How the Conservatives’ leadership rules could limit the field this time

by Éric Grenier · CBC News

Raising $300,000 in 10 weeks is no small feat — few candidates managed it in 2017

After listing 14 names on the ballot during its last leadership race, the Conservative Party seems to be on track for a more intimate affair this time around.

The party has set the bar quite high for prospective candidates — so high that nearly all of 2017’s contestants would have failed to qualify for the current race.

The leadership contest that chose Andrew Scheer in May 2017 was an unwieldy beast. Seventeen candidates put their names forward and 15 made it far enough to participate in at least one debate.

But that long list of contenders didn’t mean members had a wealth of popular choices. Half of the 14 people on the ballot failed to secure even four per cent of the vote before they were eliminated. Three of them finished with less than one per cent.

The rules for entry in 2017 weren’t particularly demanding. They required candidates to drum up $100,000 and 300 signatures from members in good standing — and gave them nearly a year to do it.

Not this time.

To be considered “verified candidates” in 2020, contestants will need to submit $300,000 to the party, including a $100,000 refundable compliance deposit. Candidates also will need to find 3,000 signatures from members living across the country. And they need to do it all by March 25 in order to get on the ballot for the June 27 vote.

That’s a tight deadline — so tight that most of 2017’s candidates wouldn’t have made the cut.

The $300,000 question

Lots of money was raised during the last leadership race. Together, the contestants brought in over $10 million, with the Conservative Party’s own coffers receiving 10 per cent of that total.

Nine contestants raised at least $300,000 each: Scheer, Maxime Bernier, Michael Chong, Kellie Leitch, Pierre Lemieux, Kevin O’Leary, Erin O’Toole, Lisa Raitt and Brad Trost.

But it took them a long time to do it. This year’s Conservative race officially started on Monday, giving prospective candidates just 72 days to raise enough money and find enough signatures to meet the party’s qualifications.

That’s not a lot of time. Starting from the date he accepted his first donation, O’Leary managed to raise $300,000 within 12 days. No other candidate raised that much money in their first 72 days.

The initial $25,000 is relatively easy — Elections Canada allows candidates to donate that much of their own money to their leadership campaign. But the rest has to be raised from individual donors giving no more than $1,625 apiece.

Putting the money together that way can take some time. Based on his performance in 2017, and taking into account the Conservative Party’s tithe, it would have taken Scheer 120 days to hit the $300,000 threshold.

On average, it took contestants 143 days to raise their first $300,000 in the 2017 race — nearly twice as long as candidates will have in 2020.

There might have been less urgency in 2017 due to the length of the race — but even accounting for that, few candidates were able to raise so much money in so short a period of time. Only the top-three finishers — Scheer, Bernier and O’Toole — raised at least $300,000 in the last 72 days of the 2017 contest.

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