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Legal Guide

Federal and provincial electoral processes

Members of the House of Commons and provincial legislatures are elected for terms of not more than five years. On average, elections are conducted every four years. 

Members may be re-elected for multiple terms. Vacancies are filled through by-elections. Members elected in by-elections will face re-election during the next general election.

Most members of Parliament and the provincial legislatures are members of political parties. The leader of the political party, whose members hold a majority of the seats in the legislature, will ordinarily be asked to form the government. Should no party hold a majority, the leader of the party holding the largest plurality of seats in the legislature will normally be invited to attempt to form a government.

Only citizens and permanent residents of Canada may make political donations to registered federal political parties and federal candidates. Corporations and trade unions are not permitted to make these types of donations. In the case of citizens and permanent residents, there are federal monetary limits. Quebec also prohibits political contributions from corporations and trade unions, and imposes monetary limits for contributions from individuals. Other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, permit contributions from corporations and trade unions. Ontario and Alberta impose monetary limits on contributions. While there are no monetary limits on contributions in British Columbia, there are limits on the amount of anonymous contributions a candidate, and other eligible recipients, can accept.

Municipal electoral process

Provincial governments have delegated certain of their legislative powers to municipal governments. These powers usually include land use planning and certain business licensing functions.

Municipal governments typically consist of a mayor, reeve, or other head of council elected at large across the municipality, and a number of councillors elected either at large or as representatives of smaller electoral divisions within the community. Elected municipal officials serve for set terms, which typically vary from province to province between two and four years.

A number of provinces have created two tiers of local government consisting of a regional government, which includes several municipal governments.


There are two types of lobbyists governed under the Act: consultant lobbyists and in-house lobbyists.

Lobbying is a legitimate activity in Canada that plays an important role in ensuring public officials have the necessary information to make decisions on complex issues. Lobbyists though, have certain legal and professional obligations to follow under certain federal, provincial, and municipal lobbying legislation when they work on behalf of clients or employers.

The Lobbying Act, (R.S.C., 1985, c.33 (4th Supp.)) (the Act) regulates lobbying activities directed at the Federal Government of Canada. Lobbyists are subject to registration and reporting requirements as well as ethical rules governing conduct. The purpose of all of these provisions is to promote transparency and ensure that lobbyists do not impede free and open access to government.

Lobbying generally refers to communicating with public officials regarding a government decision. The Act applies to any oral or written communication with a public office holder or a designated public office holder regarding the development, defeat, or amendment of federal laws, policies, and programs and the awarding of government grants, contributions, or other financial benefits. For consultant lobbyists (see below), communications regarding the awarding of government contracts as well as simply arranging a meeting between a public office holder and another person will also constitute lobbying.

Not all such communications though, are considered lobbying activities. The Act does not apply to oral and written submissions made to government initiated activities, such as Parliamentary and regulatory proceedings, consultations and hearings, or to communications regarding routine dealings with respect to the enforcement, interpretation or application of statutes or regulations.

The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying (the Commissioner) is responsible for conducting reviews and investigations of lobbyists to ensure compliance with the Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. It also maintains the Registry of Lobbyists, which contains and makes public the registration information disclosed by lobbyists.

There are two types of lobbyists governed under the Act: consultant lobbyists and in-house lobbyists.

  • Consultant lobbyists are individuals who lobby on behalf of clients for payment (i.e. money or anything of value). They can be self-employed or work for firms that deal in government relations, law, accounting or strategic advice.

  • In-house lobbyists are individuals who lobby on behalf of their employer. This includes employees of a corporation, trade union, industry association, charity, partnership, trust, interest group, and non-share capital corporation.

Every consultant lobbyist and in-house lobbyist that fails to file a return or knowingly makes a false or misleading statement on any return or document submitted to the Commissioner is guilty of an Off and liable:

  • On summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both; and

  • On indictment, to a fine not exceeding $200,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.

Any other contravention of the Act is an offense and punishable by a fine not exceeding $50,000.

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