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

5. Election Period—Regulated Activities

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

It covers the following topics:

Expenses limit for an election period

General election

The Canada Elections Act imposes a limit on expenses that a third party can incur for regulated activities conducted during the election period of a general election.

For an election period of a general election the total expense limit is $511,700. (This is the base amount of $350,000 multiplied by the inflation adjustment factor in effect between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.)

For an election period of a general election the expense limit in a given electoral district is $4,386. (This is the base amount of $3,000 multiplied by the inflation adjustment factor in effect between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.)

By-election

The Canada Elections Act imposes a limit on expenses that a third party can incur for regulated activities conducted during the election period of a by-election.

The expense limit for by-elections is $4,386 by electoral district. (This is the base amount of $3,000 multiplied by the inflation adjustment factor in effect between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.)

Note: The election period starts on the day the election is called and ends on election day when the polls close.

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 election period.

A third party is also prohibited from circumventing, or attempting to circumvent, the 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.

When expenses are not cancellable

In the case of a by-election or a general election held other than on a fixed date, a third party might not be able to cancel a regulated activity on the day the election is called. Under these circumstances, the third party is deemed not to have incurred regulated expenses for the uncancellable activities.

Partisan activities and expenses in the election period

What is 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 candidate, potential candidate, nomination contestant or leader of a registered party or eligible 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 election period is election 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 or a person associated with a 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 election period are subject to the 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. Two days before election day, the third party organizes a door-to-door campaign in a riding and offers rides to voters who intend to vote for a particular candidate. This is a partisan activity. The expenses for organizing and carrying out the activity, including planning, transportation and remuneration paid to canvassers, are partisan activity expenses subject to the limit in the riding for the election period.
  2. One week before election day, the third party uses a catering service to organize a BBQ outside a candidate's campaign office, drawing attention to the candidate and promoting their platform. It is done without the candidate's prior knowledge. This is a partisan activity. The catering company does not charge for the service, so its commercial value (the amount the company would normally charge for catering a BBQ) is a non-monetary contribution. The same amount is also a partisan activity expense of the third party and is subject to the limit in the riding for the election period.
  3. The third party hires a calling service provider to conduct calls in the province during the election period, informing voters about the third party's position on a specific issue. During the calls, voters are also encouraged to vote for a registered party. This is a partisan activity. Expenses incurred for the calls are partisan activity expenses subject to the limit for the election period.
  4. During the 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 is 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 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.

Telephone calls in the election period

Calls made by third parties to voters during the election period are partisan activities if they promote or oppose a political party, candidate, potential candidate, nomination contestant or party leader. Expenses incurred, including the cost of production and distribution, are partisan activity expenses.

Note: Even if a call is not a partisan activity, other rules may apply. Please see those rules below.

Whether or not telephone calls are a partisan activity, third parties must follow certain rules if they use voter contact calling services. These are services involving the making of calls during an election period for any purpose related to an election, including:

  • promoting or opposing a registered party, its leader, a candidate or a nomination contestant or any position on an issue with which such a party or person is associated
  • encouraging electors to vote or to refrain from voting
  • providing information about the election, including information about voting hours and the location of polling stations
  • gathering information about how electors voted in past elections or will vote in the election or their views on a registered party, its leader, a candidate or a nomination contestant or any issue with which such a party or person is associated
  • raising funds for a registered party, a registered association, a candidate or a nomination contestant

If a script is used for the telephone calls, the third party must keep the following for one year after the end of the election period:

  • a copy of each unique script used
  • a record of every date on which the script was used
  • a list of every telephone number called

The rules are administered and enforced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for enforcing the requirement to keep a copy of the scripts and recorded messages.

Note: For the rules on voter contact calling services, please refer to the CRTC's Voter Contact Registry web page. A link to the page is posted on the Elections Canada website.

Election advertising and expenses in the election period

What is election advertising?

Election advertising is the transmission to the public during the election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered party or the election of a candidate.

Election advertising includes taking a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated.

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 election 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, this is acceptable if the statement is made immediately apparent to the viewer by following the link in the advertising message.

Blackout period

The Canada Elections Act prohibits the transmission of election advertising to the public in an electoral district on election day before the close of all polling stations in the electoral district.

The blackout does not apply to the distribution of pamphlets or the posting of messages on signs, posters or banners during that period.

The blackout also does not apply to the transmission of a message on the Internet that was placed before the blackout period began and was not changed during that period—for example, an advertisement placed in a weekly online magazine.

However, if an Internet advertisement is actively transmitted to different users daily and the third party is able to control the transmission date—for example, a paid social media or search engine advertisement—the blackout must be respected.

What qualifies as election advertising on the Internet?

Messages communicated over the Internet are election advertising only if:

  • they meet the general criteria for election advertising (see What is election 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 election 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 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 election 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 election 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 election 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.

Election advertising expenses

Expenses incurred for producing election advertising messages and transmitting them during the election period are subject to the 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 an election advertising message.

Examples
  1. The third party runs a national radio ad during the election period, promoting a policy issue with which one registered party is closely associated but not naming the party. This is election advertising. The advertisement has to include an authorization statement from the third party. The expense for the advertisement—including its scripting, recording and transmission—is an election advertising expense subject to the limit for the election period. (As issue advertising, this particular advertisement would not be a regulated expense if it ran only during the pre election period.)
  2. The third party hires a media firm to place banners on websites and social media platforms during the election period, directing users to a video posted on YouTube that promotes a 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 an election advertising expense subject to the limit for the election period. In addition, the expenses for the video—including design and production costs—are partisan activity expenses subject to the limit for the election period.
  3. In anticipation of a by-election, the third party mails out flyers in a riding asking voters to support a candidate who will be running. The by-election is called two days later, and the third party is unable to stop the distribution of the flyers. This is not election advertising and the expenses are not regulated.
  4. A group page has been created by the third party on a free social networking site during the election period. Volunteers manage the page and post articles to update followers on election issues important to the third party. They ask followers to vote for candidates that share the third party's views. Because the messages are posted for free, this is not election advertising. However, it is a partisan activity. The expenses related to creating and posting the messages are partisan activity expenses subject to the limit for the election period.
OGI reference

For a detailed discussion of this topic, please refer to Elections Canada's interpretation note 2015-04, Election advertising on the Internet, on the Elections Canada website.

Election surveys and expenses in the 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 a 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 election period are subject to the 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

At the beginning of the election period, the third party hires an election polling company to conduct a survey for $12,000 to identify ridings with a large number of undecided voters. The third party uses the survey results to organize partisan activities in some ridings. The $12,000 is an election survey expense subject to the limit for the election period.

Publishing election survey results during the election period

If the results of an election survey are transmitted during the election period, the first person who transmits the results must publish the following information about the survey:

  • the name of the survey sponsor
  • the name of the person or organization that conducted the survey
  • the dates or period during which the survey was conducted
  • the population from which the sample of respondents was drawn
  • the number of people who were contacted to participate in the survey
  • if applicable, the margin of error for the data
  • the address of the website on which a report by the survey's sponsor is published

If the survey is transmitted to the public by means other than broadcasting, the wording of the survey questions for which data is obtained must be provided.

Report by survey sponsor

If a third party conducts or pays for the conduct of an election survey, the third party is the survey sponsor. If it is the first to transmit the survey results, the third party must publish a report. The report must be published on a public website and stay there for the remainder of the election period.

The report has to include the following:

  • the name and address of the survey sponsor
  • the name and address of the person or organization that conducted the survey
  • the dates or period during which the survey was conducted
  • information about the data collection method
  • the wording of the survey questions and, if applicable, the margins of error for the data

Note: If another person transmits the survey results during the election period, they must inform the survey sponsor so it can prepare and publish the report.

Blackout period

Election survey results that have not been previously transmitted to the public in an electoral district may not be transmitted on election day before all polls close in that electoral district.

Telephone surveys in the election period

Surveys about voting that third parties conduct by telephone during the election period are election surveys if the results are used in deciding about regulated activities. Expenses incurred in relation to conducting an election survey are election survey expenses, as explained above.

Whether or not a telephone survey is an election survey, third parties must follow certain rules if they use voter contact calling services. These are services involving the making of calls during an election period for any purpose related to an election, including:

  • promoting or opposing a registered party, its leader, a candidate or a nomination contestant or any position on an issue with which such a party or person is associated
  • encouraging electors to vote or to refrain from voting
  • providing information about the election, including information about voting hours and the location of polling stations
  • gathering information about how electors voted in past elections or will vote in the election or their views on a registered party, its leader, a candidate or a nomination contestant or any issue with which such a party or person is associated
  • raising funds for a registered party, a registered association, a candidate or a nomination contestant

If a script is used for the telephone calls, the third party must keep the following for one year after the end of the election period:

  • a copy of each unique script used
  • a record of every date on which the script was used
  • a list of every telephone number called

The rules are administered and enforced by the CRTC. The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for enforcing the requirement to keep a copy of the scripts and recorded messages.

Note: For the rules on voter contact calling services, please refer to the CRTC’s Voter Contact Registry web page. A link to the page is posted on the Elections Canada website.