open Secondary menu

Political Financing Handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors (EC 20227) – August 2019

4. Pre-election Period of a Fixed-Date Election—Regulated Activities

This chapter explains the expenses limit for regulated activities during the pre election period of a fixed-date general election. The chapter also defines and gives examples of partisan activities, partisan advertising and election surveys that take place during the pre-election period.

It covers the following topics:

Expenses limit for the pre-election period

The Canada Elections Act imposes separate expense limits for regulated activities that take place during a pre-election period or an election period. Only fixed-date general elections have a pre election period.

For a pre-election period starting on June 30, 2019, the total expense limit is $1,023,400. (This is the base amount of $700,000 multiplied by the inflation adjustment factor in effect on June 30, 2019.)

The pre-election period expense limit in a given electoral district is $10,234. (This is the base amount of $7,000 multiplied by the inflation adjustment factor in effect on June 30, 2019.)

Note: The pre-election period starts on June 30 in the year of a fixed-date general election. It ends on the day before the general election is called.

Prohibitions on exceeding or circumventing the limit

A third party is prohibited from exceeding the limit on expenses incurred for regulated activities that take place during the pre-election period.

A third party is also prohibited from circumventing, or attempting to circumvent, the pre-election period limit on expenses for regulated activities. Circumventing the limit includes the third party splitting itself into two or more third parties, or acting in collusion with another third party, so that their combined regulated expenses exceed the limit.

Partisan activities and expenses in the pre-election period

What is a partisan activity?

A partisan activity is an activity or event organized and carried out by a third party to promote or oppose:

  • a registered party or eligible party, or
  • the election of a potential candidate, nomination contestant or leader of a registered party or eligible party

Note: A potential candidate is someone who is selected in a nomination contest, is deemed to be a candidate because they have conducted political financing transactions, is a member of Parliament or an incumbent, or has the support of a political party to be a candidate of that party.

Any event or activity may qualify as a partisan activity, including but not limited to:

  • making telephone calls
  • sending text messages or using other messaging services
  • creating and sending out organic social media content, whether done by humans or bots (note that paying for sponsored content in the pre-election period is partisan advertising, not a partisan activity)
  • canvassing door to door
  • holding get-out-the-vote activities and rallies
  • creating a campaign website

Note: An activity is not a partisan activity if it promotes or opposes a political entity only by taking a position on an issue with which the political entity is associated.

Note: Partisan activities or election surveys conducted by provincially registered political parties are not regulated activities for the purposes of the Canada Elections Act.

Fundraising activities are excluded

The third party may organize events to raise funds for its regulated activities. Fundraising events for which tickets are sold or entry fees are collected are not partisan activities, and the expenses incurred for these activities are not regulated expenses.

Keep in mind that expenses incurred for advertising a ticketed fundraising event and for distributing advertising during the event are regulated expenses, if the advertising meets the definition of partisan or election advertising, including by promoting or opposing a candidate or party.

Note: Expenses incurred to hold events for which no admission fee is charged are regulated expenses, even if funds are raised during the event.

Caution about collusion

A third party must not collude with a registered party, a candidate, a potential candidate or a person associated with a candidate's or potential candidate's campaign (including the official agent) in order to influence the third party in its regulated activities.

When organizing and carrying out partisan activities, third parties must be careful to act independently. By including political entities in the activities organized in their support, or by consulting them on activities, third parties may create a situation that is prohibited by the Canada Elections Act.

For more on collusion, see Chapter 7, Interacting with Other Regulated Entities.

Partisan activity expenses

Expenses incurred for organizing partisan activities and carrying them out during the pre election period are subject to the pre-election period expenses limit.

This includes any non-monetary contribution received to the extent that the property or service is used in relation to organizing or carrying out partisan activities.

Examples
  1. During the pre-election period, the third party organizes door-to-door canvassing in a riding to oppose the selection of a nomination contestant. This is a partisan activity. The expenses for organizing the event, including transportation costs and remuneration paid to canvassers, are partisan activity expenses of the third party and are subject to the limit in that riding for the pre election period.
  2. During the pre-election period, the third party hires a Canadian calling service provider to call voters across the country, asking them to vote for a registered party. The calls are a partisan activity. The calling service provider does not charge for the service, so its commercial value (the amount the company would normally charge for making the calls) is a non-monetary contribution. The same amount is also a partisan activity expense of the third party and is subject to the limit for the pre-election period.
  3. The third party sends text messages to voters during the pre-election period, promoting a potential candidate in the riding. This is a partisan activity. All associated expenses, such as writing and distributing the text messages, are partisan activity expenses subject to the limit in that riding for the pre-election period.
  4. During the pre-election period, the third party's employees canvass door-to-door and ask voters to sign a petition in support of a policy issue. They do not talk about any political entities at the door, though one candidate in the riding is closely associated with the issue. This not a partisan activity. The expenses are not regulated and do not have to be reported.
  5. The third party sells tickets to a fundraising dinner during the pre-election period for $100. The funds will be used in part to support the third party's regulated activities. While the contributions need to be reported, the fundraising event itself is not a partisan activity. The expenses are not regulated and do not have to be reported.

Partisan advertising and expenses in the pre-election period

What is partisan advertising?

Partisan advertising is the transmission to the public during the pre-election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes:

  • a registered party or an eligible party, or
  • the election of a potential candidate, nomination contestant or leader of a registered party or eligible party

Advertising in the pre-election period is not partisan advertising if it promotes or opposes a political entity only by taking a position on an issue with which the entity is associated. This is commonly called issue advertising.

However, it will be partisan advertising if it promotes or opposes a political entity in any other way, including by showing a logo or linking to a website that identifies the entity (see the next section).

What it means to promote or oppose a political entity

For the purposes of advertising, promoting or opposing, in relation to a registered party or eligible party, may include but is not limited to:

  • naming the party
  • identifying the party, including by its logo
  • providing a link to a web page that names or identifies the party

For the purposes of advertising, promoting or opposing, in relation to the election of a potential candidate, nomination contestant or leader of a registered party or eligible party, may include but is not limited to:

  • naming the person
  • showing a photograph, cartoon or drawing of the person
  • identifying the person, including by political affiliation or by a logo
  • providing a link to a web page that does any of the above

Tagline

The third party must identify itself in or on any partisan advertising and indicate that it has authorized the advertising. The tagline must include the third party's name, phone number and civic or Internet address. It must be clearly visible or otherwise accessible.

The following wording is suggested: "Authorized by 'name of the third party', 'civic or Internet address', 'phone number'".

For advertising on the Internet, where the authorization statement cannot be included on the advertising message because of its size, it is acceptable if the statement is made immediately apparent to the viewer by following the link in the advertising message.

What qualifies as partisan advertising on the Internet?

Messages communicated over the Internet are partisan advertising only if:

  • they meet the general criteria for partisan advertising (see What is partisan advertising? above), and
  • they have, or would normally have, a placement cost (such as sponsored or boosted content)

For greater certainty, the following are not partisan advertising:

  • messages sent or posted for free on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook
  • messages sent by email or through other messaging services (including texts and phone calls sent through a cellular or mobile network)
  • videos posted for free on social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram
  • content posted on the third party's website (the ongoing expenses for creating and maintaining a website are not placement costs)

Note: If the third party decides to sponsor or boost social media content that was originally posted for free, it may become partisan advertising and require a tagline. In such a case, the third party would have to comply with the tagline requirement.

Note: Although some communications over the Internet are not partisan advertising, they may be partisan activities and the associated expenses would be subject to the limit.

Information to be held in an online registry

Regulated online platforms (that is, websites or applications that meet certain criteria for monthly visitors or users) have to maintain a registry of political advertising.

When a third party purchases partisan advertising online, to make sure it complies with the law, it should:

  • inform the platform that it is conducting political advertising
  • ask if the platform is regulated by the rules in the Canada Elections Act and needs information for its registry (unless the platform has already made this clear)

If the platform is regulated, the third party must provide it with:

  • an electronic copy of the advertisement
  • the name of the financial agent who authorized its distribution on the platform

The platform must publish this information in its registry from the day the ad runs until two years after election day.

Partisan advertising expenses

Expenses incurred for producing partisan advertising messages and transmitting them during the pre election period are subject to the pre-election period expenses limit.

This includes any non-monetary contribution received to the extent that the property or service is used in relation to producing or transmitting a partisan advertising message.

Examples
  1. The third party runs a national radio ad during the pre-election period, promoting a policy issue with which one registered party is closely associated but not naming the party. This is not partisan advertising. The expenses are not regulated and do not have to be reported. (As issue advertising, this particular advertisement would be a regulated expense if it ran during the election period.)
  2. The third party buys advertising space in a national newspaper to oppose a registered party during the pre-election period. Because the message directly opposes the party, this is partisan advertising. The advertisement must include an authorization statement from the third party. The expenses to produce and distribute the advertisement are partisan advertising expenses subject to the limit for the pre-election period.
  3. The third party hires a media firm to place banners on websites and social media platforms during the pre-election period, directing users to a video posted on YouTube that promotes a potential candidate. The clickable banners are too small for the authorization statement, so the statement is displayed at the start of the video. The cost of the banners is a partisan advertising expense subject to the limit for the pre-election period. In addition, the expenses for the video—including design and production costs—are partisan activity expenses subject to the limit for the pre-election period.
  4. During the pre-election period, employees of a third party are instructed to send out messages on social media, supporting a potential candidate. Because the messages are posted for free, this is not partisan advertising. However, it is a partisan activity. All expenses incurred in relation to this activity, such as production costs, direct labour costs and overhead allocation, are partisan activity expenses subject to the limit for the pre-election period.

Election surveys and expenses in the pre-election period

What is an election survey?

An election survey collects data from electors: who they intend to vote for or did vote for, or their opinions regarding an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated.

An election survey is a regulated activity when it is conducted by or on behalf of a third party and the results are used:

  • in deciding whether or not to organize and carry out regulated activities, or
  • when organizing and carrying out partisan activities or transmitting advertising messages

Note: Partisan activities or election surveys conducted by provincially registered political parties are not regulated activities for the purposes of the Canada Elections Act.

Election survey expenses

Expenses incurred for election surveys conducted during the pre-election period are subject to the pre-election period expenses limit.

This includes any non monetary contribution received to the extent that the property or service is used in relation to conducting election surveys.

Examples
  1. The third party hires an election polling company to conduct a survey for $1,500 during the pre-election period about voting intentions in a riding. It uses the survey results to decide if organizing partisan activities will be worth the investment. The $1,500 is an election survey expense subject to the limit in that riding for the pre-election period.
  2. Before the pre-election period begins, a third party conducts a survey to evaluate support for the governing party. Based on the findings, they launch a partisan advertising campaign during the pre-election period. Because the survey was conducted before the pre-election period, the survey expenses are not regulated expenses, but the expenses for the partisan advertising are.

Additional rules about election surveys

Additional rules apply when survey results are transmitted during the election period. Information about the survey needs to be published, and the survey results are subject to a blackout period on election day.

See Election surveys and expenses in the election period in Chapter 5, Election Period—Regulated Activities, for details.