OTTAWA - Quebec MP Maxime Bernier is far out in front of the other Conservative leadership candidates when it comes to raising money in Manitoba but you might be surprised by who is in second place.
Brad Trost, a 42-year-old Conservative MP from Saskatoon, raised nearly $40,000 in Manitoba in a little more than five weeks last fall. Trost joined the race September 30 but all of his donations in Manitoba were raised between November 23 and December 30. Ninety-eight per cent of it is from Manitoba's bible belt.
"It shouldn't be surprising that the half-Mennonite kid from Saskatchewan is doing well in Manitoba," Trost told the Free Press in a phone interview this week.
Elections Canada posts donations to the campaign publicly every quarter. All donations for the leadership contest are now known between April 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016. They just recently began posting the data so it is searchable by province, postal code or municipality. The next quarter, ending March 31, will be available sometime in April.
While fundraising is only part of the battle in a leadership race, people who give a significant sum of money to a candidate are far more likely to actually vote for that candidate so it can be a signal of the amount of support someone has.
It must be noted however the actual number of people who donate is pretty small. As of December 31 only 375 people had donated to any candidate, some of them to multiple people. There are 14 candidates in the race now, and two who dropped out last fall. Three people hadn't raised even a single cent in Manitoba by the end of 2016, former B.C. MP Andrew Saxton, Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai and B.C. businessman Rick Peterson.
Three have raised less than $1,000 in Manitoba: Ontario MPs Lisa Raitt and Pierre Lemieux and Quebec MP Steven Blaney. Another three -- Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer, Ontario MP Michael Chong and former Immigration Minister Chris Alexander -- are under $5,000. Scheer's total of $4,175 was slightly surprising given he has endorsements from MP Ted Falk and Senator Don Plett. Together they account for almost half his total in Manitoba. Another $2,175 came in from 17 people.
Bernier was winning the money game as of the end of December with $58,944 from 155 unique donors who gave an average donation of $380. Bernier's campaign team told the Free Press in January it had raised $75,000 in Manitoba as of the end of December. When asked about that figure when Elections Canada data showed a different total a spokesman said $75,000 is what Bernier's Manitoba team has raised but some of that money had come from outside the province.
Trost's $39,220 came from 35 people, 22 of whom gave the maximum $1,525. His average donation is more than $1,100. He has not received any endorsements in Manitoba or nationally.
Manitoba radiologist Dan Lindsay raised the third most, at $22,505 but he withdrew from the contest on December 30, and is now backing Ontario MP Erin O'Toole. O'Toole also has endorsements from three of Manitoba's five Conservative MPs, but his fundraising effort is lagging behind, leaving him in fifth place in the province.
Ontario MP Kellie Leitch is in fourth with $19,778 from 76 people.
In a statement to the Free Press Friday, O'Toole said he is happy with the fundraising so far, including since Christmas. It should be noted while O'Toole has raised less than one-third of what Trost has in Manitoba, he did it with almost the same number of donors - 35 for Trost versus 27 for O'Toole.
Trost sits seventh in the money game nationally. One-third of his donations have come from Manitoba so far, even more than his home province of Saskatchewan. He says he knows he isn't getting the attention of flashier candidates but that's not the game he is playing.
His theory is to play the numbers game, particularly in ridings where the Conservatives don't have a huge base of people. If he can bring on a number of social conservatives in Winnipeg North he can earn a large share of the points allocated to that riding, even if Winnipeg North overall has a mere fraction of the total number of voters in ridings with more Conservative members.
He says in Manitoba, his combination of fiscal, social and cultural conservatism sells very well.
"Red Tories are not hugely numerous on the prairies," he said.
High-profile candidate Kevin O'Leary isn't representied in the data because he didn't join the race until January.
The Conservative leadership convention will take place in Toronto at the end of May.