Rules for Political Advertising
Elections Ontario regulates the registration and reporting requirements relating to political advertising but does not regulate the content of advertising. Any concerns about the content of advertising should be directed to the organization that has authorized it.
Political advertising is any advertising that promotes or opposes a political party, its leader or a candidate.
Political advertising also includes advertising about an issue that one or more registered political parties or candidates has taken a position on.
Political advertising can occur at any time.
All political advertising must include information about who authorized the advertising. For example, an advertisement must include a spoken or written line such as “Authorized by the XYZ campaign” or “This advertisement was paid for by the XYZ political party.”
If you plan to conduct, broadcast or publish political advertising, there may be registration and reporting requirements. Administrative penalties may apply if you fail to comply with these requirements. For more information, refer to the CFO Handbooks.
Political advertising does not include:
- advertising by the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, the government of another province or territory of Canada, or the government of a municipality, or by any part of such a government;
- the transmission to the public of an editorial, a debate, a speech, an interview, a column, a letter, a commentary or news;
- the distribution of a book, or the promotion of the sale of a book, for no less than its commercial value, if the book was planned to be made available to the public regardless of whether there was to be an election;
- communication in any form directly by a person, group, corporation or trade union to their members, employees or shareholders, as the case may be;
- the transmission by an individual, on a non-commercial basis on the internet, of his or her personal political views; or
- the making of telephone calls to electors only to encourage them to vote.
The blackout period for a general election or by-election includes the day before election day and election day. The blackout period prohibits political advertising with certain exceptions.
Exceptions to the blackout period
The restrictions around the blackout period do not apply to the official website of a registered political party, registered constituency association or registered candidate.
The following activities are permitted during a blackout period:
- Lawn signs and the distribution of brochures are permitted.
- Personal emails and similar personal communications online, mass or individual mailings, automated or individual telephone calls (robocalls and robotexts), and social media communications are generally not considered political advertising and are not subject to the blackout period.
- Genuine news reporting, including interviews, commentaries, or other works prepared for and published by any newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication in any medium without any charge to the registered political party are not subject to the blackout period.
- The publication of political advertising on election day or the day before election day, in a newspaper that is published once a week or less often and whose regular day of publication falls on that day is permitted.
- A political advertisement posted online or in a similar electronic medium is permitted, if it is posted before, and not altered or further distributed during, the blackout period.
- A political advertisement in the form of a poster or billboard is permitted, if it is posted before, and not altered during, the blackout period. This includes advertisements on public transit buses, bus shelters, and subway stations.
- Advertising public meetings in constituencies is permitted.
- Announcing the location of registered candidates’ and constituency associations’ headquarters is permitted.
- Advertising for volunteer campaign workers is permitted.
- Announcing services for voters that are offered by candidates or constituency associations is permitted, if those services help voters confirm, update or add their information to the voters list.
- Announcing services for voters that are offered by registered candidates or constituency associations on election day is permitted. This can include child care services or rides to voting locations, for example.
- Anything involving administrative functions of registered political entities is not subject to the blackout period.
All political advertising, including lawn signs, must have authorization indicating who paid for it. For example, “Authorized by the XYZ party”, or something similar.
Candidates can put up lawn signs at any time. However, since candidates cannot accept contributions or incur expenses until the writs for an election are issued, all signs must be paid for by the political party or the constituency association have proper authorization indicating who sponsored or paid for the advertising.
Lawn signs can appear at any time; however, local by-laws may apply. Elections Ontario has no jurisdiction over the placement of lawn signs.
If the political party sign is on public property, please contact the local municipality to see what local by-laws allow. For signs located near a highway, please contact the Ministry of Transportation, at www.mto.gov.on.ca or call 1-800-268-4686.
Ontario’s provincial election laws do not prohibit campaign telephone calls or text messages, and this includes individual calls and texts as well as the practice of “robocalling”.
“Robocalling” is considered a legitimate campaign activity, and political entities can communicate with voters using automated phone calls or by hiring call centre agents during the campaign period.
If the email, text message, or phone call you received violated election law, directed you to the wrong voting location or impersonated a candidate, political party, or Elections Ontario, you may submit a formal complaint to Elections Ontario in writing by mail, fax or email.
If you are registered on the National Do Not Call List (DNCL), you may still receive calls from political parties and candidates. Refer to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for more information.
Social media posts by an individual are generally not considered political advertising. However, if the placement of the posts involves any production or distribution costs, the posts may be considered political advertising.
Political advertising on social media
Paid commercial advertising appearing on social media platforms and social media posts where a fee has been paid for production, distribution or promotion may be considered political advertising.