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Political Financing Handbook for Electoral District Associations and Financial Agents (EC 20089) – June 2019

This document is Elections Canada's guideline OGI 2019-04.

Click on the link for the latest Political Financing Handbook for Electoral District Associations and Financial Agents.

7. Partisan Advertising During the Pre-election Period

This chapter discusses how the Canada Elections Act regulates partisan advertising during the pre-election period. It covers the following topics:

  • What is partisan advertising?
  • What qualifies as partisan advertising on the Internet?
  • Partisan advertising expenses
  • Partisan advertising in various situations (for a potential candidate or contestant, for a registered party inside the electoral district, for a registered party outside the electoral district)
  • Summary of rules on partisan advertising expenses

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.

What is partisan advertising?

Definition

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

This includes messages distributed through traditional means such as signs, flyers or television (but not telephone calls). It also includes some messages communicated over the Internet (see What qualifies as partisan advertising on the Internet?).

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 the ad promotes or opposes a political entity in any other way, including by showing a logo or linking to a web page that identifies the entity (see the next section).

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.

What it means to promote or oppose a political entity

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

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

What qualifies as partisan advertising on the Internet?

Election 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 sent through a cellular or mobile network)
  • videos posted for free on social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram
  • content posted on the party's website (the ongoing expenses for creating and maintaining a website are not placement costs)

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 registered association 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 association 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

A partisan advertising expense is an expense incurred in relation to:

  • producing a partisan advertising message
  • transmitting a partisan advertising message

It includes the following:

  • 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
  • a non-monetary transfer accepted to the extent that the goods or services are used in relation to producing or transmitting a partisan advertising message

Partisan advertising in various situations

Partisan advertising expenses of registered parties are limited in the pre-election period, and rules are in place for spending by electoral district associations to protect this limit.

Associations are still allowed to incur partisan advertising expenses to benefit local campaigns.
For example, they can advertise for their nominated candidate or for their party locally (in case a candidate has not been chosen yet). But there are restrictions when it comes to advertising for the party outside the association's electoral district.

The rules and restrictions for various situations are explained in the sections below.

Partisan advertising to promote or oppose a potential candidate or contestant

An electoral district association of a registered party, whether the association is registered or not, can incur expenses and conduct partisan advertising to promote or oppose the election of a potential candidate or a nomination contestant. This can be done inside or outside the association's electoral district.

If the association is registered, the partisan advertising has to be authorized by the financial agent or an authorized electoral district agent. The authorization has to be mentioned in or on the partisan advertising message.

Advertisements that promote a potential candidate or a nomination contestant will often include the affiliated party's name or logo. Such ads are still considered to promote the potential candidate or contestant rather than the party, unless

  • the potential candidate is the party leader, or
  • the decision to advertise outside the electoral district is not reasonably related to the potential candidate’s or nomination contestant’s election (such as running a Facebook ad in British Columbia for an Ontario candidate)
Examples
  1. During the pre-election period, the registered association places ads on city buses to promote a potential candidate (who is not the party leader) by showing the potential candidate's name and party logo. These are partisan advertising expenses of the association. The ads display an authorization message from the financial agent. The expenses remain partisan advertising expenses of the association even though the buses regularly travel into ridings other than the association's own riding.
  2. During the pre-election period, the registered association runs a radio ad in an urban centre to oppose a potential candidate (who is not a party leader). It identifies the potential candidate by their name and political affiliation. This is a partisan advertising expense of the association. The ad includes an authorization message from the financial agent. The expense remains a partisan advertising expense of the association even though the ad can be heard over the airwaves in a dozen ridings outside the association’s own riding.
  3. During the pre-election period, the registered association places an ad in a multicultural newspaper to promote a potential candidate (who is not the party leader) by showing the potential candidate’s name and party logo. The newspaper publishes only one edition for the entire country. This is a partisan advertising expense of the association. The ad displays an authorization message from the financial agent. The expense remains a partisan advertising expense of the association even though it is distributed nationally because it reasonably promotes the potential candidate’s election in their own electoral district.

Note: If the potential candidate being promoted is the party leader, and the advertisement is not transmitted only or mostly within the electoral district in which the leader is running, then the ad is considered to promote the party. See Partisan advertising on behalf of the party outside the electoral district below.

Partisan advertising to promote or oppose a party within the electoral district

An electoral district association of a registered party, whether the association is registered or not, can incur expenses and conduct partisan advertising to promote or oppose a party. This can be done without impacting its affiliated party's limit if the advertising is conducted only or mostly in the association's electoral district.

If the association is registered, the partisan advertising has to be authorized by the financial agent or an authorized electoral district agent. The authorization has to be mentioned in or on the partisan advertising message—for example: "Authorized by the financial agent of the XYZ Riding Association."

Example

During the pre-election period, the registered association buys signs that promote the party by showing the party logo and installs them in its riding. Because the association distributed the advertising only within its riding, the expenses are partisan advertising expenses of the association and not of the party. The signs display an authorization message from the financial agent of the association. If a small percentage of signs are inadvertently installed in adjacent ridings, this is still a partisan advertising expense of the association.

Partisan advertising on behalf of the party outside the electoral district

An electoral district association of a registered party, whether the association is registered or not, can incur expenses and conduct partisan advertising outside the association's electoral district on behalf of the party. However, the expenses will be subject to the party's limit on partisan advertising expenses.

For that reason, before an association conducts any such advertising, it must obtain the agreement of the party beforehand. After incurring the expenses:

  • if the association is registered, the property or services that the expense is incurred for must be sold or transferred to the party
  • if the association is unregistered, the property or services that the expense is incurred for must be sold to the party

A copy of the original supplier invoice for the partisan advertising expense must be sent to the party. The expenses for partisan advertising conducted during the pre-election period, including the cost of production and distribution, are partisan advertising expenses of the party.

Partisan advertising done on behalf of the registered party must receive prior written authorization from a registered agent of the party. This authorization has to be mentioned in or on the message—for example: "Authorized by the registered agent of the XYZ Party of Canada."

Example

Leading up to a fixed-date general election, a registered association works with the registered party to develop an advertising campaign that is centred around the party leader. The party's chief agent authorizes the association to produce flyers and distribute them across the province in July. The association adds a party tagline on the message and sends the invoice for the flyers to the party. The party reports the amount as a non-monetary transfer from the association and a partisan advertising expense.

Summary of rules on partisan advertising expenses

The following table summarizes the partisan advertising rules for electoral district associations of registered parties.

Partisan advertising during the pre-election period
Promoting or opposing... Transmitted where By a registered association By an unregistered association
Election of a:
  • potential candidate
  • nomination contestant
Inside or outside the association's electoral districtNote 1
  • Association's authorization required
  • Authorization on or in message
  • It is an expense of the registered association
It is an expense of the associationNote 3
Registered partyNote 2 Only or mostly within the association's electoral district
  • Association's authorization required
  • Authorization on or in message
  • It is an expense of the registered association
If the property or services are sold to the party:
  • Party's authorization required
  • Authorization on or in message
  • It is a partisan advertising expense of the party
Otherwise, it is an expense of the associationNote 3
Registered party Note 2 Outside the association's electoral district
  • Party's authorization required
  • Authorization on or in message
  • Property or services must be sold or transferred to the party
  • It is a partisan advertising expense of the party
If the property or services are sold to the party:
  • Party's authorization required
  • Authorization on or in message
  • It is a partisan advertising expense of the party
Otherwise, it is an expense of the associationNote 3

Note 1 If the potential candidate being promoted is the party leader, and the advertisement is not transmitted only or mostly within the electoral district in which the leader is running, then the ad is considered to promote the party.

Note 2 An eligible party that becomes registered during a fixed-date general election is deemed to have been registered from June 30.

Note 3 The association may need to register as a third party. An unregistered association may also need to register as a third party if it conducts partisan activities or election surveys in the pre-election period. Please refer to the Political Financing Handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors for registration requirements and other obligations.