is the Data Hub’s operational partner. Detailed information on the data and methodology can be found here