Several hundred anti-Israel protesters chanted for a ceasefire in Gaza and waved Palestinian flags outside Vancouver’s Westin Bayshore when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared at a Liberal Party fundraiser before Christmas.
But only dozens of party supporters showed up to the Dec. 14 event.
The regulated fundraising event report filed with Elections Canada shows 87 attendees to “An Evening with Justin Trudeau.” It does not disclose how much the party raised, only stating that the “amount required to have been paid to attend the event, part of which was a contribution” ranged between $0 and $1,700.
Just over a year earlier, on Dec. 2, 2022, 302 people attended the Crown Palace Banquet Hall in Surrey for a Trudeau event where the admission ranged from $500 to $1,675.
Trudeau’s Bayshore appearance was the last Liberal fundraiser during a year in which both opinion polls and fundraising heavily favoured the Pierre Poilievre-led Conservative Party. The next election is scheduled for October 2025, but could come sooner.
Elections Canada has not released totals for the fourth quarter yet, but the Conservatives raised $23.3 million in total contributions through the end of September 2023. The Liberals brought in $9.8 million.
An average of almost 45,000 donors per quarter sent money to the Conservatives, compared to just over 30,000 for the Liberals.
Hamish Telford, a political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, said that while Trudeau modernized Liberal fundraising, the governing party still operates at a disadvantage. The Conservatives, he said, carry on the grassroots populism of the Reform Party, ”which mastered the art of raising large amounts of money through small donations from their members.”
Additionally, Trudeau’s popularity after more than eight years in power is at historic lows, motivating fiercely loyal and enthusiastic Conservatives.
“Whereas, Liberal members are kind of dispirited and they see Justin Trudeau floundering in the polls, and they are wondering if they should be coughing up their hard earned dollars to support the captain of an apparently sinking ship,” Telford said.
The Prime Minister’s Office referred a reporter to the party headquarters, but nobody responded.
The Dec. 14 event also featured Harjit Sajjan, the Minister of Emergency Preparedness, and Mary Ng, the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade of Canada. It was the first major local Liberal fundraiser with Trudeau since a trio of events on the same late summer night at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver: two that Trudeau headlined and one for Vancouver-Granville MP Taleeb Noormohamed.
One of the Trudeau appearances drew 31 people who paid between $850 and $1,700 and the other 56 paid between $0 and $1,700.
Noormohamed’s, which featured Treasury Board president Anita Anand, attracted 67 attendees for $300 each.
Meanwhile, Poilievre drew 165 people for $0 to $1,700 to an Oct. 12 fundraiser at the Terminal City Club. The next night, he held a “Bring it Home” rally in the Pinnacle Hotel ballroom where the party claimed it hosted 2,000 supporters.
Trudeau has said he wants to lead the party into the next election. If he were to retire and trigger a leadership convention, Telford said it would generate both excitement and revenue.
“So it’s not just polls that might cause Justin Trudeau to take his departure, but also this fundraising issue,” he said.
In September, Trudeau’s government announced a judicial public inquiry into allegations that China, Russia and other foreign actors meddled in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. Yet, two attendees of the Dec. 14 fundraiser have links to Lower Mainland groups associated with the Chinese consulate in Vancouver: Hilbert Yiu, former chair of the Chinese Benevolent Association, and Maria Ling Xu, president of the United Global Chinese Women’s Association of Canada.
Yiu attended Chinese national day celebrations in Beijing in 2019 to mark 70 years of Communist Party rule. The following year, he coordinated a local petition in support of a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Xu, a former honorary chair of the pro-Beijing Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations, was banned from MP Joyce Murray’s WeChat group in May 2020. She had used the platform to raise funds for a potential class action lawsuit against Global News after a story about bulk personal protective equipment purchases by pro-Beijing groups in Canada and abroad.
Telford said political parties are in non-stop campaign mode while they constantly raise money. They are also under pressure to follow Elections Canada rules and regulations.
“But, perhaps they are deficient or willing to turn a blind eye to some of the political optics, unless they get caught out,” Telford said.
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