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Digital advocacy during a federal election—what does it all mean?

In 2021, Canadian organizations, associations and advocacy groups are once again looking to navigate the unpredictable period of a federal election and the sea of changes made to the Canada Elections Act (CEA) back in 2019—the Act that regulates political advertising around an election.

Ahead of the 2019 election, NATIONAL’s team of digital experts wrote about Ottawa’s move to regulate political advertising with the Elections Modernization Act (EMA) with insight on the various changes to advertising.

If your organization is potentially considering digital advocacy—there are many considerations that you may want to keep in mind.

You may be asking—is it even worth it?

Largely due to the global pandemic, Ottawa saw an intense rise in advocacy activities—in both the traditional and digital sense. While digital advocacy has become synonymous with government relations efforts, digital advertising during an election is a much different beast.

While issues advertising registration during an election may seem complicated or intimidating, there’s nothing like an election campaign to get politicians to listen to the critical issues we face today. The pool of individuals and organizations willing to register is widening due to this increasingly regulated environment.

For many, the registration burden is worth the opportunity when all policies and priorities are on the table with politicians and Canadians.

In the context of an electoral campaign, the content and materials that you may be leveraging on social media, print ads or through digital campaigns matters to Elections Canada.

Add this complication to the patchwork of advertising policies and many hoops that advertisers must jump through, the entire process may seem onerous to those who want to connect with Canadians at such a critical time.

What to consider

Every digital campaign and message is unique and should be examined by professionals on a case-by-case basis, there is no one size fits all approach to evaluating what messages or materials could be considered issues-based advertising. While partisan ads may be easier to spot, Elections Canada has left much of the interpretation of “political advertising” up to the individual and the political context at the time of the election. We encourage you to put your social ads, member toolkits and research questions under the microscope as soon as possible (ideally before an election hits).

Advocacy professionals need the right team to provide them with the certainty and confidence that their communications products are not only strategic and effective, but also above board and in compliance with the Act.

Knowing when and what to do in this heavily regulated election period is crucial to any company or organization looking to maximize their digital channels to get their message out to Canadians. And staying compliant remains critical.

With so many moving parts, you need the right team by your side when you need it the most; NATIONAL’s seasoned Public Affairs and Digital Advocacy experts are ready to help you navigate these new advertising rules in a constantly changing political environment.

Megan Lockhart is a former Senior Director, Digital & Advocacy Strategy at NATIONAL Public Relations


Written by Simon Beauchemin | Gordon Taylor Lee

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