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Danielle Smith takes UCP fundraising to new heights, while Alberta NDP strikes red ink

For a lengthy stretch before the last Alberta election, Rachel Notley’s NDP bested the United Conservative Party in political fundraising — a dramatic reversal of assumptions about which party was the big-money powerhouse.

That stretch appears to be over, in the Danielle Smith era.

The UCP has been the better money-makers two years in a row, and emerged from last year with $1 million in the bank. The NDP, meanwhile, entered 2024 having erased their considerable pre-campaign war chest and sitting with $624,000 of debt, according to recently released disclosures to Elections Alberta.

It’s a reversal of fortunes from 2019, when UCP’s then-leader Jason Kenney won the election but started the march to the next election well behind the NDP in the cash race.

Now, looking toward 2027, the New Democrats’ situation could get worse before it can get any better in the post-Notley era.

The reasons for that are twofold. First, candidates in the NDP leadership race will likely hoover up much of the progressive donor dollars on offer in Alberta. The $5,000 donation limit this year means that if someone gives the max to, say, Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, they cannot give a cent to the party as well.

Then there’s Smith herself, who’s proving a superior fundraising leader than Notley or Kenney, her UCP predecessor. In the 2022 leadership race, Smith outgunned the pack, including former finance minister Travis Toews.

Kenney’s weaker fundraising years during the COVID pandemic seem to be a sign of disillusionment in the UCP grassroots, as his party’s contributions sagged and NDP hauls were superior.

But now, Smith has brought home disaffected conservatives — based on the party’s rebound in the polls and its election results — and reversed the party’s financial fortunes.

Last year, her party broke provincial records by pulling in $10.4 million. (The NDP, however, beat Kenney’s best UCP years too, surpassing $9 million between the election period and the rest of 2023.)

The total United Conservative haul last year will be bigger still, as Elections Alberta has not yet published financial returns from UCP riding associations. The New Democrats, meanwhile, only raise money at the central party level.

A woman waves over her head. She's standing in front of a giant Alberta flag.
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley waves during her campaign concession speech last May. While candidates vie to replace her as leader, many NDP donor dollars will head to them instead of the party. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

And while many NDP dollars are heading to leadership campaigns in 2024’s early months, Smith appears to be pulling in blockbuster hauls from fundraising dinners.

Last week, she hosted about 1,400 people in a hall at Calgary’s Stampede Park, at $500 a pop.

Add to that another large dinner in Red Deer last month and an upcoming soirée in Edmonton with more than 1,000 tickets sold, and the UCP could clear $1 million in three nights.

Another telling sign of comparative party support is a line item in the Elections Alberta report. The UCP reported $306,056 in membership fees; the NDP took in only $41,323.

The fact the NDP ended last year in debt is even more remarkable when you consider that they entered 2023 with $5.5 million in the bank, compared to $2.9 million for the UCP, which had mere months to fundraise under Smith before entering an election year.

But Notley rapidly burned through that money with a heavy pre-campaign advertising spend, which included purchasing time for a special commercial during the Academy Awards.

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