Political Financing Handbook for Registered Parties and Chief Agents (EC 20231) – June 2021
11. Interacting with Third Parties in the Pre-election and Election Periods
This chapter outlines what registered parties 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 registered parties 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 party 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 registered parties 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 registered party must not collude with a third party in order to:
- circumvent the registered party's partisan advertising expenses limit, or
- 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
See Chapter 7, Partisan Advertising Expenses for the Pre-election Period, for more information on the pre-election period and partisan advertising rules.
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 registered party must not collude with a third party in order to:
- circumvent the registered party'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 registered party 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 party to a third party of the party'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 party leader or other party representative to an event during a pre-election or election period, and the invitation can reasonably be seen to have the purpose of promoting the registered party, the event is regulated. It is either a third party partisan activity or a contribution (see Activities conducted by others in coordination with the party 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 registered party 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 registered party 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 leader's topic), provided that these communications are not strategic discussions to maximize the benefit to the registered party's wider campaign. The third party can also inform the registered party about the venue, audiovisual equipment, other speakers and the audience.
Each situation must be examined on its own facts.
- A registered party 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 registered party emails a third party and asks it to support the party's campaign. Some of the party's key platform messages are included in the email. The third party decides that it wishes to support the party 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 registered party meets with a third party to inform the third party of its 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 party. This is not prohibited because there was no agreement to influence the third party's regulated activities.
- A registered party 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 party 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 registered party cannot share information about their preferred content and timing. This would be collusion to influence the third party's regulated activity. If the party wants to direct the content and timing, it 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 registered party during the election period. It informs the party of the event date in case the party leader or others wish to attend. The party leader 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 registered party to find out where to direct volunteers to help canvass for the registered party. The registered party asks that volunteers contact the party's volunteer coordinator so that they can canvass as members of the registered party's own campaign. If the third party wants to canvass using its own messages and resources, the registered party 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 party leader 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 registered party and offers to pay for get-out-the-vote activities if the party is near its limit. The registered party cannot accept this offer. This would be collusion to circumvent the election expenses limit.
- A registered party contacts a third party and provides a list of candidate campaigns that need funds. The third party calls its supporters and asks them to make contributions to these candidates. This is prohibited because the registered party shared strategic information with the third party to influence the third party's regulated activity.
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.