The race for the leadership of the PC Party of Nova Scotia increased party membership and fattened party coffers, but it also personally cost candidate Julie Chiasson almost $30,000, and left second-place finisher Cecil Clarke with an even larger debt.
Clarke, the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, ended the contest spending $38,079 more than he raised, according to financial statements filed at party offices in Halifax. The Clarke campaign raised $128,920 and spent $166,999.
Clarke said his “finance team” would soon be working on a plan to raise money to pay off his debt, which he estimates is currently between $30,000 to $35,000.
“I leave it to them, what the plan is going to be, but they are very assured of what they’re going to do going forward so I take their word at it,” Clarke said in an interview Monday.
Chaisson, now the provincial party president, raised and spent the least of any candidate but still ended her leadership bid $27,481 over budget.
She collected $17,804 in donations and spent $45,285 during the year-long campaign, which ended with the leadership convention last October where Pictou East MLA Tim Houston surged to victory.
She disputed the suggestion her campaign, and last place finish, was a costly personal lesson.
“I would word it this way: I invested $27,500 to run in the leadership,” she said. “That was the shortfall.”
Asked if it was worth it, Chaisson responded “absolutely.”
“I’m more than OK with it because it was a fantastic experience,” she said.
Clarke offered the same enthusiastic assessment of his own failed attempt to lead the party.
“I don’t regret for a moment running,” he said.
He was the first of the contenders to concede defeat after the first ballot results showed front-runner Houston had too commanding a lead to overcome.
Debt, according to Clarke, is par for the course in any leadership contest.
“This isn’t like you have a war chest in advance,” he said. “You have to raise money as you go through and you incur debts to do a provincial leadership, and I absolutely have no regrets whatsoever and I have every confidence with the team that’s out there that will raise the funds.”
MLAs John Lohr, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and Houston each raised more money than they spent, ending with what appeared to be campaign surpluses. But according to the candidates, none walked away with money to spare.
They said that “surplus” money instead went into party coffers. That’s because as part of the leadership rules, the party took 25 per cent of every receipted donation to a candidate. Candidates also had to pony up $25,000 to enter the race.
As a result, Smith-McCrossin and Houston each said their campaigns broke even. Lohr said he still owes roughly $5,000, although he was unclear what to do about it.
“It’s money I owe to me, so to speak, my own campaign,” said Lohr. “Maybe it just gets written off.”
Overall, Houston was the most successful fundraiser, amassing $266,208 from family, friends and other supporters, including generous donations from Sobey family members.
David Sobey ($2,500) and Donald Sobey ($4,000), sons of the grocery empire’s founder, each contributed, as did other family members including Frank ($4,000), Paul ($2,500), John ($2,500) and Karl Sobey ($1,500).
Houston said while he appreciated the support of some of Pictou County’s wealthiest residents, he didn’t feel he owed them or their company anything specific.
“That’s not the way it works,” said Houston.
“People will support candidates because they believe in the process, they believe in the candidate. They have an expectation of me that I properly represent the community and that I govern the province good when I get the opportunity.”
Houston spent $229,296 on his campaign, most of it on advertising, staff salaries and training, or for meetings and events.
Lohr raised the second largest amount of money — $205,176. He ran the second most expensive campaign at $179,551, but finished third in the race.
His biggest contributors were immediate family members, including his wife, Heather ($7,000), and his grown sons Justin ($5,000) and Aaron ($5,000). His mom, Jacoba, also donated $5,000 to his campaign.
Lohr laughed heartily when asked if they got their money’s worth.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “You’d have to ask them that.
“But you know what? I dropped into the farm this morning for a few minutes and I helped get a tractor going again. I didn’t submit and invoice, so maybe we’re trading [services], I don’t know.”
Smith-McCrossin, who raised $122,460 and spent $117,467, also garnered generous support from immediate family members.
Her husband, Murray, donated $5,000 to the campaign, and 19-year-old daughter Sharon also gave $5,000. Sharon’s older brothers Matthew, 23, and Joel, 21, were less generous, giving their mom $4,000 and $1,500.
“I learned a lot,” she said. “I have no regrets.”