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New Rules Start Today for Pre-Election Political Ad Spending

Published on
November 9, 2017

Today puts us six months out from the provincial writ drop and the start of the 2018 election period. This means, effective today, new rules come into play around advertising - print, broadcast, and electronic - perceived to be for or against any political party, leader, or candidate or that is closely associated with any of those entities.

These new election laws came into effect through Bill 2 in December 2016. For the first time ever, the law places spending limits on third-party special interest groups, as well as requires third-parties to register and report on their political advertising spends between November 9, 2017 and polling day on June 7, 2018. This partially explains the amp up in political party and third-party ads we’ve seen of late as parties and organizations got a head start on campaigning - and spending - before the new regulations kicked in. We’ll see that scale back now as the new election spending limits take effect. 

Here’s what the revamped Elections Ontario regulations outline for third-party political ad spending ahead of the 2018 election:

· Maximum spend of $600,000 in the six months before the campaign, which is today through writ drop in May. 
· Maximum spend of $100,000 during the election period, post-writ drop through June 7, 2017.
· Cannot spend more than $24,000 in any one electoral district for the next six months.
· Cannot spend more than $4,000 in any one electoral district during the election period.
· No combination of spending can exceed the above limits – including any efforts to circumvent the limits, such as splitting into two or more third-parties or collusion with another third-party.
· Every person or entity that spends more than $500 in the lead up to and/or during the election period must register with Elections Ontario.

We’ll be watching to see what impact these changes have on the 2018 election. Historically, many influential special interest groups, corporations, and unions have spent millions in political advertising preceding elections. According to a CBC article, three organizations alone spent $6 million on political advertising in 2014: Working Families spent $2.5 million, Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association spent $2.2 million, and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario spent $1.3 million. Collectively, third-parties spent about $8.7 million on political advertising in the 2014 election, which was more than triple the spend from 2007. And that was over and above sizeable donations to political parties and campaign efforts, which Bill 2 has also significantly reduced and limited for the 2018 election.

With these limitations in mind, third-parties will look to maximize their investments and influence the most voters with each and every dollar they spend. We predict that social media and digital campaigning will prove to be more valuable than ever for engaging audiences around the 2018 election. Our award-winning digital advocacy team is ready to support our clients in amplifying their online campaigns and achieve the best ROI possible. As industry leaders in digital advocacy, we have extensive experience in managing national, provincial and local advocacy campaigns and mobilizing tens of thousands of Canadians on a range of issues. Our proprietary digital campaign tools offer the capability to target and track advertising at the riding level and drive engagement among targeted audiences. We have proven results and metrics for many clients and welcome discussions on how our digital advocacy and supporting strategies can be of benefit to you in the coming months.

 More details about the new spending limits can be found in Elections Ontario’s Election Finances bulletin. Anyone planning on political advertising between now and polling day should review the guidelines in that document and also obtain legal advice to ensure they remain compliant with these new spending laws.

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Colleen Ryan
Senior Associate
Colleen is a Senior Associate with Sussex Strategy’s strategic communications division. She is an award-winning communicator with 17 years’ experience in the private, public, and labour sectors. She is responsible for providing strategic communications counsel and support to our clients on issues impacting energy and environment, health, provincial and municipal policies, and more.
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