Poilievre clear choice for Tory leader among Manitoba donors Polarizing candidate collects more than four times the amount of closest rival, but some high-profile contributors in province backing others
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OTTAWA — Although Conservative Party of Canada leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre’s fundraising in Manitoba far exceeds his rivals, some local high-profile Tories are putting their cash and support elsewhere.
Shelly Glover, who campaigned against vaccination mandates in last fall’s provincial Progressive Conservative leadership race, has thrown her support behind Jean Charest in the current federal contest.
Elections Canada filings show Glover donated $360 to Charest’s campaign in May, weeks after he had decried protests affiliated with the so-called Freedom Convoy as “illegal blockades.”
And while Premier Heather Stefanson has opted against endorsing anyone in the federal Conservative race, her husband, the long-time Tory organizer Jason Stefanson, contributed $835 to the Poilievre campaign in April.
A Free Press analysis of the nearly 2,000 donations Manitobans have made to federal Conservative leadership candidates puts Poilievre squarely in the lead, with more than four times the amount of keystone province cash than social-conservative candidate Leslyn Lewis, who is in second place.
Charest, the former Quebec Liberal premier and federal Tory cabinet minister, is third in Manitoba fundraising during the period from the start of the race in February until the end of June.
The $281,122 in Manitoba donations is detailed in lists Elections Canada published this week showing who advanced funds to 11 prospective candidate, including before the party verified six candidates in May and disqualified Patrick Brown last month.
It provides the last snapshot of donations ahead of the Sept. 10 vote, as later contributions will be published well after the Tories elect their new leader.
As of June 30, Poilievre had collected $158,908.67 through 1,349 Manitoba donations.
“Clearly, he’s swamping everybody else,” said Christopher Adams, a University of Manitoba political scientist who is rector of St. Paul’s College.
Campaign officials for Poilievre, who stopped in Brandon Thursday, had touted record membership sales in Manitoba, but the Conservative party does not provide a breakdown of each candidate’s membership numbers.
However, the fundraising data provides an objective comparison of support for each campaign, since they are legally obligated to report donations. Each individual can contribute a total of only $1,675 to a party and its leadership candidates.
The cap provides a clear indication of popularity. In previous leadership contests, losing candidates backed by a handful of wealthy contributors, in some cases, raised more cash than the eventual winner.
The data shows Lewis collected $39,858 from 284 donors, including many from southern Manitoba regions with lower COVID-19 vaccination rates, such as the Rural Municipality of Stanley.
Charest received $36,472 from 107 donations, and had the largest average donation size ($341) among the five remaining candidates.
Adams said that echoes national donation trends, suggesting Charest is appealing to higher-income Conservative members who, generally, align with the former federal Progressive Conservative party before its merger with the Alliance (formerly Reform) wings in 2000 and 1987, respectively.
The latter were more popular in Manitoba ridings beyond the Perimeter Highway, so it’s little surprise to Adams that both Poilievre and Lewis earned 56 per cent of their cash in the province from donors living outside Winnipeg.
Adams said that few policies in the Conservative leadership race resonate to a higher degree in Manitoba as compared to other regions of Canada. Instead, the most consequential aspect here could be a boost to the Stefanson government, which is trailing in polls ahead of next year’s provincial vote.
“PC supporters provincially overwhelmingly support the (federal) Conservative party,” Adams noted, adding this federal-provincial link isn’t as strong for the Manitoba NDP or Liberals.
“If Poilievre is coming through the province and energizing the party federally, there might be some coat-tail effect for the PCs provincially,” he said.
Glover did not respond to a Free Press request for comment on her donation to Charest, but Adams said several factors could be behind her decision.
First, she sat in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet with Poilievre and might not think he’s the best choice for leader. Or she may have an affinity as a Franco-Manitoban for Charest as the former Quebec premier who fought against that province’s separation from Canada. It may also just be a matter of electability.
“We’ve seen polls over the past couple of weeks showing that, when we look at the general electorate and not just Conservatives, there’s more of a likelihood of swing voters going to Charest than for Poilievre,” Adams said.
As for the premier’s husband, Stefanson’s office said she is focused on more pressing issues, such as the economy.
“As such, and as previously stated, the premier is not getting involved in the federal leadership race,” wrote spokeswoman Olivia Billson.
In the 2017 Conservative leadership race, Jason Stefanson chaired candidate Kevin O’Leary’s campaign.
Adams cautioned against reading into whether the premier’s spouse’s view influences her own.
“We have to tread carefully here. If Heather Stefanson was a male premier and his partner donated to somebody’s campaign, would we be asking the same questions?”
Current, past MP donations
Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa MP Dan Mazier donated the maximum contribution of $1,675 to Pierre Poilievre’s campaign, which he is helping chair in Manitoba.
The area’s previous longtime MP, Robert Sopuck, contributed $200 to Jean Charest. Sopuck’s predecessor Inky Mark donated $550 to Poilievre.
Meanwhile, Provencher MP Ted Falk donated $1,200 to fellow social-conservative candidate Leslyn Lewis on March 25, four days before he told Steinbach-area weekly newspaper The Carillon that “I haven’t personally endorsed anybody at this point.”
That did not impress University of Manitoba political scientist Christopher Adams.
“When politicians are saying one thing and doing something else it’s disconcerting,” he said. Falk eventually endorsed Lewis in mid-May.
Lewis also received $100 from former Kildonan—St. Paul MP Joy Smith.
Adams noted that both Smith and Sopuck were MPs with Poilievre during Stephen Harper’s government, including during Poilievre’s term in cabinet, which could have influenced their decisions on whether to endorse him.
— Dylan Robertson