By: Lex Klombies
Part II: The Nitty-Gritty on the Canada Elections Act Amendments for Non-Profits and Charities
The next Canadian federal election is on October 21st, 2019, and many of our readers are curious about what they need to be mindful of if they engage in public policy dialogue and development activities near election time. Part I of this series was dedicated to helping our readers get a sense of what kinds of charitable activities may be regulated under the Canada Elections Act. Now in Part II, we will discuss what’s new with the Canada Elections Act, and give you a bird’s eye view of the pre-election and election periods.
The Canada Elections Act was amended by Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act (“Amendments”). The Amendments received royal assent on December 13, 2018, and are scheduled to come into force on June 13, 2019, just in time to apply to the 2019 Federal pre-election.
There is a new period referred to as the “pre-writ period” or “pre-election period”, which we define below. The Amendments have made the following changes for this period:
- Setting requirement for third parties spending $500 or more on partisan advertising or activities to register with Elections Canada and reporting requirements during the pre-writ period if spending or receiving contributions for $10,000;
- Requiring third parties to use a dedicated Canadian bank account for the payment of election-related spending during the pre-writ and writ periods;
- Requiring the use of identifying taglines on all partisan advertising conducted by political parties and third-parties; and,
- Introducing spending limits for political parties’ partisan advertising ($1.5 million*) and for third parties’ partisan advertising, activities and election surveys ($10,000* per electoral district, up to $1 million* in total).
The Amendments have made the following changes to the “writ period”, also referred to as the “election period”:
- Prohibiting foreign entities from spending any money to influence elections, where previously they were able to spend up to $500 unregulated;
- This is extremely important for our international organizations and organizations with foreign donors to keep in mind.
- Eliminating the pro-rated increase for spending limits for all political entities and limit the writ period to a maximum of 50 days;
- Increasing the spending limit for third parties to $500,000* (a maximum of $4,000* per electoral district) given partisan activities and election surveys would be counted as part of third-party spending; and,
- Prohibiting third parties from colluding to circumvent spending limits.
- This is another very important change to note, as members of the charitable and non-profit sector tend to collaborate when they engage in political activities.
*Important note: numbers provided are approximate, and must adjusted for inflation each year)
The Pre-Election and Election Periods
As noted above, are now two periods to keep in mind; the pre-election (or pre-writ) period and the election (or writ) period. As a general rule, the election period rules catch and restrict more behaviour than the pre-election rules. This applies to both what kinds of activities are caught, and the spending limits.
During the pre-election period, partisan advertising, partisan activities, and election surveys must comply with the Act. Third party charities and non-profits should be concerned with all three. But as participating in partisan political activities is grounds for losing charitable registration, most charities will find themselves relatively unaffected by the new pre-election period.
Once the election period begins, the categories of regulated activities and advertising broaden to catch non-partisan election advertising, which we explained in some detail in Part I of this series.
In addition to the requirement to register with Elections Canada, the Canada Elections Act limits spending like so:
|Pre-Writ/Pre-Election Spending Limits|
|Total spending limit||$1 million* for third parties’ partisan advertising, activities, and election surveys|
|Spending limit per electoral district||$10,000* per electoral district|
|Writ/Election Period Spending Limits|
|Total spending limit||$500,000* for third parties’ election advertising, activities, and election surveys|
|Spending limit per electoral district||$4,000* per electoral district|
*We have laid out the approximate spending limits that apply to charities and other third parties, but note that they are adjusted each year.
When do the Pre-Election and Election Periods Begin and End?
It is important for your organization to know which period you are in, so mark these dates on your calendars. We have provided a chart and dates for the 2019 Federal election below:
The pre-election period begins June 30th, 2019. The last day of the pre-election period will be either (a) the day before Parliament dissolves, or (b) else Friday, September 13th 2019 (i.e. the day before the 37th day before Election Day), whichever is earlier. You may want to designate someone to keep track of when the pre-election period ends.
Assuming Parliament does not dissolve early, the pre-election period and its rules lasts about 2 ½ months. The election period then begins after the last day of the pre-election period, with the last day being Election Day itself (which is October 21, 2019, this year).
|First day of period||Last day of period|
|June 30th, 2019||Either the day before Parliament dissolves (and no more than 50 days before Election Day), or else the day before the 37th day before Election Day (i.e. Friday, September 13th 2019), whichever is earlier.|
|First day of period||Last day of period|
|The election period follows the pre-election period. The first day of the Election period will be the 50th day before Election Day at the earliest, and the 37th day after Election Day at the latest.||Election Day (i.e. October 21, 2019)|
If your charity or non-profit is interested in participating in political activities, one of our lawyers would be happy to schedule a consultation with you.