Political Activities — Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

General Questions

1. What is a political activity?

The Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) defines "political activity" as:

  • Any activity in support of, within or in opposition to a political party;
  • Any activity in support of or in opposition to a candidate before or during an election period; and
  • Seeking nomination as or being a candidate in an election before or during the election period.

2. What are examples of political activities that fit the definition under the legislation?

In addition to voting in a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal election or seeking nomination as or being a candidate in an election, the following are other examples of political activities:

  • Volunteering or fundraising for a candidate or a political party;
  • Displaying political material such as a picture, sticker, badge or button, or placing a sign on the lawn in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate or a political party;
  • Attending events, meetings, conventions, rallies, or other political gatherings in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate or a political party;
  • Developing promotional material such as writing campaign speeches, slogans and pamphlets for a candidate or a political party;
  • Using blogs, social networking sites, a personal website or video sharing to express personal views in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate or a political party.

3. Can I participate in any of these activities?

If you are considering seeking nomination or becoming a candidate in an election, you must request and obtain permission from the Public Service Commission (PSC) before doing so.

You may engage in any other political activity so long as it does not impair, or is not perceived as impairing, your ability to perform your duties in a politically impartial manner. You do not need permission from the PSC to engage in these political activities. However, you are responsible for ensuring that engaging in such activities does not impair, or is not perceived as impairing, your ability to perform your duties in a politically impartial manner.

4. What are the consequences of my engaging in an improper political activity?

Any person may make an allegation of improper political activity against employees and the PSC may, in turn, investigate these allegations. If the investigation concluded that an employee conducted an improper political activity, the PSC may take any corrective action that it considers appropriate or may dismiss the employee. Only a person who is or was a candidate in an election may make an allegation that a deputy head contravened the PSEA.

5. What are examples of activities that are not considered as political activities under the legislation?

The following are a few examples of activities that are not considered as political activities under the PSEA. If in doubt, please consult your Designated Political Activities Representative of your organization or seek advice from the PSC.

  • Being a candidate in a First Nations, Indian Band or school board election;
  • Working as a returning officer or poll clerk on election day for Elections Canada;
  • Being a member and/or volunteering for an advocacy group, a municipal advisory board or a community association;
  • Engaging in the political activities of a foreign country.

6. Do the political activities provisions of the PSEA apply to me?

The political activities provisions of the legislation apply to all employees and deputy heads of organizations of the federal public service that fall under the PSEA. It also applies to employees and deputy heads of the following separate agencies:

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research;
  • Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada;
  • Canada Revenue Agency;
  • Parks Canada Agency;
  • Polar Knowledge Canada; and
  • National Film Board of Canada.

7. Do the provisions under the PSEA apply to political activities on my own time and/or off work premises? If so, why?

Yes, because regardless of when or where your political activity takes place, it may, depending on the nature of the activity and on your specific circumstances, impair or be perceived as impairing your ability to perform your duties in a politically impartial manner.

Candidacy Political Activities

Candidacy Political Activities

1. How will the Public Service Commission (PSC) analyze my request for permission to be a candidate in an election?

As indicated in the political activities provisions of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA), the PSC’s decision is based on ensuring political impartiality and, in making its decision, it considers such factors as the nature of the election, the nature of your duties and the level and visibility of your position in the public service.

To determine the impact of these factors, the PSC requires your input, the input of your supervisor or manager and your deputy head.

2. How is candidacy in a municipal election treated differently than federal, provincial and territorial elections?

If you are granted permission to be a candidate in a municipal election:

  • You will not be automatically on a leave of absence without pay (LWOP) during the election period, contrary to federal, provincial and territorial elections;
  • You do not necessarily need to be on LWOP to conduct political activities before the election period; and
  • You do not automatically cease to be an employee if you are elected. The PSC may allow you to continue to work or require that you take a LWOP. If elected in a federal, provincial or territorial election, you cease to be an employee.

3. Do I need the permission of the PSC while considering whether I will seek nomination or be a candidate (i.e., before publicly declaring my intention to seek nomination)?

Some activities associated with exploring a possible candidacy do not require the permission of the PSC. For example, discussing the impact of your candidacy with your partner or clarifying the impact on your pension with your compensation advisor would not be perceived as impairing your ability to perform your duties in a politically impartial manner. During this exploratory period, discussions with party officials of a private and informal nature are also permissible political activities, keeping in mind, however, that at no time can a commitment or announcement be made until permission is received.

4. When can I undertake candidacy-related activities and publicly announce my intention to seek the nomination?

Once you have received permission from the PSC to seek nomination as, or be a candidate in a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal election, you can declare your candidacy and candidacy-related activities. This includes any political activity to support your candidacy (for example, in relation to your candidacy, having your photograph taken or placing biographical information on a website, soliciting support from party members). If in doubt about a particular activity, consult the Designated Political Activities Representative (DPAR) of your organization or seek advice from the PSC.

5. What should I do if, after receiving permission from the PSC, I get a new job in the public service?

You would have to resubmit a request and the PSC will examine your new role, the visibility of your position and your degree of responsibilities in a manner similar to the initial review. The PSC will then confirm to you and to your deputy head whether the initial permission stands.

6. Will my request for seeking nomination or becoming a candidate be treated in confidence by the PSC while my request is being reviewed and before I make a public announcement about my candidacy?

Yes. However, once permission is considered granted and the conditions are accepted, a notice is published in the Canada Gazette to inform the public of the PSC’s decision and a notification is posted on the PSC’s Web site.

7. Will it matter in which political party I am active?

Your political affiliation is not a factor in assessing your request for permission to seek nomination as, or be, a candidate. The PSC will not ask you for this information.

8. What if the PSC does not approve my request and I go ahead and seek nomination anyway?

If you go ahead and seek nomination without the PSC’s permission, this would be considered an improper political activity. In such cases the PSC may investigate and impose corrective actions or dismissal.

9. If I lose my bid for election at one level of government, may I then proceed to try my luck as a candidate at another level in another election?

The PSEA gives you the right to participate in any political activity, subject to the limitations in the legislation. Yes, you may make subsequent requests for permission to seek nomination as, or be a candidate at any level of government.

10. If I am in an acting, assignment, secondment or interchange situation, which job should I report on when requesting permission?

You should report to the PSC on both positions (your current duties and the duties pertaining to your substantive position). The PSC will examine both sets of duties and will advise you and your deputy head of its decision on both. You should inform the PSC immediately if your position or job functions change, as this may have an impact on the PSC's assessment of your request.

11. What if I lose the nomination for a particular political party in my riding or later lose the election as a candidate. When do I go back to work?

  • You may go back to work after the nomination meeting or after the election if the PSC granted your request for permission to seek nomination, or be a candidate before the election period without any specific conditions; and
  • If the PSC granted you permission based on specific conditions (e.g., leave of absence without pay, modified or new duties) that take effect upon returning to work, then you should contact your DPAR or the PSC prior to returning to work.
Leave of Absence without Pay (LWOP)

Leave of Absence without Pay (LWOP)

1. Do I need to be on leave of absence without pay (LWOP) while I conduct political activities in support of my nomination/candidacy at the federal, provincial or territorial levels?

If you plan to take part in political activities in support of your nomination and/or candidacy in a federal, provincial or territorial election, you must inform the Public Service Commission (PSC) in advance. Given the higher level of visibility of federal, provincial and territorial elections and the risk to political impartiality, real or perceived, it is possible that the PSC will make permission conditional on a LWOP for the period during which you intend to conduct your political activities before the election period.

2. Do I need to be on LWOP while I conduct political activities at the municipal level?

Usually a LWOP is not required. However, depending on the nature of the election, the nature of your duties within the organizational context and the level and visibility of your position, a LWOP to take part in political activities, before and/or during the election period, could be a condition of permission.

For example, the following circumstances could warrant that permission be conditional on a LWOP:

  • When a reasonable risk to political impartiality, real or perceived, cannot be mitigated by implementing operational arrangements; and
  • If you have indicated that you will be conducting sustained full-time campaigning activities before and/or during the election period;
  • If the elected office is a full-time commitment.
Investigations of Allegations of Improper Political Activities

Investigations of Allegations of Improper Political Activities

For information regarding the investigation process, visit the following websites: