Elections and Political Advertising on TV and Radio

Keeping voters informed during election campaigns

During an election campaign, broadcasters play an important role in informing Canadians about the issues, political parties and candidates involved. The CRTC ensures that broadcasters serve the Canadian public during elections, so that citizens can make informed choices on election day.

Equitable on-air time during a campaign

Broadcasters in Canada are required to cover elections, and they must give all candidates, parties and issues equitable treatment. Equitable doesn’t mean equal – it means that all candidates and parties get some air time to share their ideas on issues with the public. Equitable treatment applies to the following types of election coverage:

Paid campaign advertising time

If a broadcaster sells advertising time to one candidate or party, other candidates and parties must also be given the opportunity to buy commercial airtime from that same broadcaster.

But what if the demand for advertising time exceeds the airtime available? Broadcasters must divide up the available advertising time on an equitable basis.

Free campaign advertising time

A broadcaster can offer free time – which is programming time that’s free of charge – to a political party or candidate during an election campaign. The message that goes on the air is under the editorial control of the party or candidate.

If a broadcaster offers free time to a party or candidate, it must then offer equitable time to other parties and candidates.

Campaign news coverage and public affairs

During an election campaign, broadcasters must ensure that they’re informing their audiences about the main issues and the positions of all candidates and parties on those issues in a reasonable manner.

Political debates during election campaigns

Debate programs don't have to include all parties or candidates. However, broadcasters need to ensure that, in general, they're informing their audiences on the positions of candidates and parties on the main issues in a reasonable manner.

Prime time advertising airtime during federal elections

Broadcasters must make 6.5 hours of prime programming time available for purchase by all parties. This gives most voters the chance to learn about the issues, parties and candidates. These hours must fall within the time period between the date the writ was dropped and the second day before the election date.

On-air personalities as candidates

On-air personalities are people who are seen or heard on radio, TV or community programming channels. Even if the person's voice is only heard as a commercial announcer, that person is still considered to be an on-air personality.

If an on-air personality becomes a candidate in a provincial or federal political election, his/her on-air duties must stop:

  • as soon as his/her candidacy is announced
    OR
  • once the election is officially called, whichever is later

The election policy states that broadcasters must provide equitable access to all political candidates.  In the case of a municipal election, equitable coverage does not formally begin until two months before the date of the election.

In these cases, on-air personalities who become candidates must go off the air. On-air personalities enjoy unique public exposure, and broadcasters aren't able to offer other candidates similar on-air opportunities.

Circulars for broadcasters during federal and provincial elections

When the writ is dropped for a federal or provincial election, the CRTC issues a circular to all regulated broadcasters. The circular reminds broadcasters of their duties during an election campaign.

Here are some recent examples of circulars issued by the CRTC: