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Questions and Answers for Third Parties

The following Qs & As address the most common questions that Elections Canada receives about the third party rules in the Canada Elections Act.

The answers apply for by-elections and a non-fixed-date general election held before October 2023. A fixed-date election has extra rules that are not covered here.

If you are active as a third party and would like more information, see the Political Financing Handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors.

Questions and Answers


What is a third party?

A third party is generally a person or group that wants to participate in or influence elections. They do not seek to be elected themselves but may support certain political parties or candidates.

During an election period, a third party is a person or a group other than the following people or groups at the federal level:

  • registered political party
  • registered electoral district association
  • unregistered electoral district association of a registered political party
  • candidate

An election period starts on the day an election is called and ends on election day when the polls close.

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Who can register as a third party?

You can register as a third party for an election if you are:

  • an individual who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident or who lives in Canada
  • a corporation carrying on business in and incorporated in Canada
  • a corporation carrying on business in Canada but incorporated outside Canada, as long as your primary purpose in Canada is not to influence electors to vote or refrain from voting, either in general or for a particular registered political party or candidate
  • a group, if a person responsible for the group is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident or lives in Canada

A corporation could include a municipal government. A group could include a political party registered at the provincial, territorial or municipal level.

Two groups with related aims, such as two trade union locals of the same parent union, may register separately as third parties. However, they are prohibited from colluding with each other to circumvent the limit on regulated expenses.

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When do I need to register as a third party?

A person, corporation or group must register with Elections Canada as a third party immediately after it conducts one or more regulated activities in an election period with combined expenses totalling $500 or more.

You cannot register before the election period starts. This is the day the general election or by-election is called.

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When I register as a third party, what information becomes public?

Elections Canada maintains a Registry of Third Parties that includes all the details provided by registered third parties in their application and subsequent updates.

When your third party becomes registered, some of your registry information (names and partial addresses) is published in the Third Party Database. The database can be searched on the Elections Canada website.

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Do I need a separate bank account for the campaign? What money flows through it?

Once your third party is required to register, your financial agent has to open a separate bank account for the sole purpose of the campaign. The account must be with a Canadian financial institution or an authorized foreign bank, as defined by the Bank Act.

During the time the account is required, all financial transactions for regulated activities that involve the payment or receipt of money have to go through that account.

If your third party is an existing organization and intends to use its own funds to pay for regulated activities, your financial agent must transfer the funds from the general account into the campaign account. Salary and overhead expenses drawn from the general account may continue to be paid from that account, but they must be reported in the financial returns.

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What are regulated activities?

There are three types of regulated activities during an election period: election advertising, partisan activities and election surveys.

Election advertising: The transmission to the public by a third party, by any means during the election period, of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered political party or candidate, including by taking a position on an issue with which the registered political party or person is clearly associated.

Partisan activities: Activities carried out by a third party that promote or oppose a political party, nomination contestant, potential candidate, candidate or party leader, other than by taking a position on an issue with which the political party or person is associated. Making telephone calls, sending text messages and canvassing are examples of partisan activities.

Election surveys: Surveys about voting intentions or choices, or about an issue with which a registered political party or candidate is associated, that a third party conducts or causes to be conducted during the election period. The survey results are used in deciding whether to organize and carry out regulated activities, or in the organization and carrying out of regulated activities.

Partisan activities and election surveys (as opposed to election advertising) conducted by provincially registered political parties are not regulated for the purposes of the Canada Elections Act. Activities or messages compelled by provincial legislation are also not regulated.

If you are conducting regulated activities, be sure to read the answer to "What are the spending limits for third parties?"

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What is issue advertising?

Issue advertising is the transmission of a message to the public that takes a position on an issue with which a candidate or registered political party is clearly associated, without identifying the candidate or party in any way. Issue advertising is regulated only during the election period. Like other election advertising, it must include a tagline.

Determining whether a particular message promotes or opposes an issue with which a candidate or registered political party is clearly associated is largely based on the facts, as each situation may have nuances that affect how an advertisement will be categorized. The broader the message, the less likely it is that a clear association will be found.

The rules in the Canada Elections Act on issue advertising do not cover other advocacy activities and communications, such as sending emails or text messages, having a website, canvassing door to door or giving media interviews.

The table below summarizes which issue-based activities or advertising are regulated in the election period.

Election period (from the day the election is called to the day polls close)
Advertising or activity Only takes a position on an issue Also identifies a party or candidate
Election advertising

Examples:
  • radio, television, newspaper ads
  • promoted (paid) social media
  • signs, billboards, flyers
Regulated if the issue is clearly associated with a registered political party or candidate Regulated
Partisan activity

Examples:
  • calls, emails, texts, websites
  • organic (free) social media, including online videos
  • door-to-door canvassing, rallies, demonstrations
  • get-out-the-vote activities
Not regulated Regulated

Note: An election survey that asks voters about an issue clearly associated with a registered political party or candidate is also regulated if the results are used to decide whether or how to carry out other regulated activities.

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Does Elections Canada keep a list of issues clearly associated with parties and candidates?

No, there is no definitive list of issues. Parties and candidates decide which issues are election issues during a campaign, and new issues or new positions can come to the forefront at any time.

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What if I am advertising about an issue that is not clearly associated with a party or candidate when the election period starts but becomes so during the campaign?

Once an issue becomes clearly associated with a political party or candidate during the election period, any future advertising that takes a position for or against the issue is regulated. Advertising that cannot be cancelled or that has already been transmitted would not be retroactively subject to the rules.

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What activities are not regulated?

Activities that do not promote or oppose a political party, a party leader or a candidate are not regulated. For example, the following activities are not regulated during an election period:

  • a communication, other than advertising, that takes a position on an issue without identifying a political party or candidate (for example, a news release)
  • a media activity carried out by an ongoing media organization (for example, an interview held during a newscast)
  • an issue-based website that displays responses from multiple candidates to a questionnaire, without evaluation or commentary to indicate approval or disapproval of the responses

Where a third party invites a party leader or candidate to participate in an event, the event is regulated only if the invitation can reasonably be seen to have the purpose of promoting the party's or candidate's election.

The following events with a party leader or candidate are not regulated during an election period:

  • a debate with multiple candidates of an electoral district or party leaders to discuss their views on a public policy issue
  • a series of near-identical events featuring competing candidates or party leaders one at a time
  • an event with a clear purpose other than to promote the candidate or party leader in the context of the election

A combination of other factors may also suggest that an event is not regulated—for example, if a party leader or candidate plays a marginal role in an event and the organizer is not conducting any other activities that are regulated.

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Are activities regulated if they are directed at a third party's own members, employees or shareholders?

When a third party's activity or survey meets the definition of a partisan activity or election survey, it is regulated even if it is directed at the third party's own members, employees or shareholders. Partisan activities are simply activities directed by a third party to reach electors, whether in person or remotely, one at a time or in groups. Similarly, election surveys are surveys addressed to people, no matter their relationship to the third party.

As an example, if a third party surveys its members about their voting intentions and then sends them an email promoting the top choice, these are both regulated activities.

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Will a registered charity put its charitable status at risk merely by registering as a third party?

No. Questions related to an organization's charitable status fall under the purview of the Income Tax Act. According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the mere fact of registering as a third party will not affect a registered charity's status, as long as the registered charity conducts activities regulated under the Canada Elections Act that are acceptable under the Income Tax Act.

For more information on how the Income Tax Act applies, please call the CRA's Charities Directorate (client services) at 1-800-267-2384.

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What third party activities can a registered charity conduct?

A registered charity can conduct certain election advertising activities under the Canada Elections Act. These activities must also meet the requirements of the Income Tax Act. For more information, see the Canada Revenue Agency's guidelines on charitable activities.

A registered charity cannot conduct partisan activities as described under the Canada Elections Act. These activities support or oppose a registered political party or candidate for public office and are prohibited under the Income Tax Act. For the same reason, charities also cannot conduct election surveys that are carried out to support or oppose a registered political party or candidate.

Charities should be aware of the array of activities regulated by the Canada Elections Act and the requirements for registration with Elections Canada. A charity that spends $500 or more on activities that are regulated by the Act is required to register and is subject to spending limits and reporting requirements.

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Can a third party coordinate its activities with a party or candidate?

Third parties should act independently of political parties and candidates. Coordination between a third party and a political party or candidate may result in the third party making an ineligible or illegal contribution.

On their own, the following activities do not constitute coordination and are not prohibited:

  • endorsing a political party or candidate
  • receiving information about a political party's or candidate's policy positions
  • receiving publicly available information
  • attending the same event as a political party or a candidate or inviting them to an event

There may be coordination and a contribution if the political party's or candidate's campaign:

  • requested or suggested that the third party undertake the activity
  • was materially involved in decisions about the activity, or
  • gave the third party information about the plans or needs of the political party or candidate that influenced how the third party organized or undertook the activity

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Can a foreign third party participate in federal elections?

The Canada Elections Act prohibits foreign third parties from participating in elections and incurring expenses for regulated activities that take place during a pre-election period or an election period.

"Incurring expenses" means becoming legally obligated to pay for property or services, such as by:

  • entering into a contract
  • reaching a verbal agreement
  • making a retail purchase

In a political financing context, expenses are also incurred when:

  • using a third party's existing property or services
  • using donated property or services

Furthermore, third parties are not permitted to use funds for a regulated activity if the source of the funds is a foreign entity.

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What are the spending limits for third parties?

The Canada Elections Act imposes an expenses limit for regulated activities that take place during an election period.

There is an overall limit on a third party's total expenses for regulated activities and a local limit on expenses for regulated activities targeting candidates in a given electoral district. Limits are adjusted for inflation each year on April 1.

View the current limits on the Elections Canada website.

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Are there reporting requirements for registered third parties?

Yes. All registered third parties must provide a campaign return detailing all inflows and outflows no later than four months after election day.

Also, registered third parties may have to provide interim reports during a general election if:

  • they have received contributions totalling $10,000 or more for regulated activities, or
  • they have conducted regulated activities with combined expenses totalling $10,000 or more

Finally, if third parties incur expenses totalling $10,000 or more for regulated activities, they must also submit an auditor's report.

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My group is carrying out a few inexpensive activities using our own funds. How much work is involved if we need to register?

Not all activities that involve a party leader or candidate are regulated. See "What activities are not regulated?" for examples of exemptions. If your activities are exempt, there is no need to register.

If your activities are not exempt and your regulated expenses total $500 or more, you will need to register as a third party. But if you are not accepting contributions or loans for your regulated activities and your expenses are under $10,000, there are only a few things you need to do:

  1. Keep track of expenses for your regulated activities and hold onto your invoices and receipts. If employees are spending paid time on activities, keep track of their hours and compensation, too.
  2. Submit the registration form called General Form—Third Party immediately after carrying out activities in the election period with combined expenses totalling $500 or more. As part of registration, you need to:
    • appoint a financial agent to handle your finances and paperwork
    • if your group has a governing body, pass a resolution stating that expenses can be incurred for regulated activities and provide Elections Canada with a copy of the signed resolution
  3. Have your financial agent open a separate bank account for the campaign. (It is best to do this before spending any money but is not necessary until you reach the $500 registration threshold.)
  4. Transfer funds from your group's general account into the campaign account to pay for regulated activities.
  5. Make sure your expenses targeting candidates in a given electoral district do not exceed the local limit of $4,506.
  6. Within four months after election day, submit the financial report called Third Party's Electoral Campaign Return. If your activities were self-funded, you only need to fill out:
    • Part 1—Third party's information and declaration
    • Part 2d, line 8—Amount of third party's resources used
    • Part 3b—A list of your activities with dates, locations and expenses
    • Part 3c—A summary of your expenses

    You must submit all parts of the return, even those you leave blank.

  7. Hold onto supporting documents such as invoices, bank statements and cancelled cheques. Elections Canada's auditors may request them while reviewing your campaign return.