Article by:JACQUES POITRAS
“It kind of felt like an accident, but I’m still trying to process what happened, and I think the Official Opposition may be in the same position,”-David Coon
Inside the Fredericton head office of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick, there’s a countdown clock on the wall tracking the days, hours, minutes and seconds that remain until the next provincial election.
It symbolizes Tory anticipation of the precise moment — Sept. 24 of this year — when the party has a chance to oust Premier Brian Gallant’s Liberal party from power.But the clock’s also ticking for the PC party itself, which is facing a cash crunch ahead of this year’s campaign.
Indeed, the very office where the clock is located, at 336 Regent St., a few blocks from the New Brunswick legislature, is up for sale.
The party is looking to unload the property as it gears up for an election campaign in which it will be allowed to spend up to $1.1 million, money the party doesn’t have at the moment.Tory documents filed with Elections New Brunswick show the party had just $20,260 in cash on hand as of June 30, 2017.
That compares to the $2,018,278 that the governing Liberals had at the same time, almost 100 times more than the PCs.Liberal filings also indicate their party had no debt.The PCs, meanwhile, owed $346,626 midway through 2017, including $233,060 from a 2013 loan that relied on the Regent Street office as collateral.
It’s not clear if the party is selling the building to pay down its debts or to secure cash to fund its election campaign. Party officials did not respond Thursday for requests for an explanation.The Tories acquired the property in 2008.
The real estate agent is Richard Bragdon with Exit Realty in Fredericton. Bragdon was also the unsuccessful federal Conservative candidate in Tobique-Mactaquac in the 2015 election. Bragdon did not respond to an interview request Thursday.
The listing describes the two-storey structure as a “beautiful heritage home/office space” that could be used as offices or converted into two apartments.The building has many “charming features,” the ad says, adding, “These properties don’t come along very often.”The PC party is asking $479,000 for the property, which would clear the party’s debts and leave about $133,000 in profit.
The Liberals own a building at 715 Brunswick St., a converted house that it uses as its party headquarters. The party carries no debt or mortgage on the property.The Progressive Conservatives, which form the official opposition in the legislature, have not been keeping pace with the governing Liberals in their fundraising.
In 2016, the same year PC members were writing cheques for candidates running for the party leadership race, the party itself raised $467,718. The Liberals raised $868,426.
The Gallant Liberals used their financial might to run attack ads against PC leader Blaine Higgs.
In the first half of 2017, the last period for which records have been filed, the Liberals raised $659,485, more than double the PC haul of $297,655.The Liberals have already been using their money advantage: last fall they launched a series of ads attacking PC leader Blaine Higgs. Registered political parties can spend $35,000 per year on advertising outside election periods.
One potentially lucrative source of funds, corporate donations, is now off-limits to the Tories, thanks to a legislative manoeuvre last year by Higgs.The Liberal government introduced legislation in March 2017 to reduce the maximum donation to political parties from $6,000 to $3,000, a cap that would have applied to individuals, corporations and unions.During debate on March 30, just six days after the PC party held its big annual fundraiser, Higgs moved an amendment to the Liberal bill to ban corporate and union donations altogether.
The Liberals decided to support the amendment, tweaking it to take effect June 1, 2017 — one day after their own $500-per-plate fundraising dinner.The PCs reported $147,732 in corporate donations in the first half of 2017, while the Liberals reported just $17,026.
Green Party leader David Coon said the PC move against corporate donations feels like an ‘accident’. (CBC)
At the time the Liberals decided to vote for the PC amendment, Green Party leader David Coon suggested Higgs hadn’t been expecting it to pass.
“It kind of felt like an accident, but I’m still trying to process what happened, and I think the Official Opposition may be in the same position,” he said.Elections New Brunswick estimates that, based on its formula, parties that run candidates in all 49 ridings this year will have a maximum spending limit of $1,124,582 this year.