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OTTAWA — The number of groups registered as third-party advertisers in the federal election campaign has eclipsed 2015’s total, as 117 unions, non-profits, industry associations — and even some individuals — try to sway Canadians to their points of view.

The groups need to file a series of disclosures to Elections Canada once they hit certain spending thresholds, and a fresh wave of numbers are now appearing online. With some forms still to come, here are some key trends emerging in how groups are trying to reach voters:

Unions still on top

An earlier set of disclosures suggested unions would be the biggest third-party spenders on electioneering, and that trend has continued halfway through the campaign. Though Unifor has not declared much new spending to add to an earlier $1.3-million blitz, the United Steelworkers picked up the slack with about $144,000 in expenses since the campaign began on top of their $739,000 pre-election buys. The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions entered the fray with about $410,000 in campaign ad expenses and the Public Service Alliance of Canada reported pre-election outlays of $160,000. In the campaign period, Quebec’s largest labour union spent $35,000, the Canadian Union of Public Employees spent around $27,000, and a union of correctional workers rounds out the union spending with a $38,000 outlay since June 30.

Coast-to-coast campaigning

The vast majority of newly reported expenses are for national advertising, or advertising that is not specifically targeted in single ridings. Fair Vote Canada and the Steelworkers were two of the handful of groups to target distinct ridings, but in the union’s case it accounted for only about one per cent of the total. The Canadian Medical Association had a mildly higher proportion of local spending, at about eight per cent of its total during the campaign. One thing worth noting, though, is that many advertisements listed as national may still be directed in some ways to specific types of voters through digital ad targeting.

Facebook a focus

The world’s largest social-media site is a go-to for advertisers in this election campaign, with some advertisers, like the anti-Liberal group Canada Proud, spending almost exclusively on the platform. Facebook is also receiving more attention than one of its competitors, Twitter. The Canadian Medical Association, for example, has spent about $4,700 boosting its tweets since Sept. 17, but shelled out just under $9,000 on Facebook ads in the last week alone. Google (and its subsidiary, YouTube) banned political advertising on its sites from June 30 until the election Oct. 21.

Many ways to get money

The third-party groups have a wide array of goals and a similarly diverse set of funding models. Unions tend to spend money already collected through dues, and associations like the Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Canadian Medical Association are also using pre-existing funds. Contrast that with more grassroots groups who get the bulk of the funding used for electioneering from donors who give $200 or less. Leadnow Society, a progressive group, received just under 90 per cent of its new funding since the start of the campaign from those smaller donors. Fair Vote Canada, an electoral-reform group, had a similar ratio (though with fewer donors). Still other groups have brought in just a few very large donations: Equiterre, an environmentalist group, has reported just a single $60,000 donation from a philanthropic group (and no expenses yet).

The most-ever registered, but only a few big spenders

Though 117 entities have now registered a third-party groups, only a fraction of those groups have so far disclosed significant spending. Third-party groups must file interim disclosures with Elections Canada once they either spend or receive $10,000 for regulated activities in either the pre-election period or formal campaign. Only 25 groups have had their disclosures published by Elections Canada so far (though all third parties will have to report within four months of the election). In 2015, 53 registered third-party groups (out of 115) spent more than $10,000 on regulated activities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2019.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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