Beyond the Ballot: Refresher on Third-Party Advertising
This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.
Are you advocating with paid advertisements during this federal election? If you plan on spending $500 or more on election advertising (what this involves is detailed further below), you may have to register as a Third-Party Advertiser under the new Elections Canada rules. Like the federal Lobbyist Registry, the regulation of Third-Party Advertisers is intended to provide transparency to those engaged in the democratic process.
Global has been receiving questions from clients about this topic, and Elections Canada has published a number of tools and a handbook to help. Since every organization’s public affairs context is different, legal counsel should be sought if you intend to undertake paid advertising activities during the federal election period.
What is Issues Advertising?
Whether or not you remain non-partisan in your approach during the election period, paid advertisements on issues may fall into regulated Election Advertising as defined below:
“the transmission to the public by any means during the election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered party or candidate, including by taking a position on an issue with which the party or person is associated” (Elections Canada).
Defining “an issue with which the party or person is associated” is done by Elections Canada on a case-by-case basis. Issues may be associated with parties and candidates through their platforms, debates, social media, etc. Elections Canada determines, based on the facts, whether or not a particular message from an advertiser promotes or opposes a candidate or party, or an issue to which they are associated.
Advertising transmitted prior to being associated with a party or candidate is not regulated retroactively. However, once an issue becomes clearly associated with a party or candidate during the election period, any future advertising that takes a position for or against the issue is regulated.
What is considered advertising?
During an election period, an organization’s website may communicate positions on electoral issues relevant to its cause. This is not necessarily considered advertising. Advertising is a mode of communication that is generally defined as something intrusive, something that the viewer did not seek out on their own.
You can continue to advocate and communicate your message on your website and regular channels. However, should you dedicate expenses to items such as staff labour costs to create advertisements, push them out, and/or boost social media posts, this could fall under paid advertisements.
In addition, please see a list of issues-based activities that are and are not regulated.
This will vary greatly depending on the size of a third party’s campaign.
Many small campaigns will have to complete a single electoral campaign return after the election with supporting documents. Larger campaigns, incurring expenses of $10,000 or more, will have to file interim reports and submit an auditor’s report.
Extra tips to keep in mind: There are limits to how much you can spend on regulated activities. And, if you have a governing body, such as a Board of Directors, they must approve a resolution for your organization to undertake these activities.