05/13/2015 05:27 EDT | Updated 05/13/2016 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Tories double governing NDP in fundraising as election looms

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's Opposition Progressive Conservatives are building up a big war chest for next year's election.

The Tories' financial returns, released by Elections Manitoba on Wednesday, show the party more than doubled the governing New Democrats in fundraising last year — raising $2.1 million to the NDPs $830,000. It's the widest gap between the two parties in recent years.

The documents also show the Tories have $1.3 million in total assets, more than double the $630,000 registered by the NDP.

Tory Leader Brian Pallister, who took over the helm in 2012 when the party raised less than $1 million, said Wednesday he has focused on rebuilding constituencies and getting grassroots members engaged in fundraising.

"That work ethic is what I'm trying to instill in our organization at the local level," he said. "You have to be humble enough to be able to go out and ask people for support ... and it's working."

NDP fundraising last year was down about $200,000 from 2013. No one from the party would comment on the record, but a party official did note one factor was the NDP leadership race, which saw campaigns compete for some of the same donor dollars as the party.

The financial returns reflect party support in recent opinion polls. Since the NDP raised the provincial sales tax in 2013, polls suggest the party's support has fallen behind that of the Tories.

The Tory war chest is so big, Pallister expects to run close to the campaign spending cap in the election slated for next April.

Under provincial law, party spending during campaign periods is limited to a formula based on the number of registered voters. Based on the last election's list, the limit next year is expected to be slightly more than $2 million.

Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba, said the spending cap and other election rules help the NDP.

"The rules here are, in effect, very equalizing, and what that does is make it very difficult for one party to lord it over the other," Koop said.

Also helping the NDP is a public subsidy for political parties, which the government introduced in 2013. It gives each party operating funds, based largely on how many votes they received in the last two elections.

The NDP received $195,000 last year from the subsidy. The Tories have refused to accept it, calling it a "vote tax."

Koop said the NDP should be able to raise more money as the election approaches, especially now that Premier Greg Selinger has survived a leadership challenge from within his own ranks.

"We should expect to see these numbers tighten up."

The Elections Manitoba documents also show the Liberals, who have just one seat, continue to struggle with fundraising. The party has bounced back from a $120,000 deficit caused by a poor showing in the 2011 election.

The Liberals are now in the black, thanks in part to cost-cutting at party headquarters. Their fundraising last year totalled $116,000 — roughly on par with previous years.