OTTAWA — The Liberal party’s big leadership showcase Saturday is at risk of falling flat even before the candidates take the stage.
Party organizers hoped close to a thousand people would pony up $150 per ticket to attend the leadership candidates’ final speeches at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Saturday afternoon, but so far only 225 general admission tickets have been sold, the party confirmed late Thursday.
Sales are so bad the party has opted to give candidates unlimited free tickets to hand out to supporters in the hope they can fill the cavernous hall.
One leadership candidate’s campaign team said they raised concerns about the “outrageous” price tag with the party more than a month ago, but officials refused to lower the price.
The party is charging students under 26 years of age $75 to attend. Big Liberal donors — Laurier Club members who contribute $1,200 a year — must pay a reduced rate of $75 to avoid breaching donation limits. Victory Club members — who donate $10 monthly — are being charged $100. Observers, such as members of other parties and academics, must pay $499.
The cost of tickets and slow sales have upset most of the campaigns.
A member of a well-known candidate’s campaign team said he didn’t know “how the Liberal party had misjudged the situation.”
Another candidate's campaign, insisting on anonymity, was even more candid
“It’s a bit exaggerated. I understand their desire to finance the event, and they are looking at not going into debt, but, at $150, it’s ridiculous. If it was a convention over several days, perhaps, but just to listen to three hours of speeches?"
Jeff Jedras, Deborah Coyne’s campaign manager, said their team found the price “somewhat on the high side” but that they understand the party is trying not to lose money on major events.
At Liberal headquarters, the party is officially standing by the ticket prices.
“The Showcase is as close as it gets to the Leadership Convention experience: closing speeches, Liberals all together under one roof, the swag, hospitality suites. And Attendees are given an exclusive opportunity to vote on site before voting opens nationally,” Sarah Bain, the party’s press secretary, wrote in an email.
Liberal party national director Ian McKay said Wednesday during a media briefing that he is certain the party will fill the 1,500 seats in the room.
Three weeks ago, at the request of several campaigns, the party offered candidates 25 free tickets. Then, and in an effort to ensure a full house, they were offered 50 free tickets. As ticket sales still did not pick up, the campaigns were told over the weekend they could have 100 tickets each. Now, the strategy is to give the leadership candidates as many free tickets as they wish to try to fill the space.
Ian Perkins, Joyce Murray’s campaign director, said he is grateful that “in its wisdom” the party has released more tickets. “This will allow the attendance of a great deal more people who for cost reasons would not have been able to participate,” he said.
Jedras similarly said the free tickets give some of Coyne’s supporters, who “would have been otherwise unable to attend,” a chance to see the show.
One campaign adviser said he suspects some people who paid $150 will be asking for their money back.
“I know one guy who bought two of them, and he’s pissed!” the adviser said.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s principal secretary, Karl Bélanger, said the Liberals’ initial price tag for their event shows they “drank their own Kool-Aid” and misinterpreted the level of interest in the party.
NDP officials say they sold more than 4,600 tickets for their leadership convention last year, a two-day event that included the announcement of a new party leader. More than 3,500 party members paid between $299 and $349 to attend the event, while some 1,300 students and unemployed members paid $50.
The Liberal party will announce its new leader on Sunday, April 14, at a separate event in Ottawa that the party expects 1,000 people to attend. Tickets for the later event — priced at $20 — are sold out.