Across Ontario municipalities large and small, the final list of candidates seeking election as mayor, councillor or school trustee is now official. As voting day on October 24, 2022 fast approaches, and municipal campaigns are underway, you may be wondering: could my activities be covered under municipal third party advertising rules?

In contrast to the third party advertising rules for Ontario provincial elections, where the trigger to register as a third party advertiser arises when an individual, organization, corporation or union spends at least $500 on political advertising, there is no similar threshold for municipal third party advertising.

Registration as an Ontario municipal third party advertiser must be effected before any municipal third party advertising expenses, such as the purchase of broadcasting time or social media ads, are even incurred.

Not only could your activity be covered third party advertising rules, you may already be engaged in unregistered third party advertising.

What Activity is Regulated and Subject to the Spending Limits?

A third party advertisement is advertising in any broadcast, print, electronic or other medium that has the following purpose:

  • Promoting, supporting or opposing a candidate, or
  • promoting, supporting or opposing a "yes" or "no" question put to electors on the ballot.1

However, a third party advertisement does not include:

  • An advertisement given or transmitted where no expenses in relation to the advertisement are incurred.2
  • An advertisement on an issue (unless the advertising has the purpose of promoting, supporting or opposing a "yes" or "no" question on the ballot).
  • An advertisement given or transmitted by a corporation to its shareholders, directors, members or employees or by a trade union to its members or employees.3

When is Ontario Municipal Third Party Advertising Regulated?

Third party advertising is regulated during the "restricted period", which began on May 1 and ends on polling day, October 24.4

The final list of candidates for mayor, councillor or school trustee in a given municipality were finalized on August 21, following certification of their nominations by the respective municipal clerk's office.5

Registration as a Third Party Advertiser: When is it Required?

As noted above, an individual, organization, corporation or trade union that plans to engage in third party advertising in a municipality must be registered with the municipal clerk in that municipality before incurring expenses for third party advertising that will run in that municipality.6

The period to register as third party advertiser began on May 1 and ends on October 21 (i.e., three days before polling day).

Registrations are normally filed with the municipal clerk's office in person, although some municipalities permit electronic filing.

What is the Spending Limit?

A registered third party advertiser can run third party advertising in more than one municipality (e.g., in both the City of Toronto and the City of Ottawa).

The spending limit for third party political advertising applies to each municipality.

The general spending limit is calculated based on the number of electors who are eligible to vote in the municipality where the third party is registered.7 The formula to calculate the limit is $5,000 plus $0.05 per eligible elector, to a maximum of $25,000 in that municipality.8

The aggregate spending limit of a third party would therefore depend on the number of municipalities in which the third party runs political advertising supporting or opposing either a candidate or a "yes" or "no" question on the ballot.

What are the Consequences of Non-Compliance?

The Municipal Elections Act is enforced through the courts, not Elections Ontario.

Beyond failing to register as a third party advertiser, relevant contraventions include:

  • Failing to file the required financial statement by the required deadline (or failing to apply to a court to extend the filing deadline).
  • Exceeding the spending limit.

The penalties are serious, and include:

  • A fine of up to $25,000 and or up to six months in prison.
  • Ineligibility to register as a third party advertiser in the next regular municipal election (i.e., in 2026).9

Next Steps?

Our political law group is ready to assist you or your organization remain compliant and onside of the Municipal Elections Act by:

  • Developing policies to ensure compliance with all registration, disclosure and reporting requirements.
  • Developing processes to ensure that all third party contributions are received from eligible sources, and that spending limits are not exceeded.
  • Determining "yes" or "no" ballot questions.
  • Responding to compliance audits that may be undertaken by municipal or school board compliance audit committees.

In the event of alleged non-compliance, we stand ready to defend you and your interests.

Should you have questions or wish to speak further, please contact the author.


1. Ontario Municipal Elections Act, 1996, S.O. 19996, c. 32, Sched., subs. 1(1) [MEA].

2. Ibid at subs. 1(2).

3. Ibid at subs. 1(2.1).

4. Ibid at subs. 88.4(2).

5. Ibid at subs. 35(1).

6. Ibid at subss. 88.6(1), 88.4(1).

7. Ibid at subs. 88.4(3).

8. O.Reg. 101/97, s. 7.

9. MEA, supra note 1, subs. 94.1(1).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.