Third Party Advertising 101 for the 2015 Canadian Federal Election

Given that we could be going into a federal election here in Canada as early as this weekend (sigh) and I have a lot of folks asking me about the rules and regulations around election advertising by third parties, I thought I would share the most important points for those interested in knowing more about the regulations.

To be clear, I am not a lawyer, just a guy who can't help but stick his nose in elections. I actually hope this summary sparks a few more people to get involved as third parties in this election.

You can read the entire section provided by Elections Canada here:  Election advertising handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors (EC 20227) – July 2015.

What I am doing in this post is pulling verbatim the most important points, to provide an overview and a general understanding. If you are planning on advertising as a third party during the election, I would suggest reading the entire Elections Canada handbook on the rules and regulations and also consult a lawyer familiar with the area.

Off the top and before we get into too many details, the one big question I am asked is whether a website or posting content on Twitter and Facebook is considered election advertising and the answer to that question is clearly NO.

The election handbook states clearly that:

The following are not election advertising:

  • Messages sent or posted for free on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook
  • Messages sent by e-mail or through other messaging services (including texts sent through a cellular or mobile network)
  • Content posted on the third party's website

Elections Canada does provide a clear scenario that is related to many of the questions I am getting about online election advertising -- the following is not considered an election advertising expense:

"During the election, the third party sets up a website to promote a registered party. Even though there are costs to produce and host websites, these are not election advertising expenses."

Elections Canada defines (and quite clearly in my opinion) what counts as an online advertising expense:

"Election messages communicated over the Internet are election advertising only if they have, or would normally have, a placement cost (and meet all the other requirements for election advertising)."

Again though, if you're unsure consult your friendly neighbourhood elections lawyer. Further down in this post is a few more details on what is considered an eligible advertising expense.

Here's the barebones that you need to know about third party election advertising taken directly from the Elections Canada Third Party Advertising Handbook:

[click on any of the headers to go to the pertinent section of the Third Party Advertising Handbook]

1. Definition of a "third party": 

"For the purposes of election advertising, third party means a person or a group other than a candidate, registered party, or electoral district association of a registered party."

And,

"A third party may incur election advertising expenses totalling $500 or more in relation to a general election or a by-election if the third party is:

  • an individual who is a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident, or resides in Canada
  • a corporation, if it carries on business in Canada
  • a group, if the person responsible for the group is a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident, or resides in Canada"

2. Registration requirements: 

"A person or group must register as a third party immediately after incurring election advertising expenses totalling $500 or more."

And,

"Registration cannot take place before the election is called. The person or group must apply for registration by submitting the completed and signed General Form – Third Party to Elections Canada."

Here is the PDF form you need to fill out and send back to Elections Canada: General Form-Third Party.

[on a personal note, this is a free and easy process and if you think on the off chance that you might do some advertising during the election. It is a total pain to do it later in the election cycle]

3. Appointing a financial agent:

"A third party must appoint a financial agent before applying for registration. In addition, a third party has to appoint an auditor if it incurs election advertising expenses totalling $5,000 or more."

And,

"Who can become a financial agent of a third party?

  • an individual who is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada

Who is not eligible to act as a financial agent?

  • a candidate or official agent of a candidate
  • a chief agent or registered agent of a registered party
  • an election officer or a member of the staff of a returning officer
  • an individual who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada"

4. Appointing an auditor:

"The third party must appoint an auditor if it incurs election advertising expenses totalling $5,000 or more. This may become necessary before or after registration."

And,

"Who can become an auditor of a third party?

  • a person who is a member in good standing of a corporation, an association or an institute of provincially incorporated professional accountants
  • a partnership of which every partner is a member in good standing of a corporation, an association or an institute of provincially incorporated professional accountants
  • provincially incorporated professional accounting designations include: Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), Chartered Accountant (CA), Certified General Accountant (CGA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA).

Who is not eligible to be an auditor?

  • the third party's financial agent
  • a person who signed the third party's application for registration
  • an election officer
  • a candidate or official agent of a candidate
  • the chief agent of a registered party or an eligible party
  • a registered agent of a registered party"

5. Definition of a contribution:

"A contribution is donated money (monetary contribution) or donated property or services (non-monetary contribution)."

6. Who can contribute to your third party group:

"Individuals who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada, and businesses or other organizations that operate in Canada, can make contributions to a third party for election advertising purposes."

7. Who CANNOT contribute to your third party group:

"The third party is prohibited from using a contribution made for election advertising purposes if it does not know the name and address of the contributor, or if it is unable to determine to which contributor class the contributor belongs.

The third party cannot use a contribution made for election advertising purposes if the contribution is from:

  • a person who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada
  • a corporation or association that does not carry on business in Canada
  • a trade union that does not hold bargaining rights for employees in Canada
  • a foreign political party
  • a foreign government or an agent of one"

8. Definition of election advertising: 

"Election advertising is the transmission to the public by any means during an election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered party or the election of a candidate, including one that takes a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated."

[personal note: I find this definition vague and would recommend you get clarity from a lawyer if you are unsure whether your activities qualify as election advertising]

9. What is NOT considered election advertising:

  • the transmission to the public of an editorial, a debate, a speech, an interview, a column, a letter, a commentary, or news
  • the distribution of a book, or the promotion of the sale of a book, for no less than its commercial value, if the book was planned to be made available to the public regardless of whether there was to be an election
  • the transmission of a document directly by a person or a group to their members, employees or shareholders, as the case may be
  • the transmission by an individual, on a non-commercial basis on the Internet, of that individual's personal political views

10. Declare authorization on your ad copy:

"The Canada Elections Act requires that a third party identify itself in any election advertising and indicate that it has authorized the advertising. This authorization has to be in or on the message. Failure to do so is an offence.

The following wording is suggested: "Authorized by the <name of the third party>."

11. Election advertising categories:

There are three categories defined in the handbook and I would recommend reading them thoroughly as they will help clarify whether your activities qualify as election advertising. The three categories are: traditional advertising, advertising on the internet and fundraising activities and advertisement.

12. Election spending caps for third parties:

"The third party election advertising expenses limit for a 37-day general election period called between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016 is:

  • $205,800.00 in total
  • $4,116.00 in total in a given electoral district"

Note though that if the election is called earlier there is some math to do, because you will be able to spend more money:

"If an election period is longer than 37 days, the election advertising expenses limit at the national and electoral district level increases as follows:

  • the initial limit is divided by 37
  • the result is multiplied by (number of days in the election period–37)"

13. Contributions:

"For contributions over $200 made for election advertising purposes in the period beginning six months before the election was called and ending on election day, the contributor's name, address and class, and the amount and date of the contribution, have to be reported."

And,

"For reporting purposes, the Canada Elections Act identifies the following classes of contributors:

  • individuals
  • businesses
  • commercial organizations
  • governments
  • trade unions
  • corporations without share capital other than trade unions
  • unincorporated organizations or associations other than trade unions"

14. Deadlines for reporting:

There are three deadlines you need to know about and you can go to the section on reporting here, in general though they are (summed up in my own words):

  • when you think you're going to spend more than $500 you need to register right away
  • if any of the info on your original registration changes then you need to submit a new form right away
  • within four months after election day you need to submit a final Third Party Election Advertising Report

Here's all the contact information you need for Elections Canada and also below (because I am just so darn helpful) is another link to the PDF document you need to fill out if you're going to register as a third party in the 2015 Canadian federal election:

Mail: 

Elections Canada

30 Victoria Street

Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M6

E-mail:

efr-rfe@elections.ca

Fax:

Political Financing

1-888-523-9333 (toll-free)

1-819-939-1803

Click here to download a PDF version of the Election Canada General Form-Third Party.

So now you have no excuse now! No matter what party you're supporting this election - New Democratic Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada - or whatever issue you want to get out there in front of voters, get out there and make your voice heard above the noise!

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