WINNIPEG — The Manitoba Liberals have fallen behind other major parties in building a war chest for a provincial election.
Documents filed this week with Elections Manitoba show the Liberals ended last year with roughly $54,000 in cash and other assets — virtually unchanged from a year earlier.
The governing Progressive Conservatives have more than $1.3 million in assets, while the Opposition New Democrats almost doubled their assets to $223,000.
The financial results come as Premier Brian Pallister has mused about calling an election this year, well in advance of the scheduled date of Oct. 6, 2020.
The Liberals are to gather this weekend in Winnipeg for their annual general meeting, and election readiness is one of the topics on the agenda.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says he is optimistic more cash will roll in as the prospect of going to the polls draws near.
"One of the challenges is that people tend to give money around an election," Lamont said Wednesday.
"When people do see that, they're willing to contribute, and we've been having some very promising meetings."
The Liberals are also revamping their approach to gathering cash, Lamont said. There is less focus on fundraising events, which come with a cost, and more on direct requests for donations.
One bright spot for the Liberals is their biggest single donation — $5,000 — came from Sandy Riley, a longtime Tory supporter who had a falling out with the government last year and resigned as board chair at Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro.
Riley could not be reached for comment. Lamont said he welcomes the donation but has not discussed any possible endorsement with Riley.
The Liberals have seen momentum in recent years. They won three legislature seats in the 2016 election — the most in two decades — and added another when Lamont won a byelection last year.
But a political analyst said the financial results are troubling for the party.
"It's very bad," said Royce Koop, head of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
"Especially if we are going to be having an early election, the clock is ticking and money is going to be important for the parties."
Even with loans, the Liberals could be challenged to pay for a sustained advertising campaign and other items needed to be competitive, Koop added.
"You have to pay for things like the leader's tour, pay for signs, pay for ... pamphlets. If you don't even have that money, then you really have to be wondering what kind of a campaign you can run."