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Registration of Federal Political Parties

This backgrounder summarizes the requirements for registering federal political parties and for maintaining registered status. For the full legal requirements, please refer to the Canada Elections Act (the Act).

History

Since Confederation, most candidates for election to the House of Commons have been affiliated with political parties. Political parties were not formally recognized in the Act until 1970, when changes to the Act also allowed the political affiliations of candidates to be shown on the ballots.

The voluntary registration of political parties was introduced in 1974. By registering with the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada (the Chief Electoral Officer), a party undertakes to disclose political contributions and expenditures, among other responsibilities, and receives several benefits.

What is a political party?

The Act defines a political party as "an organization one of whose fundamental purposes is to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election."

Forming and registering a federal political party are two different things. There is no legislation regulating the formation of federal political parties. Elections Canada cannot dictate how a federal political party should be formed or how its legal, internal and financial structures should be established. Political parties cannot "pre-register" with Elections Canada in order to "exist." The Act does not provide for the reservation or pre-approval of a party name. However, once a party exists, it may apply to be registered under the Act.

The Act uses the following terms:

Party name on the ballot

One of the traditional benefits of registered status for a political party is that the party's name may appear on the ballot, together with the name of the party's candidate in that electoral district. If a candidate is not endorsed by a registered party, the candidate can choose to have either the word "independent" or nothing at all under his or her name on the ballot.

Applying for registration

A political party that wishes to participate in a federal general election or by-election must apply to register with the Chief Electoral Officer. The application for registration must be signed by the party leader and include:

The entire application, including the names of the members, is a public document. To confirm the accuracy of the leader's declaration about the party's fundamental purposes, the Chief Electoral Officer may ask the leader to provide further relevant information.

Restrictions on party names

The name, short-form name, abbreviation or logo of the political party applying for registration must not so resemble the name, short-form name, abbreviation or logo of another party as to be confused with it. The name must not include the word "independent" or any word likely to be confused with it. If the party intends to adopt French and English versions of its name, both versions must be submitted with the application.

Appointing officers of the party

An eligible party and a registered party must at all times have at least three officers in addition to the leader of the party. Only a person whose ordinary residence is in Canada is eligible to be an officer of a registered or eligible party (officers must provide their residential address).

The party must report any new appointment of an officer to the Chief Electoral Officer, accompanied by a copy of the signed consent of that person to act as an officer.

If a person ceases to be an officer of the party for any reason, and if the remaining number of officers is less than four (including the leader), the party must appoint a replacement within 30 days.

Subject to some exceptions, a person must not act as an officer of an eligible or registered party if that person knows that the party does not have as one of its fundamental purposes participating in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election.

Appointing an auditor

A party applying for registration must appoint as its auditor an eligible person or partnership that is a member in good standing of a corporation, association or institute of professional accountants (e.g. CPA, CA, CMA, CGA). The party appoints its auditor in accordance with its internal bylaws. The auditor must sign a declaration accepting the appointment. If an auditor ceases to hold office for any reason, the party must appoint a new auditor at once, and the leader must notify the Chief Electoral Officer of the change in writing within 30 days.

The following persons are not eligible to be an auditor for a registered party:

Appointing a chief agent

A party applying for registration must appoint an eligible person or corporation as its chief agent. To be eligible for appointment as chief agent, a person must be eligible to vote and must have the capacity to enter into contracts in the province or territory in which the person ordinarily resides.

For a corporation to be eligible, it must have been incorporated under federal or provincial law. If the chief agent is a corporation, any declaration by the chief agent required under the Act must be completed by a person authorized to sign on behalf of the corporation.

The following persons are not eligible to be a chief agent:

The chief agent must sign a declaration accepting the appointment. If a chief agent ceases to hold office for any reason, the party must appoint a new chief agent at once, and the leader must notify the Chief Electoral Officer in writing within 30 days of the change.

Party membership declarations

The Act provides that an application to register a political party must include the names, addresses and signatures of 250 electors as well as their declarations, in the prescribed form, that they are members of the party and support the party's application for registration.

The declaration of a member must include:

To be valid, the member's declaration must be signed and dated by the member in the 12 months preceding the complete submission of the application. This requirement is to ensure that a party applying for registration has a current membership of at least 250 electors. Outdated declarations will not be accepted. The party must submit the members' original declaration forms to Elections Canada. Faxed, scanned, altered or photocopied declarations are not acceptable.

Elections Canada will communicate directly with the member, in writing, to verify the information provided on the declaration form.

How is an application verified?

Applications for registration are reviewed by the Registrar of Political Parties to ensure that they meet all the requirements of the Act. If an application is incomplete, the Registrar will tell the party leader what is missing and provide an opportunity for the party to complete the registration, within a specified timeframe.

If the application appears complete, a detailed review process follows.

The Chief Electoral Officer has the legal obligation to be satisfied that a party seeking registration meets all the requirements of the Act, including the verification of 250 electors who are party members and support the party's application for registration.

Elections Canada will communicate directly with the member, in writing, to verify the information provided on the declaration form.

Elections Canada strongly recommends that the party include in its application for registration more than 250 member declarations. This will ensure that this requirement of the Act is met.

Once the Chief Electoral Officer has verified the party's application (confirming that 250 electors are members of the party and that the party has met all the other requirements), and is satisfied that the party's name and logo will not be confused with those of another registered or eligible party, he will inform the party leader that the party is eligible for registration.

The party can lose its eligibility for registration for any of several reasons:

A party that loses its eligibility cannot be registered, but may reapply for registration.

An eligible party may withdraw its application at any time before registration by sending a request to withdraw to the Chief Electoral Officer. The request must be signed by the leader.

When does registration take effect?

After the Chief Electoral Officer has determined that a party is eligible for registration, the party is registered once it endorses a confirmed candidate in a general election or by-election. The Chief Electoral Officer will inform the party leader that the party has been registered as soon as practicable after the party has a confirmed candidate. If the party does not endorse a candidate in a general election, it will cease to be an eligible party when it is informed that it has not been registered.

If a party files an application less than 60 days before the writs for an election are issued, the party cannot be registered for that election. The party may become registered for the next general election or by-election if it endorses a confirmed candidate for that election.

For an overview of the requirements for maintaining registration, see the section "What are the obligations associated with registration?" below.

What are the benefits of registration?

Once a party is registered, it is entitled to the following benefits:

These benefits cease to be available if the party is deregistered.

What are the obligations associated with registration?

Political parties must meet certain obligations to maintain their eligible or registered status.

Eligible parties must:

Registered parties must:

Appointing registered agents

A registered or eligible party may appoint eligible persons or corporations as its registered agents, subject to any terms and conditions that the party specifies. The restrictions on eligibility for registered agents are the same as for a chief agent. Within 30 days after an appointment is made, the party must send a written report to Elections Canada, certified by the party leader or chief agent, that includes the registered agent's name and address as well as any terms and conditions of the appointment. The party's registered agents act for the party within the terms specified in their appointments. They assist and answer to the chief agent.

Changing the name of a registered party

If a registered party wants to change the full or short form of its name, its abbreviation or its logo, the party leader must apply to the Chief Electoral Officer and attach a certified copy of the party's resolution to make the change. The resolution can be made by whomever and through whatever means the party's constitution allows. The leader's certification of a copy of the resolution may be written on a separate sheet of paper (to which the copy of the resolution is attached) or directly on the copy of the resolution.

A party that is considering changing its name should first consult Elections Canada to obtain the full lists of eligible and registered political parties. This information is also available at www.elections.ca.

Any new name, short-form name, abbreviation or logo must not be deemed by the Chief Electoral Officer to be similar enough to cause confusion with that of another registered or eligible political party. To be accepted, a proposed change of name must not include the word "independent" or a word that so closely resembles "independent" that it would, in the Chief Electoral Officer's opinion, likely be confused with it.

An approved name change takes effect on the date the application is received by the Chief Electoral Officer, except during an election period. In that case, the change takes effect on the day after election day.

Merging registered parties

Two or more registered parties may apply to the Chief Electoral Officer to merge their parties and become a single registered party.

On the merger of registered parties, any registered association of a merging party is deregistered and may transfer goods or funds to the merged party or to a registered association of the merged party in the six months immediately after the merger. The transfer is not a contribution for the purposes of the Act.

Voluntary deregistration

At any time other than during the election period of a general election, a registered political party may voluntarily apply to become deregistered. The application to deregister must be signed by the party leader and any two party officers who are listed in the Registry of Political Parties. The party's registered associations will also be deregistered.

Involuntary deregistration

A party will be deregistered if it fails to endorse a confirmed candidate at a general election. If a registered party is deregistered, its registered associations are also deregistered.

The Chief Electoral Officer may also deregister a registered party if it fails to:

If the Chief Electoral Officer finds that a party has omitted to provide the information noted above, he will notify the party in writing that it must provide him with the requested information within a specified deadline. If the party fails to rectify the omission before the deadline or does not convince the Chief Electoral Officer that the omission was not the result of any negligence or lack of good faith on its part, the Chief Electoral Officer may deregister the party.

If the Chief Electoral Officer proposes to deregister a registered party for failure to file the above information, he will notify the party and its registered associations. The notice will specify the effective date of the deregistration, which will be at least 15 days after the notice is sent.

The Chief Electoral Officer must deregister a registered party if that party:

The Chief Electoral Officer will give notice of the deregistration of a registered party to the party and to its chief agent, and of the resulting deregistration of its registered associations, to the associations and their financial agents. For 30 days after the deregistration of a party, the Chief Electoral Officer will retain the name, short-form name, abbreviation and logo of the deregistered party so that another political party cannot apply for registration under that name.

A deregistered party can reapply for registration at any time. If it applies for registration within the 30-day period, it may apply under the same name, short-form name, abbreviation and logo that it had at the time of its deregistration. Regardless of whether the party applies within the 30-day period, it is still responsible for filing the returns, reports and declarations of a deregistered party.

The Chief Electoral Officer will publish a notice of deregistration in the Canada Gazette and change the status of the party in the Registry of Political Parties from "registered" to "deregistered." The deregistered party and its associations lose all the advantages of a registered party and registered associations on the day that they are deregistered.

Within six months of its deregistration, a deregistered party must provide the Chief Electoral Officer with a final financial transactions return for the portion of the party's current fiscal period ending on the day of its deregistration, as well as any outstanding financial documents.

Judicial deregistration

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is the official responsible for ensuring that the Act is complied with and enforced. If the Commissioner has reasonable grounds to believe that a registered party does not have as one of its fundamental purposes participating in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election, he or she must notify the party in writing, requiring it to show that one of its fundamental purposes is participation in public affairs, as set out in the Act.

If the party fails to satisfy the Commissioner within a reasonable period of time, the Commissioner may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction for an order directing the Chief Electoral Officer to deregister the party, and for an order to liquidate the assets of the party and the assets of each of the party's registered associations. Before making an order, the court must be satisfied that the party does not have participation in public affairs (as set out in the Act) as one of its fundamental purposes. In making this determination, the court must consider all relevant factors.

While an application by the Commissioner for judicial deregistration is pending, the authority of a registered party to issue tax receipts is suspended.

Judicial deregistration may also take place if a registered party, or its chief agent, registered agent or one of its officers, has been convicted of a specified offence under the Act. In addition to any other punishment, the court may order the party to be deregistered and its assets liquidated, including the assets of its registered associations.