In this section
The first fixed-date provincial elections were held on October 1, 2018. Knowing when a general election will take place can encourage political entities and third parties to incur expenses with the aim of influencing the course of the campaign before the election is even called. These are pre-election expenses.
We are responsible for the control of election expenses—i.e., expenses incurred after the start of the election period. We also review pre-election expenses to ensure that the activities of political entities and third parties do not undermine the two fundamental principles governing the control of election expenses: fairness and transparency.
Observations on pre-election expenses in the context of the first fixed-date elections
In the lead-up to the elections of October 1, 2018, we studied the behaviour of various stakeholders. We made the following observations:
- Political parties launched their election campaigns earlier than usual.
- Election signage began to be posted earlier than usual.
- Between the 2014 elections and those of 2018, there was an overall rise in the amount of expenses incurred by political parties represented in the Assemblée nationale.
- Pre-election expenses increased.
Expenses incurred by political entities
The Act does not regulate pre-election expenses. Parties and persons are free to incur expenses before an election is called. However, political parties are required to pay any partisan expenses incurred prior to the election period using party funds. Such expenses need to be reported in the party’s annual financial report, which we audit. Expenses incurred to acquire a good or service used before the date of the election order are not eligible for reimbursement (50% of election expenses are reimbursed, under certain conditions). The Act does not impose a limit on partisan expenses incurred before an election is called.
To determine whether an expense constitutes an election expense, we consider when the corresponding goods or services are used, not when the expense is incurred. For example, a party might pay to have a website designed before the election period. But if the website is used during the election period, the design costs constitute an election expense.
Outside of an election period, social media posts (text, image, video, etc.) that have a partisan effect are not subject to regulation. Again, the Election Act does not regulate pre-election expenses. Accordingly, a video promoting a political party could be posted and shared by users.
Use of government resources
Government resources include those used by the provincial administration and parliamentarians. This encompasses the material, human and financial resources available to the Conseil exécutif and public bodies to ensure the application of legislation adopted by the Assemblée nationale, to develop and implement public policies, to provide services to citizens, to establish controls and to share information with citizens. The Government relies on these resources to carry out its programs and policies. It uses them to govern.
For example, the Government might launch an advertising campaign or hold a press conference to introduce a new program or investment to benefit a particular group.
The Election Act only governs the control of election expenses, not the control of government resources in general.
The Election Act does not regulate expenses incurred by third parties outside the election period. In that context, it only provides a framework for making political contributions.
We propose seeking greater transparency surrounding pre-election expenses.
- We are interested in assessing the value of limiting pre-expenses using monitoring and analysis tools. Accordingly, we have begun requiring enhanced reporting from political entities, which have had to provide more details on their pre-election expenses since the 2022 general elections.
- Since May 2020 (when we filed our Bilan et perspectives report for 2019), we have been recommending that legislators amend the Election Act to require that third parties wishing to incur pre-election expenses register with the Chief Electoral Officer and account for any such expenses.