LONDON, Ontario — Federal Liberals posted their best fundraising haul in a decade last year, filling their party’s war chest just in time for this year’s election.
The final numbers for the fourth quarter of 2014 are to be filed with Elections Canada by the end of the month.
But party insiders say the Liberal take for the last three months of the year topped $5.6 million, bringing the total for the year close to $16 million.
That’s likely not enough to beat the Conservatives, who are on track to exceed their 2013 fundraising haul of $18.1 million.
But it will take a big bite out of the Tories’ fundraising advantage, which the ruling party has enjoyed since 2006, when corporate and union donations were prohibited and severe restrictions on individual donations were imposed.
The Liberals, who had been heavily reliant on donations from corporations and wealthy individuals, struggled for years to raise money under the new regime. But they have been steadily closing the fundraising gap since Justin Trudeau took the party’s helm 21 months ago.
Trudeau and his 34 MPs are to get an update on the party’s fundraising efforts today during the first of a two-day caucus retreat to plot strategy for next week’s resumption of Parliament and for the election, scheduled for October.
For the first time in years, the winter retreat is being held outside of Ottawa — another sign that the party is flush with cash, for a change. The Liberals have chosen the location — in the midst of Ontario’s battered manufacturing heartland — deliberately.
Liberals were shut out of southwestern Ontario entirely in 2011, when they were reduced to a third-party rump. But strategists believe the area is now a fertile staging ground for a national comeback.
In a speech to party faithful tonight, Trudeau is expected to launch a critique of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic policies, a message Liberals believe will resonate in an area that has been hard hit by factory closures, most recently the historic Kellogg’s plant.
Trudeau will not, however, unveil any detailed economic policy proposals of his own, continuing to wait until closer to the election to release the party’s platform.
He’s been heavily criticized for being light on policy, particularly since last fall when NDP Leader Tom Mulcair began unveiling major planks of his party’s platform.
But Trudeau’s refusal to commit himself months before the election is beginning to look prudent as plunging oil prices suck billions from federal coffers. That’s prompted the government to delay its budget until at least April and raised doubts about its ability to balance the budget in the coming fiscal year.
It’s also prompted questions about how Mulcair intends to pay for the NDP’s big ticket promises, including a $5-billion per year day care plan and a vow to restore a six per cent increase in annual health care transfer payments to the provinces.
While no planks will be unveiled, Liberal MPs will spend some time discussing some of their own suggestions for the party’s eventual platform.
Following the caucus retreat, Trudeau and his MP plan to fan out across southwestern Ontario.