FAQ – Political Activity

  1. What is the purpose of the political activity rules?
  2. What is “political activity”?
  3. To whom do the political activity rules apply?
  4. Which political activity rules apply to all public servants?
  5. What does “restricted” political activity mean?
  6. When is an unpaid leave of absence to engage in restricted political activity granted?
  7. What is an “election period”?
  8. What does “conflict with the interests of the Crown or the public body” mean?
  9. Do different rules apply to municipal, provincial and federal elections?
  10. Who are “specially restricted” public servants?
  11. What rules apply to specially restricted public servants?
  12. What is the role of the ethics executive with regard to political activity?
  13. Must public servants comply with their ethics executives’ decisions?

Q1: What is the purpose of the political activity rules?

The political activity rules strive to balance the neutrality of the public service with an individual’s ability to engage in political activity.

Q2: What is “political activity”?

Public servants participate in political activity when they engage in any of the following activities:

  • Do anything in support of or in opposition to a political party (federal or provincial) or a candidate (federal, provincial or municipal)
  • Become or seek to become a candidate in a federal, provincial or municipal election
  • Make public comments on any matter dealt with in the position or policy of a political party (federal or provincial) or candidate (federal, provincial or municipal) if comments are outside the scope of the public servant’s duties and the matter is directly related to his/her duties

Q3: To whom do the political activity rules apply?

The political activity rules and restrictions apply to current ministry employees and to public servants employed in and appointed to public bodies. There are additional restrictions for specially restricted public servants. The political activity rules do not apply to former public servants. A separate set of rules apply to ministers’ office staff (for information visit the Integrity Commissioner’s website.

Q4: Which political activity rules apply to all public servants?

All public servants in ministries and public bodies are prohibited from engaging in the following:

  • Political activity in the workplace
  • Political activity while wearing a uniform associated with the public service of Ontario
  • Using government premises, equipment or supplies for political activity purposes
  • Associating a public service position with political activity (except as necessary to identify the public servant’s position and work experience when seeking to be a candidate in a federal, provincial or municipal election)

There are other restrictions that apply to most public servants except those public servants identified as specially restricted, and some rules apply only to specially restricted public servants.

Q5: What does “restricted” political activity mean?

Public servants in ministries and public bodies, who are not specially-restricted, may engage in certain activities only if they are on an unpaid leave of absence from their public service positions when they do so. These “restricted” political activities include:

  • Becoming or seeking to become a candidate in a federal or provincial election during an election period
  • Soliciting funds for a political party or candidate (applies to public servants who supervise others or deal directly with members of the public)
  • Political activity that could interfere with the public servant’s duties
  • Political activity that could conflict with the interests of the Crown (in the case of a ministry employee) or a public body (in the case of a public body employee)

Q6: When is an unpaid leave of absence to engage in restricted political activity granted?

During an election period, ethics executives must grant any requests by a public servant who is not “specially restricted” for an unpaid leave of absence to engage in restricted political activity. Outside an election period, the public servant’s ethics executive has the discretion to grant an unpaid leave of absence to engage in restricted political activity.

Q7: What is an “election period”?

Under the PSOA, an election period for a federal or provincial election begins on the day the election is called and ends on the day of the election. For a municipal election, the period starts 60 days before the day of the election and ends on the day of the election.

Q8: What does “conflict with the interests of the Crown or the public body” mean?

An action/activity could conflict with the interests of the Crown or public body if, for example, it impaired the ability of a public servant to undertake his/her duties fairly and impartially, impaired the government or the public body from carrying out its legal functions, or created a fiscal or legal risk for the government or public body.

Q9: Do different rules apply to municipal, provincial and federal elections?

Yes. The political activity rules for federal and provincial elections are similar. The rules for municipal elections are slightly different from those for federal and provincial elections. There is more flexibility for public servants to engage in political activity in a municipal election than in a provincial/federal election. For example, a public servant’s employment is always terminated if he or she is elected in a provincial or federal election. If elected to municipal office, the public servant’s employment may be terminated, depending on whether the responsibilities of municipal office would interfere with the public servant’s duties or conflict with the interests of the Crown or public body.

Q10: Who are “specially restricted” public servants?

Positions or classifications may be added to the list of specially restricted public servants by Cabinet regulation. The following is the current list of specially restricted public servants:

  • The Conflict of Interest Commissioner
  • The Secretary of the Cabinet
  • Every deputy minister or associate deputy minister in a ministry
  • Every assistant deputy minister in a ministry
  • Every director in a ministry
  • Every deputy director of a legal services branch of a ministry
  • Every crown attorney
  • Every commissioned officer and detachment commander in the Ontario Provincial Police
  • All appointees to tribunals listed in Ontario Regulation 377/07

Q11: What rules apply to specially restricted public servants?

Specially restricted public servants may only engage in political activities that are specifically permitted. Only part-time specially restricted appointees to the public bodies listed in Ontario Regulation 377/07 may apply to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner for authorization to engage in political activity that is not specifically permitted.

The following activities are permitted for all specially restricted public servants:

  • Voting
  • Attending all-candidates meetings
  • Becoming, seeking to become, or campaigning for a candidate in a municipal election (but only if the public servant’s ethics executive has determined that doing so would not interfere with the interests of the Crown or public body)

The following activities are permitted for specially restricted public servants except deputy ministers, the Secretary of the Cabinet, and the Conflict of Interest Commissioner:

  • Contributing money to a party (federal or provincial) or candidate (federal, provincial or municipal)
  • Membership in a political party (federal or provincial)

In addition, part-time specially restricted appointees may seek the Conflict of Interest Commissioner’s authorization to engage in political activities not otherwise permitted.

Q12: What is the role of the ethics executive with regard to political activity?

Ethics executives have the following responsibilities related to political activity:

  • Providing advice about the political activity rights that apply to an employee/appointee
  • Determining whether a public servant can take part in political activity and imposing necessary conditions
  • Considering requests for unpaid leave of absence

All public servants are responsible for the following:

  • Seeking clarification on their political rights
  • Notifying their ethics executives if their political activity could conflict with the interests of the Crown (in the case of a ministry employee) or a public body (in the case of a public body employee)
  • Requesting leaves of absence where appropriate
  • Complying with directions of their ethics executives

Each public servant has an ethics executive. Since the political activity rules apply only to current (not former) public servants, the following list shows the ethics executives for current public servants only:

Current Public Servant Ethics Executive
Ministry employees Deputy minister
Ministers’ staff Integrity Commissioner
Deputy ministers Secretary of Cabinet
Secretary of the Cabinet Conflict of Interest Commissioner
Chairs of public bodies Conflict of Interest Commissioner
Public body appointees Chair of public body
Public body employees Chair of public body or the person prescribed in O. Reg. 147/10
Persons listed in O. Reg. 147/10 Conflict of Interest Commissioner
Conflict of Interest Commissioner Integrity Commissioner

Q13: Must public servants comply with their ethics executives’ decisions?

All public servants must comply with any direction given by their ethics executives or the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. A public servant who does not comply with the ethics executive’s direction may be subject to disciplinary penalties up to and including dismissal.

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