Political Financing Handbook for Candidates and Official Agents (EC 20155) – July 2021
15. Interacting with Third Parties in the Pre-election and Election Periods
This chapter outlines what candidates should take into consideration from a political financing perspective when interacting with third parties in the pre-election period and election period. It covers the following topics:
- What is a third party?
- What is collusion?
- Prohibition on colluding with third parties during a pre-election period
- Prohibition on colluding with third parties during an election period
- What is collusion for the purpose of influencing a third party's regulated activities?
Note: This chapter applies only to the pre-election and election periods, but candidates should be mindful of how they interact with third parties at all times to avoid accepting possibly ineligible or illegal contributions. See Activities conducted by others in coordination with the candidate's campaign may be contributions in Chapter 2, Contributions.
What is a third party?
A third party is generally a person or group that wants to participate in or influence elections other than as a political party, electoral district association, nomination contestant or candidate. The term has different legal definitions in the pre-election period and election period, as explained in the prohibition sections below.
What is collusion?
The Canada Elections Act sets rules on how potential candidates and candidates can interact with third parties during a pre-election period or election period. It specifically prohibits collusion with a third party.
Collusion is generally an agreement made between two or more people or groups to achieve an objective prohibited by law. The agreement does not have to be made in writing, and may be express or implied.
Prohibition on colluding with third parties in relation to a pre‑election period
During a pre-election period, a third party is a person or group other than a:
- registered or eligible party
- registered association
- potential candidate
- nomination contestant
A potential candidate or a person associated with a potential candidate's campaign (including the official agent) must not collude with a third party in order to influence the third party in its partisan activities, its partisan advertising or its election surveys conducted during a pre-election period, including by sharing information.
Prohibition on colluding with third parties in relation to an election period
During an election period, a third party is a person or group other than a:
- registered party
- electoral district association of a registered party
A candidate or a person associated with a candidate's campaign (including the official agent) must not collude with a third party in order to:
- circumvent the candidate's election expenses limit, or
- influence the third party in its partisan activities, its election advertising or its election surveys conducted during an election period, including by sharing information
What is collusion for the purpose of influencing a third party's regulated activities?
Any agreement, express or implied, between a potential candidate's or candidate's campaign and a third party that has the objective of influencing a third party's regulated activities is prohibited by these provisions.
However, where a third party independently engages in activities that result from agreeing with a party's or candidate's platform, this is not collusion. In such a case, although there is agreement on policy goals, there is no agreement about the regulated activities of the third party. In addition, simple communication by a campaign to a third party of the candidate's policies or positions on an issue is not collusion, as there is no discussion about the activities a third party should undertake. Mere interaction without a common intent to influence a third party's activities is not collusion.
When a third party invites a candidate to an event during a pre-election or election period, and the invitation can reasonably be seen to have the purpose of promoting the candidate's election, the event is regulated. It is either a third party partisan activity or a contribution (see Activities conducted by others in coordination with the candidate's campaign may be contributions in Chapter 2, Contributions).
A regulated event is a partisan activity if the third party organizes it independently and on its own initiative. It is prohibited for a candidate's campaign to collude with a third party to influence such an activity, including by sharing information, or to circumvent the election expenses limit.
Basic communication between a third party and candidate's campaign about an event does not affect the third party's independence and does not amount to collusion. The third party can seek agreement about logistics (date, time and the candidate's topic), provided that these communications are not strategic discussions to maximize the benefit to the candidate's wider campaign. The third party can also inform the campaign about the venue, audiovisual equipment, other speakers and the audience.
Each situation must be examined on its own facts.
- A candidate emails a third party with a promotional message and asks it to cut, paste and send the message to voters on its contact list on the Thursday before advance polls. The third party declines the request. Agreeing to send this email would be collusion because the information was shared to influence the third party's regulated activity.
- A candidate emails a third party and asks for its support. Some of the candidate's key platform messages are included in the email. The third party decides that it wishes to support the candidate and does so by forwarding the platform messages to its contact list. This is not prohibited because there was no agreement to influence the third party's regulated activity.
- A candidate meets with a third party to inform the third party of the candidate's policy on a particular matter. After the meeting, the third party decides to share this information with voters on its contact list and to run ads supporting the candidate. This is not prohibited because there was no agreement to influence the third party's regulated activities.
- A candidate asks a social media influencer (who, as any other individual, is a third party) for a free endorsement during the election period. The influencer asks the candidate what they would like the endorsement to say and when it should be posted. The influencer is permitted to post their personal political views without the posting being election advertising. However, the candidate cannot share information about their preferred content and timing. This would be collusion to influence the third party's regulated activity. If the candidate wants to direct the content and timing, they must pay the influencer as an advertiser or accept the commercial value of such an advertisement as a non-monetary contribution.
- A third party organizes a BBQ to promote a candidate during the election period. It informs the candidate of the event date in case they wish to attend. The candidate decides to show up and gives a short, informal speech. This is not prohibited because there was no agreement to influence the third party's regulated activities.
- A third party contacts the candidate to find out where to direct volunteers to help canvass. The candidate asks that volunteers contact the campaign's volunteer coordinator so that they can canvass as members of the candidate's own campaign. If the third party wants to canvass using its own messages and resources, the candidate cannot provide strategic information on where to canvass. This would be collusion to influence the third party's regulated activity.
- During an election period, a labour union holds a members' meeting on the next round of collective bargaining. The union invites a candidate who it supports to address members for 15 minutes, but there is no coordination beyond the event time and topic. This is not prohibited because basic communication about the event is not an agreement to influence the third party's regulated activity.
- A third party contacts a candidate and offers to pay for get-out-the-vote activities if the candidate is near their limit. The candidate cannot accept this offer. This would be collusion to circumvent the election expenses limit.
For a detailed discussion of this topic, please refer to Elections Canada's interpretation note 2021‑01, Participating in Third Party Campaign-Style Events During Pre-election and Election Periods, on the Elections Canada website.