In the run-up to the provincial election in Quebec, which is set to take place on October 3, 2022, businesses and organizations are reminded of the importance of adhering to the rules pertaining to financing, election expenses and political advertising in Quebec. These rules are set out mainly in Quebec’s Election Act. Any physical or legal person found guilty of violating the applicable rules — even unintentionally — is not only liable to significant fines, but may also suffer considerable reputational damage.
POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS AND FINANCING
Political contributions may take many forms. To fully understand the applicable limitations, it is strongly recommended to become familiar with the guidelines set out in the Election Act and the directives issued by the Chief Electoral Officer.
For example, donating sums of money to an authorized entity or providing free goods and services for political purposes are generally considered to be political contributions. However, subject to directives of the Chief Electoral Officer, certain exceptions may apply. This includes volunteer work, as well as entrance fees for and ancillary revenue collected at political or fundraising activities, which, in certain circumstances, are not considered political contributions for the purposes of the Election Act.
In Quebec, only electors may make a contribution to an entity that is contemplated and authorized under the Election Act. The term "elector" refers to a natural person who is 18 years of age or older, is a Canadian citizen, has resided in Quebec for at least six months and is not under curatorship or deprived of their election rights. Legal persons and unions cannot make contributions or reimburse voters for contributions they have made.
The annual contribution limit is C$100 per political party or authorized independent candidate. However, an additional contribution of C$100 for the benefit of each political party or independent candidate may be made in a general election. Furthermore, this additional contribution may be made for a by-election as of the date on which the seat becomes vacant up to the 13th day following polling day.
With respect to the method of payment, contributions of more than C$50 must be made by cheque, credit card or order of payment signed by the elector and drawn on the elector’s account. However, there are no restrictions on contributions of less than C$50, which may also be made in cash and directly to the official representative of the political party. Other contributions must be paid to the Chief Electoral Officer, who will act as an intermediary between the contributor and the political party.
In addition, the given name, surname, postal code and municipality of residence of each contributor are to be published on the contributor search engine, regardless of the amount contributed. The amount of the donation and the political entity to which it was made are also published.
Any person who violates the political contribution and financing rules not only faces significant reputational risks associated with a contravention of the Election Act, but is also liable to fines of C$5,000 to C$200,000. That person may also face an additional fine of up to twice the amount of the illegal contribution for which they are convicted. The total amount of a fine may vary according to whether the person is a natural or legal person and whether the contravention is a first or subsequent offence. Another factor at play is the nature and severity of the offence.
ELECTION EXPENSES AND POLITICAL ADVERTISING
The Election Act also sets out rules applicable to election expenses and political advertising.
Election expenses are defined as expenses aimed at promoting or opposing the election of a candidate, as well as approving or disapproving a course of action advocated by a candidate or an act carried out thereby. Also included in this definition are expenses aimed at promoting the program of a candidate or political party. Election expenses can be incurred only by authorized political parties that, through an official agent, are entitled to generate such expenses.
The Election Act regulates political advertising by electors, advertising agencies and political parties during an election period, which begins on the day following the order to institute an election and ends at the close of polling stations on polling day.
Certain publications fall outside the definition of an election expense under the Election Act. These include the publication of writings and the broadcasting of programs that were made entirely free of charge and, therefore, without payment, reward or promise of payment or reward.
It should be noted that electors and legal persons cannot incur election expenses, nor can they engage in any political advertising where the disbursement of a sum of money, regardless of the amount, is required. However, any publicization method that does not involve the disbursement of a sum of money for its production and publication is permitted. As such, an elector may, in accordance with the established criteria, write an open letter in which their political opinions are clearly stated and post it publicly.
An advertising agency that incurs election expenses to publicize information of a political party during an election period must be authorized to do so in writing by the official agent of the political party in question. The advertising agency engaged for this purpose is then required to provide the official agent with a detailed statement of the expenses incurred. This statement must be produced and submitted within 60 days after polling day.
Finally, pursuant to the Election Act, political parties, independent candidates, members of the National Assembly, advertising agencies, independent intervenors and electors are prohibited from broadcasting, publishing and posting certain types of advertising in the seven days following the order to institute an election and on polling day. This applies to everyone except the Chief Electoral Officer.
Businesses and organizations wishing to ensure their compliance with the Election Act and related regulations should consult their legal counsel.
For further information, please contact:
Patrick Lapierre +1-514-982-4105
Simon Seida +1-514-982-4103
or any other member of our Public Sector Crisis & Compliance group.
Blakes and Blakes Business Class communications are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. We would be pleased to provide additional details or advice about specific situations if desired.
For permission to republish this content, please contact the Blakes Client Relations & Marketing Department at [email protected].
© 2024 Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP