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.

FAQ – Conflict of Interest

  1. What is a conflict of interest?
  2. To whom do the rules apply?
  3. What is the purpose of the conflict of interest rules?
  4. What are the rules concerning conflict of interest?
  5. What are the conflict of interest rules for current public servants?
  6. What are the conflict of interest rules for public servants who have left the Ontario public service?
  7. Do the rules apply to public servants who left before the PSOA came into force in 2007?
  8. What is the role of the ethics executive?
  9. Who are the ethics executives?
  10. What is the role of the conflict of interest commissioner under the PSOA?
  11. What should public servants do if they think they have a conflict of interest?
  12. What happens if a public servant doesn’t report a conflict of interest or doesn’t follow the direction given to him/her by the ethics executive?

Q1: What is a conflict of interest?

A conflict of interest is any situation where a public servant’s private interests may be in conflict with his/her public service responsibilities. For example, having certain outside interests could impair a public servant’s ability to undertake his/her duties fairly and impartially.

Q2: To whom do the rules apply?

The conflict of interest rules in Ontario Regulation 381/07 apply to current ministry employees and to public servants employed in and appointed to public bodies. The conflict of interest rules in Ontario Regulation 382/07 apply to ministers’ office staff (for information visit the Integrity Commissioner’s website: http://oico.on.ca).

Q3: What is the purpose of the conflict of interest rules?

Public servants are in a position of trust and are accountable for fulfilling their duties with integrity. Conflict of interest rules assist public servants in acting honourably and avoiding situations where their private interests may interfere with their public service duties and responsibilities.

Q4: What are the rules concerning conflict of interest?

The conflict of interest rules are set out in Ontario Regulation 381/07 of the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 (PSOA). These rules are intended to be broad enough to cover most situations, but the PSOA allows public bodies to develop their own rules for the commissioner’s review and approval.

Q5: What are the conflict of interest rules for current public servants?

Ontario Regulation 381/07 specifies the prohibited activities that could put a public servant at risk of a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest rules for current public servants prohibit them from engaging in the following activities:

  • Using their positions to benefit themselves, their spouses or their children
  • Accepting gifts
  • Disclosing confidential information
  • Giving preferential treatment
  • Hiring their spouses, children, parents or siblings
  • Engaging in outside activities that conflict with their public service duties
  • Making personal use of government resources
  • Participating in decision-making where they could benefit from the result
  • Acquiring financial interests related to their duties as public servants.

The regulation also includes requirements for public servants involved in matters that might involve the private sector, as well as rules for former public servants.

Q6: What are the conflict of interest rules for public servants who have left the Ontario public service?

All former public servants are governed by the post-service restrictions set out in Ontario Regulation 381/07. Conflict of interest rules prohibit former public servants from engaging in the following activities:

  • Seeking preferential treatment from the government
  • Disclosing confidential information
  • Providing advice or assisting others on certain matters with which they were involved as a public servant
  • In some cases lobbying the government or accepting post-service employment or serving on the governing bodies of certain entities

Q7: Do the rules apply to public servants who left before the PSOA came into force in 2007?

All former public servants who have left a ministry position need to follow the post-service restrictions, even if they left before the legislation came into force. The rules do not apply to former public body employees or appointees who left a public body before the rules came into force.

Q8: What is the role of the ethics executive?

Every public servant has an ethics executive who has the following responsibilities:

  • Providing advice about the application of conflict of interest rules
  • Determining whether a conflict of interest exists
  • Providing direction where there is a conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest

The onus is on each public servant to promptly disclose an actual or potential conflict to his/her ethics executive.

Q9: Who are the ethics executives?

The ethics executives for current and former public servant are shown in the table below:

Current/Former 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
Former ministry employees Public Service Commission
Former deputy ministers Conflict of Interest Commissioner
Former cabinet secretaries 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
Former public body employees and appointees Conflict of Interest Commissioner
Conflict of Interest Commissioner Integrity Commissioner

Q10: What is the role of the conflict of interest commissioner under the PSOA?

The Conflict of Interest Commissioner is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council and has the following responsibilities under the PSOA:

  • Acting as ethics executive for certain public servants
  • Providing advice and giving direction on conflict of interest and political activity matters referred by ethics executives
  • Giving direction on the post-service conflict of interest obligations of deputy ministers, cabinet secretaries, and chairs appointees, and employees of public bodies
  • Receiving personal financial disclosures from public servants working on matters involving the private sector and giving direction regarding such disclosures
  • Approving public bodies’ conflict of interest rules

Q11: What should public servants do if they think they have a conflict of interest?

Current and former public servants are required to advise their ethics executives if they think they have an actual or potential conflict of interest. The ethics executive will determine whether a conflict of interest exists. If there is a conflict, the ethics executive will provide direction to the public servant. The public servant is required to follow any direction provided by his/her ethics executive or by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.

Q12: What happens if a public servant doesn’t report a conflict of interest or doesn’t follow the direction given to him/her by the ethics executive?

A public servant who doesn’t report a conflict of interest, or who doesn’t follow a direction given by his/her ethics executive or by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, can be subject to disciplinary measures up to and including dismissal.