Information on Third Parties and Election Advertising
What is a third party?
A third party is a person or group that conducts election advertising, other than a candidate, registered party or electoral district association.
Third parties have to register with Elections Canada immediately after incurring $500 in election advertising expenses.
In 2014, on the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendation, the law was changed to prevent people or groups with no link to Canada from registering as third parties. Now only the following can register:
- individuals who are Canadian citizens, permanent residents or reside in Canada
- corporations that carry on business in Canada
- other groups, including groups abroad, if the person responsible for the group is a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or resides in Canada
A foreign third party that is not eligible to register can spend only up to $499.99 on election advertising.
Election advertising is the transmission to the public during an election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a party or a candidate, or that takes a position on an issue associated with a party or candidate.
Election advertising includes:
- signs, newspaper ads and other print media
- radio and TV ads
- election messages posted online that have a placement cost
Election advertising does not include:
- telephone calls (CRTC rules apply—see their Voter Contact Registry page), texts or emails
- messages posted on social media platforms (such as a video posted on YouTube or messages posted on Facebook or Twitter) for which there is no placement cost
- content posted on a third party's website (the ongoing costs of creating and maintaining a website are not placement costs)
- transmission of an editorial, debate, speech, interview, column, letter, commentary or news
- door-to-door canvassing, unless canvassers distribute election advertising such as pamphlets
Third parties must identify themselves in their election advertising and indicate that they authorized the advertising.
Election advertising expenses
Election advertising expenses are the costs to produce and distribute election advertising. The production cost includes a variety of expenses such as labour, materials and general overhead. The distribution cost is simply the cost of getting the election advertising to recipients.
Production costs when a third party uses its own resources
A third party might use its own paid staff and resources to produce election advertising. In that case, the production cost is the direct labour cost for the period the third party's employees engage in creating the election advertising, the cost of materials used, and a reasonable allocation of general overhead.
A third party might create election advertising using research it conducted, such as surveys about the ad's subject matter or studies on reaching its target audience. The expenses for this research are not included in the production cost. Similarly, election advertising often puts forward a third party's policy positions. The costs incurred for developing these positions, such as policy analysts' salaries, are not included in the production cost.
If a third party is an individual, no value is attributed to the non-commercial use of their pre-existing personal property (other than money) for producing election advertising.
Production and distribution costs related to canvassing
Door-to-door canvassing on its own is not election advertising.
However, if canvassers distribute election advertising such as pamphlets, the cost to produce the advertising material and any compensation paid to canvassers are election advertising expenses. If canvassers are not paid, their work is volunteer labour if it is done outside of their working hours, and only the cost to produce the advertising material is an election advertising expense.
Limits on election advertising
The current limit for a 37-day election period is $211,200, of which no more than $4,224 can be spent in a particular electoral district. These limits are in effect from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018. If the election period is longer than 37 days, the limits increase by 1/37th for every day over 37.
Funding of election advertising expenses
Third parties are allowed to fund their election advertising from three sources:
- contributions given for election advertising purposes from individuals who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and businesses or other organizations that operate in Canada
- the third party's own funds, which means that groups receiving funding or revenues from abroad for general purposes can use those funds for election advertising
- loans obtained for election advertising purposes
There are no limits on contributions or loans given to third parties.
Financial reporting requirements
Four months after election day, a third party must file a Third Party Election Advertising Report. It includes details on:
- contributions given and loans obtained for election advertising purposes
- the amount of its own funds that the third party used
- details on election advertising expenses
Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations
After the 2015 general election, the Chief Electoral Officer recommended that Parliament change some of the rules for third parties. Among other things, he recommended:
- that third party financial reports, like candidate and party reports, be available for public inspection
- that third parties be required to disclose all contributions received for election advertising purposes, not only those received during the election and up to six months before the start of the election