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Election 2019: What not to do when a candidate speaks at your facility

On Tuesday, August 13, 2019, the President of the United States spoke at a petrochemical plant in Pennsylvania in front of a crowd of workers. According to reports,[1] workers who attended received overtime pay, while those who did not attend did not receive equivalent pay.

This election law primer is intended to convey some important considerations with regard to non-monetary political contributions. It is intended as general guidance only. If you have any specific questions or concerns, please contact Awi Sinha, Adam Goldenberg or Will Horne in our Government Law group. We would be pleased to assist you.

What Would Happen In Canada?

On the federal level, Canada has an almost absolute prohibition on political donations by corporations and trade unions.[2] Only individual Canadian citizens and permanent residents are permitted to “make a contribution to a registered party, a registered association, a nomination contestant, a candidate or a leadership contestant”.[3] Contributions are limited to $1,600 per person to each political party and $1,600 in total to candidates or riding associations.[4] For more information on contribution limits and political finance generally, see our previous blog post here.

What this means for workers paid to attend a political rally was tested in the last federal election. On September 15, 2015, the leader of a federal party attended an event in Waterloo, Ontario. Unbeknownst to the leader or the party, a local union had paid twenty-three of its members to stand behind the leader at the event.[5] On January 20, 2016, the Commissioner of Elections Canada and the union entered into a compliance agreement acknowledging that the payment of the workers constituted a non-monetary contribution to the party, in contravention of s. 363(1) of the Canada Elections Act. The party remitted the amount paid to the union members.

The upshot is that a business which compensates its employees – directly or indirectly – for their attendance at a political event is most likely in violation of the Canada Elections Act. Repercussions may follow for that business, as well as for the candidate or party in question.

The Bottom Line

While engagement in our democratic process should be encouraged, it is important to stay informed about the rules that govern political interactions, as they are intended to maintain transparency and trust in our institutions.

Contributions can take many forms. Monetary contributions are non-repayable amounts of money. Non-monetary contributions are defined as:

the commercial value of a service, other than volunteer labour, or of property or of the use of property or money to the extent that they are provided without charge or at less than their commercial value.

If, as described above, a political party receives an illegal contribution, it is required to remit the amount to the Chief Electoral Officer, who then forwards it to the Receiver General.[6]

If you or others in your organization will interact with politicians and political parties in anticipation of the upcoming federal election, take the time to ensure that your internal policies and procedures comply with the rules outlined above.

This post is part of our 2019 federal election series. You can access related content here.

Our team at McCarthy Tétrault LLP can help. Please contact Awi Sinha, Adam Goldenberg or Will Horne if you have any questions or for assistance.

[1] CNN, “Workers had 3 options: Attend Trump's speech, use paid time off or receive no pay”, (August 17, 2019).

[2] Elections Canada, Amendments to the Canada Elections Act.

[3]Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9 at s.363(1).

[4] Elections Canada, Limits on Contributions.

[5] CBC, “Waterloo union admits paying workers to be props at Trudeau election event”, January 28, 2016.

[6]Canada Elections Act, supra at s.363(2).