The Alberta NDP has out-funded the United Conservative Party for the first year on record.
The province’s Opposition party drew in nearly $6.2 million in 2021, according to data posted by Elections Alberta on Tuesday. It is the party’s largest-ever donation haul.
“Folks are frustrated, they are worried,” NDP leader Rachel Notley said in an interview. “They don’t feel heard by this government. They don’t trust the leadership of the UCP, and the direction they’re taking the province in.”
In 2020, the parties were neck-and-neck, each raising about $5 million from Albertans.
But in 2021, as the governing UCP faced a barrage of criticism from many sides about how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic, party donations dipped to $3.8 million.
It was the UCP’s least lucrative full fundraising year since the party formed from a marriage of the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose in 2017.
In response to questions, UCP spokesperson Dave Prisco sent a one-line email:
“We’re really happy to see a surge in online donations but like everyone else, we miss the days when we could hold in-person events and can’t wait to get back to it.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt says the growing gap in fundraising between the parties “tells you how much trouble the UCP is in.”
The governing party has lagged for months in public opinion polls. Although some polls found a saying they’d support the Alberta Independence Party of Albert in the next election, that sentiment’s donations, with that party garnering around $184,000 in 2021.
The Pro-Life Alberta Political Association and Alberta Party both gathered more donations than the separatist Wildrose Independence, but collected a fraction of the money raked in by the province’s two most powerful parties.
Bratt says with Premier Jason Kenney lagging in the polls, and donors sitting on their wallets, it would take a miraculous comeback for them to hold on to office in the 2023 provincial election.
And there are more hurdles coming, says Bratt. Kenny is set to face a review of his party leadership in April. And the UCP nominee for an upcoming by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, Brian Jean, is unabashedly gunning to replace Kenney as leader.
“He’s facing internal problems within his party,” Bratt said. “He has low public approval amongst the wider public. And they can’t raise money. That’s a lot of problems.”
Notley said she was pleased to see the NDP attract more than 1,400 new donors in 2021.
Although she didn’t give specifics, she said the party will use donations to try and communicate the NDP’s platform and messages to more Albertans.
“I hope that those voters … who are very frustrated and who are reconsidering the choice they made in 2019 [see] that we are a very practical vehicle that can be used to help change the direction of this province,” she said.