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Who funded Olivia Chow’s win, how much Xiao Hua Gong spent and other take-aways from new Toronto election filings
Sept. 13, 2023

Olivia Chow was significantly outspent by her closest rival in June’s mayoral election, but was powered to victory with the help of thousands of small donations.

The wide gap in spending between second-place finisher Ana Bailão and eventual winner Chow is among the details revealed in newly released financial statements for the June 26 vote.

The documents also show how outsider candidate Xiao Hua Gong paid for his eye-catching campaign, and that one councillor ended the race with a deficit of more than $150,000.

Candidates in the special byelection to replace former mayor John Tory had until Monday to file their initial financial statements.

Here’s what the documents show:

Ana Bailão flexed financial muscle
While Chow won with about 37 per cent of the vote, the former NDP MP’s filing shows she spent less than $1.6 million on her campaign. Bailão, the former Davenport councillor who placed second with less than 33 per cent, spent $2.1 million, about $560,000 more than Chow.

But while Bailão raised more money, Chow had more donors. The financial statements list all contributions over $100, and show Chow had more than 4,300 of them, averaging about $340 each.

By contrast, Bailão’s statement lists only about 1,300, but they averaged more than $1,600 each.

Much of Bailão’s campaign income came from fundraising events, including a May 29 dinner at the Westin Hotel that raised $324,700.

Chow’s reliance on smaller donations is underlined by the fact she netted almost $150,000, or about nine per cent of her total donations, from contributions of less than $100. Bailão got less than $7,000 from those small contributions, the documents show.

Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus of political science at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the numbers are proof that while it’s important for candidates to raise more money than their opponents, “it’s not a guarantee of success,” particularly if their message doesn’t resonate with voters.

He said the filings suggest Bailão was the “establishment candidate” who drew on the support of the wealthy business community that helped elect Tory, while Chow ran a “grassroots mainstream campaign” whose promise of progressive change attracted a larger number of supporters who could only afford smaller contributions.

“So it kind of was a contest between two Torontos, and interestingly grassroots Toronto won this one,” he said.

Bailão’s campaign manager Tom Allison pushed back against that characterization.

“Numbers don’t tell the whole story. Our campaign knocked on more doors, raised more money, competed harder and almost won,” he said, adding that Chow entered as the front-runner but lost ground as Bailão “closed a huge gap in the polls” to finish a close second.

How Xiao Hua Gong paid to be everywhere
Xiao Hua Gong placed eleventh in the election with fewer than 3,000 votes, but his omnipresent lawn signs and ads on flyers, television, taxi cabs and even at Yonge-Dundas Square became defining features of the race.

The businessman with a controversial past spent almost $700,000 on his campaign, according to his statement, of which more than $400,000 went to advertising and $123,000 to signs.

Bailão and Chow, whose ads appeared less ubiquitous than Gong’s, spent more than him on advertising, at about $605,000 and $525,000 respectively. Gong outspent the leading candidates on election signs, however, surpassing Bailão’s $64,000 and Chow’s $98,000.

Gong also appears to have relied on deep-pocketed donors. He listed almost no revenue from contributions less than $100, but had about 320 contributions greater than $100, which averaged more than $2,000 each. The majority of donations were for the maximum allowable individual contribution of $2,500, and many came from people listed in GTA municipalities outside Toronto, like Markham, Richmond Hill, Ajax, Pickering and Thornhill.

Josh Matlow faces deficit
Coun. Josh Matlow’s filing shows that as of Aug. 10, his campaign had raised about $916,000, but had spent almost $1.1 million, for a deficit of more than $150,000.

Matlow, who placed fifth while running as an independent progressive, declined to answer specific questions about how he ended up with such a large deficit. But in a statement he said the shortfall was “obviously not what I wanted, but it’s a challenge that I have to face.

“And I’m grateful that there are many people reaching out to offer their support so I’m able to work on our city’s priorities” while serving as councillor, he said.

Matlow’s largest single expense was more than $490,000 for salaries, an amount that exceeded other leading candidates’ spending on that category.

The Toronto-St. Paul’s councillor has applied for an extension that will allow him to continue campaigning until Feb. 12, 2024 or until he raises enough to clear his deficit, whichever comes first.

According to Toronto Elections, Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act doesn’t prevent candidates from filing statements that show a deficit.

But the provincial guidebook for candidates warns that showing a deficit “may result in questions being raised about how expenses were paid for.”

It’s not clear how many other leading candidates have deficits. Coun. Brad Bradford, former police chief Mark Saunders, and pundit Anthony Furey have yet to file their statements, but can do so by Oct. 11 if they pay a $500 fine.

Policy analyst Chloe Brown, who finished seventh, recorded a deficit of about $1,700, while the sixth-place candidate, former Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, posted a $4,800 deficit.

After the 2010 mayoral election, candidates came together to host a joint “unity dinner” fundraiser to help retire their debts. It’s not clear whether the new mayor would help organize a similar event, but Chow’s spokesperson said the mayor has spoken to Matlow “about how she can lend her support.”

Doug Ford, John Tory opened taps for Chow
The filings appear to confirm claims from Chow’s camp that late interventions by Tory and Doug Ford to halt her campaign helped mobilize her supporters.

On June 21, Tory broke his promise to stay out of the race and recorded a message of support for Bailão, while Ford warned Chow would be an “unmitigated disaster” if elected.

One day later Chow received about $53,000 in donations, more than double her campaign’s average daily take, and its fourth best day of the race.