While the first attempts to regulate the election expenses of candidates can be traced back to a statute passed in 1875, it was only beginning in 1963 that a series of provisions having as an aim to control the expenses in question were incorporated in the Election Act. At the time the amendments came into force, every candidate or political party had to appoint an official agent who thereafter became the only person allowed to incur election expenses. Moreover, the same law imposed a ceiling on the election expenses of candidates and parties, and it allowed certain candidates to obtain a partial reimbursement of their expenses.
Despite these significant innovations, there were still certain shortcomings with respect to political financing. It would not be until the passage of the Act governing the financing of political parties, in 1977, that there would be a comprehensive legal framework for this essential dimension of Québec political life. This statute, which since 1984 has been incorporated in the Election Act, was very avant-garde and has helped to clean up electoral practices in Québec.
Let us now take a look at some of the characteristic principles which contribute to the originality of the legislation on political financing as well as certain important aspects relating to nomination papers.
In Québec, the rules for authorizing, financing and controlling election expenses are based on three principles: pluralism of parties, fairness and transparency.
Indeed, the Election Act makes provision for a system for officially recognizing political parties, based on rules that allow every person to obtain, with a minimum of restrictions, an authorization to found a political party. Financing rules apply to authorized entities. These rules provide candidates and parties with financial means to promote their program and give candidates the chance of being elected.
However, the advantages in question include certain restrictions, in particular with respect to the possible sources of funding and the election expenses permitted, in order to ensure fairness between candidates running in the same election.
Finally, the financing rules promote transparency insofar as the parties and candidates must file reports and returns on their activities, reports and returns which the Chief Electoral Officer must make public.
The rules applicable to political parties outside the election period concern, among other things, the authorization of parties and the conditions for maintaining such authorizations, the financing of party activities and the rendering of accounts.
To be recognized, a political party must obtain an authorization from the Chief Electoral Officer. However, the authorization process is not restrictive and does not limit the freedom of expression and freedom of association that people enjoy. The process involves submitting an application that includes, in particular, the chosen name, a civic address as well as the name, address and telephone number of the leader and those of the official representative. It is the official representative who is responsible for collecting and recording revenues as well as for approving, paying and recording the expenses incurred outside the election period.
The application must also include 100 signatures of electors stating that they are members of the party or sympathizers, and are in favour of the application for authorization.
When a political party has been authorized, it can collect the sums needed for its operation; however, it must comply with the financing rules set out in the Election Act.
The official representative of the party or of a party authority1 can collect political contributions. However, only an elector can make contributions. Legal persons (corporations, unions and pressure groups) are prohibited from making a contribution to an authorized political entity. This measure makes it possible to prevent certain groups from influencing the political power of elected members by reason of the financing which these groups otherwise could have provided.
Contributions, in the form of cash donations or goods and services provided free of charge for political purposes, are also limited to $3,000 per elector per year to each party, including their authorities, and to each independent candidate. This measure promotes smaller but more diversified contributions. Finally, Québec electors benefit from an incentive from a fiscal standpoint for their political contributions; indeed, contributors can receive a tax credit of up to $250 in some cases from the ministère du Revenu du Québec.
The official representatives of parties and authorized authorities must file financial statements by not later than April 1st of each year. These statements must indicate, among other things, the name and address of all electors who made one or more contributions, the total of which exceeds $200. Each year the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a report that includes the financial statements of the parties, a summary of the financial reports of the parties including their authorities, the list of contributors who contributed over $200, and various statistics about the financial position of the parties and the authorities. This document is public in nature: every person may examine it and obtain a copy thereof.
The financial reports produced since the entry into force of the provisions governing the financing of political entities show that, as a general rule, parties succeed in collecting all the funds they need for their political activities. As a result, their survival does not appear to be jeopardized in a context where transparency has become an integral part of the system.
The nomination period begins two days after the tabling in the National Assembly of a writ ordering the holding an election. It is from this point in time on that each candidate can file, with the returning officer of his electoral division, a nomination paper. Moreover, the candidate of a party can include a letter from the leader of the authorized party designating him as the official candidate.
Parties and candidates must also designate their respective official agent who is responsible for authorizing, recording and paying expenses during an election period. Beginning at midnight on the day of the issue of the writ ordering the holding of an election until the closing of polling stations on polling day, all expenses intended to promote or oppose, either directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate will be under the responsibility of the official agent. He may however designate deputies to assist him in his duties.
The advantages of the rules governing the financing of parties and candidates would soon be lost if no restriction were imposed regarding the election expenses that the official agent may incur. As a result, the Election Act has established rules to maintain a certain fairness between the candidates running in the same election. These rules concern the authorization and payment of election expenses, the establishment of a ceiling on expenses, the recording of election expenses and the filing of returns.
All election expenses must be authorized and paid for by the official agent of the party or of the candidate from an election fund constituted with sums transferred by the official representative.
Moreover, no person or organization may execute an order for election expenses given by a person other than the official agent or his deputies, under penalty of sanction. For example, no person may produce or distribute advertising material for a party or a candidate if the material was not ordered and paid for by its official agent or his deputies.
As is the case with political contributions, the election expenses that parties and candidates may incur are regulated in Québec. The limit on expenses for a party has been set at $0.66 per elector in all of the electoral divisions where the party is presenting an official candidate, whereas the limit for a candidate has been set at $1.13 per elector in his electoral division. Due to the geographical size of certain electoral divisions, the candidates running in these divisions can spend a slightly greater sum, also established in the Act.
The official agent of a political party must file in the 120 days following polling day a return of election expenses along with the appropriate invoices and vouchers. The official agent of a candidate must also file the same type of return. However, he has 90 days after the poll to do so. Once the Chief Electoral Officer is in possession of these data, he publishes a summary of the returns of election expenses.
The Election Act makes provision for sanctions when the parties, authorities or candidates neglect to file the prescribed returns and reports. Among other sanctions, the party leader or, if he is not elected, the parliamentary or independent candidate shall become, ten days after the expiry of the period prescribed for filing the financial report and the return of election expenses, disqualified from sitting or voting in the National Assembly until the report or return in question has been filed. The Chief Electoral Officer can also withdraw his authorization from an authorized entity that fails to file its return or report. Finally, provision is made for financial penalties for any delay in filing the prescribed returns and reports.
In no way does the Election Act seek to control or evaluate the programs and policies of the authorized entities. Its main purpose is to ensure fairness and the transparency of financial activities through rules that apply to everyone. The Act seeks to give every person, regardless of his personal wealth, the chance to be elected as a representative of the people of Québec.