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The role of the media in the application of political financing rules for school elections

Radio and television broadcasters, cable companies, newspapers, periodicals and other media have a role to play in enforcing the rules on political financing and on the control of election expenses in elections by universal suffrage for certain members of the boards of directors of English-language school service centres.

Within their respective areas, the media must take all appropriate measures to comply with the provisions of Chapter XI of the Act respecting school elections to elect certain members of the boards of directors of English-language school service centres (ASEESSC). These provisions apply only to the election of people running for election as parents and community representatives, who are the only people elected by universal suffrage. School Service Centre staff are also members of the boards of directors, but are designated under the provisions of the Education Act.

The responsibilities of the media are presented below for the layperson: the various sections of the Act prevail. Media that do not comply with these articles are likely to commit a criminal offence and could be liable for a fine.

Journalistic coverage during the election period

During the election period, journalists can do their work in the same way as usual.

For example, they may deal with political issues or candidates in articles, editorials, news, columns, op-eds, interviews and public affairs, news and commentary programs.

However, these requirements are to be followed:

  • The publication or broadcast must be made in the same manner and according to the same rules as would have been done outside the election period;
  • Publication and distribution must be made without payment, reward or promise of payment or reward;
  • The newspaper, periodical or printed matter must not have been established for the purpose of, or with a view to, the election;
  • And the distribution and frequency of publication must be established in the same way as outside the election period.

Reference: ASEESSC, section 206.36

Free air time and space

During an election period, a media outlet may offer free air time or space to authorized candidates, provided that it offers this service equitably, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to all candidates for the same position.

Reference: ASEESSC, section 206.46 and 219.10

Recommended procedure for offering free air time or space

  1. The media outlet communicates its offer to all candidates; it may specify the terms and conditions of its offer at that time. That offer should be provided in writing.
  2. The media outlet may convene interested people to discuss the terms and conditions of its offer with a view to reaching a consensus. In the absence of consensus, the media outlet is responsible for establishing a fair procedure within the meaning of the Act.
  3. Whenever someone avails himself or herself of the media offer, the media outlet should mention, at the beginning or end of the message, that it does so under the Act respecting school elections to elect certain members of the boards of directors of English-language school service centres
  4. The chief electoral officer shall verify the legality of services rendered under this section.

Dissemination of advertising paid for by a political entity

Rules that apply at all times (outside the election period and during the election period)

A candidate or a person who undertakes to stand as a candidate in the next election may purchase advertising for political purposes. They can also mandate someone else to do so on his/her behalf if they are a member of a recognized team.

However, before making such an expenditure, that person must be authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer. Therefore, before accepting or executing an order of this nature, a media outlet must ensure that the person is registered with the Register of Authorized Political Entities of Québec, accessible on the Elections Québec Web site.

Furthermore, for advertising paid for by a political entity, a media outlet may never claim or accept a price lower than the list price, nor may it waive the price of that advertising.

Reference: ASEESSC, section 206.42, 206.43 and 219.14

Rules that apply only during an election period

During an election period, other rules come into play that limit election expenses so that all candidates have an equal opportunity to be elected.

The election period begins on the 44th day before the day fixed for polling and ends on the day fixed for polling at 8:00 p.m.

Any advertising that has a cost is considered an election expense, like any other good or service, if it is for one of the following purposes:

  • To favour or disadvantage, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate;
  • To disseminate or oppose a candidate’s program or policy;
  • To approve or disapprove measures advocated or opposed by a candidate;
  • To approve or disapprove acts performed or proposed by a candidate.

Before accepting or executing an order of this nature, a media outlet must ensure that such an order is authorized by the applicant.

All advertising must be marked “authorized by [name of person]”. In the case of radio or television advertising, this statement must be at the beginning or end of the message. In addition, the name of the printer or manufacturer must also be mentioned, if applicable.

When an advertisement containing an error has been disseminated, the media cannot, at no cost, redistribute it with the mention “erratum”: the redistribution must be billed at the current price.

The media outlet must invoice the candidate for the order no later than 60 days after the election. After this deadline, the media must file a claim with the director general of the English school services centre within 120 days, failing which the media will have no legal recourse to obtain payment.

Reference: ASEESSC, section 206.34, 206.42, 206.44, 206.46, 206.49 and 219.15

Distribution of an advertisement paid for by a private intervenor

A private intervenor is an elector or group of electors authorized to incur advertising expenses during an election period to:

  • Make known one’s opinion on a subject of public interest or to obtain support for such an opinion;
  • Advocate abstention or annulment of the vote.

These advertisements must not directly favour or disadvantage a candidate. Their cost must not exceed $300. This cost must be paid by the private intervenor who is an elector or by the members of the group of electors. In the case of a group of electors, only the representative of the group may make or incur expenses.

Any advertising produced on behalf of a private intervenor must contain:

  • The name and title of the private intervenor, in the case of an elector, or the name and title of his or her representative and the grouping, in the case of a group of electors;
  • The authorization number assigned to the intervenor by the returning officer of the English school services centre;
  • The name of the printer or manufacturer, if applicable.

A private intervenor may obtain only one authorization during the same election period. He or she must apply for authorization between the 44th and 20th day before polling day.

Reference: ASEESSC, section 206.33, 206.36 (8°), 206.44, 206.45, 209.9 à 209.26 and 219.14