2. Understanding Third Parties – Third Party Report – A Comparative Look at Third Party Information from the 2011, 2015 and 2019 Federal General Elections
Third parties are individuals and organizations that promote or oppose political parties or candidates during an election campaign but do not seek election themselves. They are subject to spending limits and funding restrictions that are different from those of political parties and candidates.
In the law, during a pre-election period, a third party is defined as a person or group other than an eligible or registered party, a registered electoral district association, a potential candidate or a nomination contestant. During an election period, a third party is a person or group other than a registered party, a registered or unregistered electoral district association, or a candidate.
A third party must register when it conducts regulated activities with combined expenses totalling $500 or more. The following individuals and groups can become a registered third party:
- 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 CanadaFootnote 1
- a group, if a person responsible for the group is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident or lives in Canada
2.1. Number and geographical location of third parties
Looking at the number of registered third parties at general elections from 2011 to 2019, there is a trend toward more third parties registering over time. As well, as more third parties registered, more regions of Canada were represented.
In the 2011 election, 93% of the 55 registered third parties were based in Ontario or British Columbia. Quebec and Saskatchewan were the only other two provinces or territories where third parties were registered.
The 2015 election saw the number of third parties more than double overall, reaching 115. The number increased by three quarters in Ontario, more than doubled in British Columbia and more than tripled in Quebec. Other registered third parties were in Alberta, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
In the 2019 election, the overall number of third parties rose again, increasing by nearly a third to 151. Most continued to be in Ontario (57%). Several new provinces were represented in this election: Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. The territories were not represented in all three general elections.
While third parties register in one province or territory as their headquarters, they can operate across the country. The fact that many national organizations are based in Ottawa and Toronto may explain Ontario's predominance in the list below.
|Newfoundland and Labrador||0||0||4||4|
|Prince Edward Island||0||0||2||2|
*In the handful of cases where no third party address was reported on the registration form, the financial agent's address was used as the location. "Other" refers to a third party that was located abroad.
2.2. Third party types
A third party registers with Elections Canada as an individual, a corporation, a group without a governing body, or a trade union or group with a governing body. These types are distinguished in the law. However, to better describe who is participating, this report presents third party data under the following types:
- groups without a governing body (mainly composed of local advocacy groups, small groups of individuals)
- corporations (mainly composed of professional associations, industry or commodity associations, larger advocacy groups, incorporated bodies with partisan aims, businesses; excludes labour organizations and registered charities)
- groups with a governing body (mainly composed of larger advocacy groups, industry or commodity associations, non-profit organizations; excludes labour organizations and registered charities)
- labour organizations (composed of trade unions and labour congresses)
- registered charities (composed of registered Canadian charities)Footnote 2
Overall, corporations were the most common type of registered third party. They were also the type whose number grew most significantly from 2011 to 2019, increasing by over 800%. Corporations also accounted for most of the growth in the number of third parties between the 2015 and 2019 elections. Registered charities had the lowest number of registrants among the third party types at each election.
Figure 1 – Number of third parties by type at the 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections
Text version of "Figure 1 – Number of third parties by type at the 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections"
This bar chart shows the number of third parties by type at three general elections, as follows:
- corporations: 6 in 2011, 28 in 2015, 55 in 2019
- groups with a governing body: 17 in 2011, 27 in 2015, 29 in 2019
- labour organizations: 12 in 2011, 27 in 2015, 24 in 2019
- groups with no governing body: 13 in 2011, 22 in 2015, 24 in 2019
- individuals: 7 in 2011, 7 in 2015, 10 in 2019
- registered charities: 0 in 2011, 4 in 2015, 9 in 2019
2.3. Regulated activities
In 2011 and 2015, a third party's only regulated activity under the Canada Elections Act was election advertising. Beginning in 2019, the scope of regulated activities was expanded to include election advertising, partisan activities, election surveys and partisan advertising. These activities are defined below.
Election advertising is 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 party or candidate. It includes promoting or opposing a party or candidate only by taking a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is clearly associated without identifying the party or candidate.
Partisan activities are 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. Any activity may qualify such as making telephone calls, sending text messages, creating organic social media content or a campaign website, canvassing door to door and holding get-out-the-vote activities. This includes activities directed at a third party's own members, employees or shareholders.
Election surveys are surveys about voting, or about an issue with which a registered 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 or not to organize and carry out regulated activities, or in organizing and carrying out regulated activities.
Partisan advertising is the transmission to the public by any means during a pre-election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a political party, nomination contestant, candidate or party leader, other than by taking a position on an issue with which the party or person is associated.
This report goes into more detail about how a third party funds its regulated activities in Chapter 3, Financial Administration – Funding and about expenses incurred for regulated activities in Chapter 4, Financial Administration – Expenses.
2.4. Key findings from this chapter
- The number of registered third parties increased at each general election from 2011 to 2019. As their number increased, so did their geographical representation, but Ontario predominated.
- Corporations were overall the most common type of registered third party. This type includes more than just businesses, however, since it reflects an organization's structure rather than its purpose.
Return to source of footnote 1 The third party can register as long as its primary purpose in Canada is not to influence electors to vote or refrain from voting, either in general or for a particular registered party or candidate.
Return to source of footnote 2 Data on third party types are reported as declared by the third parties, except in the case of labour organizations and registered charities, which were identified using federal data (Labour organizations in Canada and List of Charities) and individual websites.