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Federal Elections: Canvassing and Electoral Signs in Condos

And they’re off to the races !!

The prime minister has asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament, setting the stage for Canada next general election. Blue, green, orange and red electoral signs (we’ve listed them alphabetically) will soon be popping everywhere and candidates will start canvassing. In fact, two local candidates have already knocked on my door, soliciting my support.

Boards and property managers will soon receive requests from candidates and their representatives wanting to access the property for canvassing purposes. They may also receive requests from some wanting to put up electoral signs; and from others wanting these same signs to be taken down.

So, what are the rules applicable to canvassing and to electoral signs during a federal election?

Candidates can access the corporation

In Ontario, section 118 of the Condominium Act, 1998 is clear about electoral canvassing. This section provides that a condominium corporation cannot restrict reasonable access to the property by candidates for election to the House of Commons, the Legislative Assembly or an office in a municipal government or school board if access is necessary for the purpose of canvassing or distributing election material.

But that’s not all. The Canada Elections Act goes further. It provides that no one in control of a condominium building (or other multiple-residence building) may prevent a candidate or his or her representatives from canvassing between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Corporations and board of directors must therefore grant access to candidates or their authorized representatives between these hours.

Owners can put up electoral signs

What about electoral signs? Can a condominium corporation prevent owners from placing signs in their windows or on their balcony? The Condominium Act is silent on this but the Canada Elections Act isn’t.  Section 322 of this Act provides that:

No condo corporation (or agents acting for it) may prohibit the owner of a condo unit from displaying election advertising posters on the premises of his or her unit.

Owners can therefore show their colour by placing electoral signs, but this right is limited to posting such signs on the premises of their unit. This may prevent owners from putting up signs on what would otherwise constitute common elements (including exclusive-use ones). But read on: there are hefty fines applicable to corporations preventing proper electoral posters.

The Canada Elections Act also specifically provides that condominium corporations may set reasonable conditions relating to the size or type of election advertising posters that may be displayed on the premises and may prohibit the display of election advertising posters in common areas of the building.

We get two clues from this provision:

  • any restriction must be reasonable;
  • and there can be an all out prohibition against signs in “common areas”. Note that it does not refer to “common elements” but to “common areas“. This may counter the language of section 322, which  restricted the advertising to one’s unit.

In circumstances where there is a debate on whether owners can post signs on their exclusive-use front yard or balconies, it probably is preferable to adopt restrictions as to size and type of signs, rather than ban them out entirely.  So regulate the sign and consider requiring that the type of acceptable sign not damage property or not pose a risk to others.  As with everything else: any restriction must be reasonable.

Penalty and fines

Anyone who willfully contravenes section 322 (the one permitting election advertising posters) can be liable to a fine of up to $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months – or both. It probably is best to air on the side of caution.

Different rules for municipal or provincial elections

It is interesting to note that the rules applicable to a federal election are different from those applicable to provincial or municipal elections. In the case of provincial or municipal elections, corporations must consult provincial legislation, municipal by-laws and the corporation’s governing documents. We will leave this for another post.

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