Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – October 11–12, 2012
8) Rationalization of Political Financing Information and Tools
François Bernier (Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Political Financing) outlined the rationalization project, which will present consistent and accessible information to political entities in a single location. The handbooks that will be developed will clearly articulate Elections Canada's position on several political financing issues. A copy of the presentation was provided to participants.
Advertising Directed to Political Entities
Elections Canada's position that parties, associations and their members do not represent a commercial market, and that the sale of sponsorships and advertising directed at party members will be treated as a contribution to the party, was the subject of extensive discussion and debate. Several parties expressed disagreement with Elections Canada's position.
Arguments against Elections Canada's position challenged the view that advertising by a company at a political event is akin to expressing support for the party or is an attempt to curry favour (which is one of the bases of Elections Canada's position, as well as one of the reasons corporate contributions were banned). Several members contended that such advertising is simply part of a company's routine advertising business and that as long as fair-market value is paid, advertising should be treated as a commercial transaction.
Elections Canada indicated that the above situation is distinct from other transactions/situations not considered contributions/sponsorships, such as:
- A political party renting public space or advertising alongside a private company, where it is paying fair-market value;
- A hospitality suite being offered to a party, as contribution rules deal exclusively with monetary transactions (assuming party expenses are not being surreptitiously offloaded); and
- Activities that may benefit a party but have not been accepted by the chief agent, such as a partisan advertising or promotional feature.
The CEO reiterated that Elections Canada's position is clear on this matter and is consistent with its interpretation of the CEA. As a regulatory body, Elections Canada believes it is important that an unambiguous position be taken and that it is not possible to determine the intent of individual companies' advertising activities. Should parties wish to seek Elections Canada's advice, including fair market value assessments, prior to engaging in one or more other scenarios, they are invited to do so.
Other matters and questions raised by members included:
- The nature of exclusionary candidate debates as potential contributions to specific parties.
- A view that the banning of corporate contributions and elimination of party subsidies will result in a funding gap.
- The online national and international sale of party paraphernalia (mugs, t-shirts, etc.) and how such activity is in any way impacted by the provisions presented and discussed during the session.
- The level of corporate donations and political spending in Canada: the CEO explained that Canada has among the lowest contribution and spending limits in the world and has been progressively restricting public and private funding to political entities.
Mr. Bernier noted that although consultations with official agents will have already taken place, once the first handbooks are published online, additional feedback will be sought from parties and EDAs and, if necessary, further consultation (such as a working group) could take place.