It will be up to the proponents of change (the “Yes” side) and the opponents of change (the “No” side) to explain and debate the strengths and weaknesses of the MMP and FPTP systems. However, in doing so they must abide by certain rules set out in the Electoral System Referendum Act.
The rules govern contributions, spending, and advertising related to the referendum.
The purpose of the rules is to establish a level playing field for both opponents and proponents of change, by providing equal public money for registered referendum advertisers on each side and by limiting spending on paid advertising in a reasonable manner so that the residents of PEI can make a decision based on information from both points of view.
Violations of the rules constitute offences and may result in the imposition of hefty fines. In most cases, the maximum fine is $10,000 but in some cases, it could be higher.
There are two periods to be concerned about. They are the pre-referendum period and the referendum period.
The pre-referendum period runs from the coming in to force of the Electoral System Referendum Act ( June 12, 2018 ) to the date of the start of the referendum period which date will be established by order in council.
In the pre-referendum period, there is no limit on spending on pre-referendum expenses which include costs of advertising, acquiring services, meeting space, refreshments and distribution of promotional materials. However, only individuals who are ordinarily resident in the Province for at least 6 months prior to July 1, 2018, can incur referendum expenses. Furthermore, only an organization that meets the following criteria can incur pre-referendum expenses:
a. Has 5 or more members
b. Is not for profit
c. Its members and directors unpaid
d. Membership voluntary
e. 2/3 of its principal members are ordinarily resident in the province for 6 months prior to July 1/18.
Voluntary free labour is not considered a contribution. So, anyone can provide that without offending the rules.
Once the referendum period begins stricter rules on contributions and spending take effect.
The referendum period will begin on a date set by order in council and runs through the general election to the date on which the referendum commissioner gives a wrap-up report to the speaker.
The time from the beginning of the referendum period to the date of the general election will not be more than 8 months.
During the referendum period, there are restrictions on contributions and spending on referendum advertising.
- in kind at less than market value
- membership fees
Contributions do not include public money or voluntary free labour.
Referendum advertising is a message sent by any means to the public that directly or indirectly supports or opposes one of the possible answers to the referendum question.
However, the following are not included as referendum advertising:
- Messages Transmitted to the public through regular media that are done and published for free
- Books sold for no less than commercial value if it was planned to make the book available to the public regardless of the referendum being held
- Transmission of documents by an organization to its members or employees
- Transmissions by an individual on a non-commercial basis via the internet.
- Communications with the public by political parties, candidates or potential candidates in relation to the general election that do not take any side in the referendum.
A referendum advertiser is any individual, corporation or organization that incurs or intends to incur referendum advertising expenses during the referendum period.
A referendum advertiser can only accept contributions from individuals ordinarily resident in the province.
A referendum advertiser can only use contributions from individuals ordinarily resident in the province.
A referendum advertiser cannot accept contributions from any one individual that exceeds $1000 in total value.
An individual is ordinarily resident in the place where they live and to which they intend to return when absent. An individual can have only been ordinarily resident in one place at a time.
Referendum expenses include the cost of advertising, the cost of acquiring services, the cost of event space, the cost of providing refreshments, and the cost of distributing promotional materials.
There are two types of referendum advertisers: (1)registered and (2) unregistered.
Referendum advertisers whether registered or unregistered must identify themselves in the advertising he, she, or it places and must indicate that he, she, or it has authorized the advertising.
Unregistered referendum advertisers are not permitted to incur advertising expenses beyond $1000.
An association composed of unregistered referendum advertisers can collectively incur referendum expenses of not more than $10,000.
$75,000 in public money is available for registered referendum advertisers on the “no” side and the same amount is available for registered referendum advertisers on the “yes” side.
Public money comes from the Provincial Operating Fund.
Public money can only be used to pay referendum expenses incurred during the referendum period. They include:
- The costs of referendum advertising
- The cost of hiring and paying for services
- The cost of event space
- The cost of providing refreshments
- The cost of distributing promotional materials.
The Referendum Commissioner divides the public money among the registered referendum advertisers on each side.
A registered referendum advertiser must apply for a share of the public money by the deadline set by the Referendum Commissioner.
The Referendum Commissioner cannot give public money to anyone other than a financial agent of a registered referendum advertiser.
The financial agent of a registered referendum advertiser has a very important role with many responsibilities for which he or she is accountable.
A registered referendum advertiser can only spend the public money it receives from the Referendum Commissioner regardless of whether it has other money.
A member of a registered referendum advertiser cannot use his or her own money for purposes related to the referendum after the registered referendum advertiser has received public money.
A registered referendum advertiser cannot take contributions after it receives public money.
A registered referendum advertiser cannot use the public money it receives to incur capital expenses or for anything other than referendum expenses.
Unused and misused public money must be returned.
All illegal contributions must be returned.
It should also be noted that some provisions of the Election Expenses Act may apply to registered referendum advertisers as if they were registered political parties under that Act.
A referendum advertiser that wants to obtain public money for its campaign must complete an application for registration and submit it to the Referendum Commissioner.
The Referendum Commissioner will set a deadline for receiving applications for registration.
Each side can have more than one registered advertiser. However, it would seem more efficient to have just one registered organization on each side.
A referendum advertiser is eligible for registration if it:
- has at least 5 members
- is not for profit
- does not compensate its members or directors for their roles
- has voluntary membership
- has at least 2/3 of its members ordinarily resident in the province for the six months prior to July 1, 2018
- has not incurred referendum expenses that exceed $1,000 in total
- is not a political party or an association or organization of a political party
- is not a trade union
- has no politicians or official agents of politicians as principal members
- does not have principal members that work for the chief electoral officer or the referendum commissioner
- has already appointed an individual as its financial agent
- has its application signed and attested to by two of its principal members.
Principal members are the individuals who are the directors or leaders in the organization.