When Should I Complain?
Advertising plays an important role in informing and shaping Canadians' perspectives throughout the election period. The Canada Elections Act defines "election advertising" as "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."
Despite this relatively simple statement, the rules governing election advertising are actually quite complex. A thorough assessment, taking into consideration both the definition and all applicable sections of the Act is required to determine whether or not an offence has been committed.
The Act regulates election advertising only during an election period. It does not prohibit or control advertising before an election has been called, even when it is likely that the advertising is done for electoral purposes.
Content of Election Advertising
Generally speaking, the Act does not control the content of election advertising. As a result, the Commissioner has limited jurisdiction with respect to the content of a particular advertisement during an electoral period.
The Act does regulate the reporting of advertising-related expenses and requires that an authorization statement ('tag line') appear on the advertising. These items fall within the mandate of the Commissioner and may be the subject of a review.
Advertising on Polling Day
The Canada Elections Act prohibits the transmission, to the public, of election advertising on polling day. This prohibition applies to all communications typically understood to be an "advertising message." However, in the context of an election, the following are not considered advertising:
- transmission to the public of an editorial, a debate, a speech, an interview, a column, a letter, a commentary or news;
- distribution of a book, provided the book was planned to be made available to the public regardless of whether there was to be an election;
- transmission of a document by a person or group to their members, employees or shareholders;
- transmission by an individual on the Internet of his or her personal views; and
- making telephone calls to electors only to encourage them to vote.
Campaign activities such as greeting electors, waving to people or handing out pamphlets are permitted on polling day. Further, election advertising that was posted to the Internet before polling day and that was not changed on polling day is permitted, as is the posting of a message on signs, posters or banners.
Authorization or Tag Lines
The Act requires that advertising contain an authorization or 'tag line' indicating the message is being transmitted with the consent of either the official agent for a particular candidate or the registered agent of the party. The Act does not stipulate how large the font must be or how quickly the authorization may be spoken.
Advertising in Condominium Buildings
The Act contains provisions that allow condominium owners to display election advertising posters on the premises of their unit. However, condominium corporations may set reasonable conditions with respect to the size or type of election advertising posters that may be displayed on the premises.
Under the Act, condominium corporations may choose to prohibit the display of election advertising posters in common areas* of a building.
*The term "common areas" refers to an area or areas that may be used by all occupants of, and visitors to, a building (eg. lobby, hallways, stairwells).
(for related items, see Canvassing)