While 2020 was a bad year for many Manitobans, it was good for the provincial NDP's political and financial fortunes.
The party received more contributions in 2020 than it took in during 2019, and nearly double what it raised in 2018.
The NDP raked in $808,203 in contributions in 2020 — even more than it received during the 2019 election year ($802,520) and nearly double what it collected from donors in 2018 ($457,064), financial statements reported to Elections Manitoba show.
"The party is in a strong recovery mode after two consecutive defeats," said Paul Thomas, political studies professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba.
"It is unified after a period of infighting," Thomas said Monday. After winning a bitter leadership battle, premier Greg Selinger led his party to a brutal defeat in 2016. Five years later, the NDP led by Wab Kinew is "highly motivated" to defeat Premier Brian Pallister and his Progressive Conservative government on ideological, policy and personality grounds, Thomas said.
"Kinew is looking more like a winner compared to Pallister whose popularity is declining, even among PC supporters," said the veteran political observer. Polls have the NDP ahead of the PCs for the second consecutive quarter, with Pallister's approval rating continuing to fall.
"The failures around the second wave of the pandemic and the sweeping, contentious changes to health, education, Hydro, missing bills, et cetera, provide fuel to drive fundraising efforts," Thomas said.
Registered parties and constituency associations must file annual financial statements with Elections Manitoba by March 31. Details must be provided for all contributions received during the year, along with a separate statement listing those whose annual contribution totalled $250 or more.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and the Manitoba Liberals have requested a one-month extension for reporting their 2020 finances.
Most of those who contributed to the NDP last year gave $250 or more, adding up to $607,551.
Five donors gave the maximum $5,000 contribution, including NDP leader Wab Kinew, Notre Dame MLA Malaya Marcelino, NDP organizer Geof Langen, Jac-lynn Wasyliw (partner of Fort Garry MLA Mark Wasyliw) and former provincial party president David Woodbury.
In 2016, Premier Brian Pallister announced his government would raise donation levels to $5,000 from $3,000 after eliminating the per-vote annual subsidies to parties, said Thomas.
"The NDP accepted there was no going back to direct subsidies to the public purse so it developed a strong fundraising capacity," Thomas said. Looking at the list of donors and size of the donations in the NDP's 2020 financial statement, there are a small number who contributed the allowable maximum — including elected and party officials, he said.
At the party's annual meeting in January, Kinew told the NDP faithful that they've been building momentum since the 2019 election. The NDP improved its seat count to 18 from only 12 in 2016, and saw 11 rookies elected. (In 2019, it lost two of the seats it had gained.)
And, in December, for the first time since the 2016 election, they pulled ahead of the PCs in the polls. The NDP were up by five points provincewide and 16 percentage points in Winnipeg.
In March, the NDP lead grew to six points provincially and 22 points in vote-rich Winnipeg.
The NDP paid off its 2019 election campaign debts and by late January had socked away $250,000 for the next election, set for 2023, with another $100,000 set aside to contest any byelections that arise in the meantime.
"The NDP ran a frugal campaign in the early 2019 election, targeting its spending where it would potentially deliver the best results," Thomas said. "It meant there was not a huge bank loan to pay off." And the party gained six seats which Kinew hailed as the first step towards a comeback, he said. Manitoba New Democrats may have benefited from party members trying to strategically target their contributions.
"Maybe the fact that the national party is making no headway meant members decided not to divide their annual contribution between the two wings of the party," Thomas said.
"Maybe some provincial Liberals are so determined to defeat Pallister they gave to the NDP."
The PCs received nearly $1.5 million in contributions during 2019, the party's most recent financial statement shows. That's down from 2018, when the Tories raised $1.7 million in contributions.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.