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Liberals sound alarm on widening fundraising gap with Tories

Alfred Apps, outgoing President of the federal Liberal Party, gives a report on the financial status of the party and the process of the election at the Liberal convention in Ottawa on Jan. 13, 2012.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

A senior Liberal official warns the party is being dramatically outstripped on the fundraising front by Stephen Harper's Tories, who are on track to add $24-million to their war chest in 2012.

This is in addition to $80-million the Conservatives have raised since 2008, which is far more than the $32-million the Grits have been able to attract.

And the Liberal Party is "still a long way from achieving the kind of structure where membership translates into donorship," outgoing president Alfred Apps writes in his report to the party membership. He released the figures Friday on the first full day of the party's biennial policy convention.

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Mr. Apps's assessment of his presidency, which began in May 2009 at the convention where Michael Ignatieff was confirmed leader, is stark. He said his tenure "presented many frustrations and disappointments."

In addition to the fundraising woes, Mr. Apps discusses at length the process in which Bob Rae was chosen as Interim Leader, recommending that he must resign his post if he chooses to run next year for the permanent job .

Although there is no formal leadership race at this convention, much of the whispers and speculation in the corridors are that Mr. Rae is hugely interested in remaining in the top job for good.

Mr. Rae made public and "solemn commitments" that he would not seek the permanent leadership when he took the post just after Mr. Ignatieff's crushing defeat last May, Mr. Apps noted.

The view of the national board is that the interim leadership position gives Mr. Rae certain advantages over other potential candidates, including the fact he decides on caucus appointments, has an enhanced budget and has access to membership and donor lists. This is why the board demanded the Interim Leader not be a candidate for the permanent job.

But if this changes, as it could under a new president elected Sunday, Mr. Apps has a few suggestions.

"The next board, if requested by the interim leader to be released of his obligations, should only do so under clear conditions that he will voluntarily resign as interim leader sufficiently well in advance of the formal commencement of any permanent leadership race to neutralize any perceived advantage," Mr. Apps writes. "If the issue arises, the next board has all the competence and authority to determine how much lead-time should be required for a decision."

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The outgoing president has said Mr. Rae would have to step aside five months before the leadership vote in order to run for the permanent job.

Although he devotes several pages of his report to the interim leadership issue, he is also concerned with the party's finances.

So far behind are Liberals from the Conservatives in raising funds that Mr. Apps notes the party has about 40,000 donors, which is "estimated" to be about one-third of the donors contributing to Tory coffers.

"More troubling, the gap is continuing to widen," he writes. "Perhaps most troubling, fewer than 30 per cent of party members today are also party donors."

This meant the Liberals were unable to raise enough funds to "counteract" Tory ads attacking Mr. Ignatieff. The ads, portraying the former leader as a power-hungry outsider, were broadcast over and over again during the pre-writ period. They helped to define his leadership in the minds of many voters, who soundly rejected him.

And so the party's goal now, Mr. Apps says, is to "replace the few hundred and corporate and wealthy individual donors who formerly financed the Party with hundreds of thousands of small donations from individual supporters."

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To achieve this, he said there has to be a professional "technologically-driven fundraising operation at the national level." So, at this convention, he and his executive team are pushing for changes to fundraising, including the creation of a $2.5-million call centre.

That facility would also help gather information about individuals, including what issues concern them. The Tories are also way ahead of the Liberals at indentifying their voters and keeping them engaged.

Mr. Apps says in his report that when he took over in May 2009, the party had a campaign debt from the 2008 election and a total debt of $10.7-million. It was repaid – despite the challenge of a lower public subsidy because fewer Canadians voted for the Liberals – by October 2010.

In last year's election, the Liberals spent $19.5-million, which was 93 per cent of the permitted limit, he said. The party's debt of $3.8-million will be paid by May 2012.

Mr. Apps's successor is to be elected Sunday. It is a tight race between Sheila Copps, the former deputy prime minister, and Michael Crawley, the former Ontario party president.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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