Toronto’s mayoral by-election officially started last week, with an election day of June 26, 2023. With over two dozen candidates vying to be elected mayor of Canada’s largest city, many voters will be looking to do more than cast a ballot. Businesses and individuals considering further involvement in the political process should be mindful of the City of Toronto’s third-party advertising and fundraising regimes and compliance with the Municipal Elections Act.
Under the Municipal Elections Act, individuals, corporations or trade unions wanting to advertise for candidates in a mayoral election must register by filing a Notice of Registration with the City Clerk. While the Notice of Registration is being processed, advertisers cannot raise or spend money on their campaigns — would-be advertisers must wait for the City Clerk to certify their registration. Individuals who complete the registration on behalf of a corporation or trade union will need to provide a board resolution from the corporation or union authorizing them to act on their behalf.
While third-party advertising under the Municipal Elections Act covers a broad range of advertisements in any broadcast, print or other medium that has the purpose of promoting, supporting or opposing candidates or other questions on a ballot, the following activities are not considered third-party advertising for the Toronto mayoral election:
Issues-based advertising (unless the advertising supports a “yes” or “no” answer to a question being asked on a ballot in the election).
Social media posts or comments that do not cost money to post and other free forms of broadcast, such as sending an email to a mailing list.
Messages distributed by individuals to their employees.
Messages distributed by a corporation to its shareholders, directors, members or employees.
Messages distributed by a trade union to its members or employees.
All third-party advertisements must include the name of the registered third party, the municipality in which they are registered and the third party’s contact information (either a telephone number, mailing address or email address). Third-party advertising must be done independently of a mayoral candidate, and candidates are not permitted to direct a third party to advertise without identifying themselves on their advertisements.
Unlike federal and provincial elections, the Municipal Elections Act does not prohibit campaigning or advertising on voting day. That said, third parties are prohibited from placing advertising materials in places Torontonians cast their votes.
THIRD-PARTY CONTRIBUTIONS AND FUNDRAISERS
The Municipal Elections Act also provides a regime for third-party contributions to candidates in a mayoral election. Under the Act, only individuals who are normally Ontario residents, the spouse of a candidate, or the candidate themselves may make contributions to a candidate’s campaign. Accordingly, corporations, trade unions, federal and provincial parties, and other associations may not make contributions to mayoral election campaigns.
While contributions to a single candidate in most Ontario municipalities are capped at $1,200, a contributor may donate up to $2,500 to a candidate running for mayor in the City of Toronto. Individuals looking to contribute to two or more candidates cannot exceed a maximum donation of $5,000 in one election.
Any contribution that exceeds $25 cannot be made in cash, and contributors should be aware that, if their donation is greater than $25, their name and address will become publicly available in the candidate’s financial statement. By the same token, anonymous donations at fundraising events are similarly capped at $25, and anonymous donations in excess of $25 cannot be used by the candidate, who must turn over such donations to the City Clerk.
Fundraising events also raise a special set of considerations, especially for employers. Employers should be mindful that the cost of their employee’s ticket for a fundraiser may count toward the employee’s individual contribution limit under the Municipal Elections Act.
For further guidance on the rules governing third-party advertising and fundraising during the Toronto mayoral by-election, please contact:
Alexis Levine +1-416-863-3089
Laura Dougan +1-416-863-2187
Sam Cotton +1-416-863-2438
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.
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