Rules concerning municipal election expenses - The Chief Electoral Officer issues a reminder concerning third party interventions during the election period

October 2, 2013

Quebec City, October 2, 2013 – At the outset of the municipal election period leading up to polling day on November 3, 2013, the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec, Jacques Drouin, wishes to remind all concerned of certain rules governing election expenses, specifically those limiting third party interventions in the electoral debate, which are designed to guarantee an equal chance for all candidates running in the upcoming elections. The information should be of particular interest to associations, unions and pressure groups wishing to express their views.

Firstly, we need to define an election expense. The Act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities (AERM) stipulates that an election expense comprises the cost of any goods or services used during an election period to promote or oppose the election of a candidate or the candidates of a party. In other words, an initiative to promote or oppose the election of a candidate or candidates must have a cost associated with it in order to be considered an election expense.

The AERM also specifies that during the election period only the official agent of a party or of an independent candidate may incur or authorize election expenses. This excludes third parties who are not official agents. One can imagine situations where an election expense is incurred by a third party with the legal authorization of an official agent.

Election expenses by a third party are prohibited

As implied above, the Act stipulates that a legal person, for instance an association, a union or a pressure group, cannot intervene in or incur expenses during an election campaign unless the expenses are authorized by an official agent. Hence the candidate’s or the party’s election fund must be used, for example, to cover publicity expenses incurred to promote or oppose the election of a candidate. Expenses incurred for purposes of organizing a press conference or distributing a document are other examples of actions requiring the authorization of an official agent. This is not, however, intended to prevent the expression of opinions by means that do not involve election expenses within the meaning of the Act.

The rules restricting the incurring of election expenses to official agents have been established to ensure equal electoral power for each elector, an equal chance for each party and candidate, and an equitable electoral process. In a decision handed down in January 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of provisions similar to those we find in the AERM with regards to election expenses and in so doing recognized the primacy of the basic principles governing Québec’s system of controlling election expenses. For more information concerning the Supreme Court decision, please consult the press release distributed by the Chief Electoral Officer in 2012, at http://www.electionsquebec.qc.ca/francais/actualite-detail.php?id=4054.

Private intervenor status

Only an elector or a group not endowed with legal personality and composed in the majority of natural persons who are qualified electors may apply for authorization as a private intervenor. Private intervenors may incur publicity expenses not exceeding $300, out of their own property, to disseminate a non-partisan message that they intend to put forward during the election period. However the Act prohibits a private intervenor from incurring expenses jointly with any other person or group, including another private intervenor, a political party, a candidate, etc.

A private intervenor may express views on a matter of public interest or advocate abstention or the spoiling of ballots, but may not directly promote or oppose a candidate or party, be a member of a party, or act directly or indirectly on behalf of a candidate or a party.

To qualify for the status of private intervenor, the elector or group representative must first obtain authorization from the returning officer of his or her municipality. For the November 3 election, applications for authorization can be filed until October 14. The forms for this purpose are available under the heading “Forms” on the Chief Electoral Officer’s website, at www.electionsquebec.qc.ca.

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Categories : Municipal, Municipal financing, DGE