On July 29, 2015, CBC News reported that Stephen Harper could call a federal election as early as Sunday, August 2nd. After the writ is dropped, the Canada Elections Act places strict spending limits on third party election advertising. If your organization plans to say anything publicly about the federal election, you need to consider the following.
If your organization is not a registered party, then it is a “third party” under the Act. If your organization spends $500 or more on election advertising, it must be registered, and it will be subject to reporting and auditing responsibilities.
“Election advertising” means “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.”
Notice that the definition includes a message that “takes a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated.” This is quite broad. The Act has a list of exceptions, including editorials and interviews.
Your organization must register as a third party if it incurs election advertising expenses totaling $500 or more. The organization must then designate a financial agent. If the organization spends $5,000 or more, it must appoint an auditor. The organization may not spend more than $150,000 on election advertising for a general election. The organization must account for the source of money used to pay election advertising expenses.
An organization engaged in election advertising must identify itself in any advertising and state that it has authorized the advertising. The organization must file reports on advertising expenses and the funding of the expenses within four months of the day of the election.
Election advertising can be distributed through traditional media, such as signs, billboards, pamphlets, radio and television, or through social media. However, election messages communicated over the Internet are only considered election advertising if they have incurred, or would normally have, a placement cost.
The penalties for breaching the Act are significant. If your organization is concerned about whether activity might be caught by the third party advertising provisions of the Act, you should seek legal advice immediately.