Talking about global warming could be considered partisan
Elections Canada has warned some environmental charities that discussing the dangers of climate change in the upcoming federal election campaign could be considered a partisan activity.
Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defense Group, said an Elections Canada official issued the warning at a training session on electoral laws given to environmental groups earlier this summer.
The official then said that the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, doubted the veracity of climate change. As a result, any group that would talk about global warming, and even the urgency of tackling climate change, could be considered partisan, even if it does not mention Mr. Bernier or his party.
An Elections Canada spokesperson confirmed that this could be the kind of advice the agency can give.
Any partisan activity – including advertising, polls or any campaign activity costing at least $ 500 – requires third-party registration with Elections Canada. Mr. Gray fears that this will compromise the tax status of the organizations.
According to him, it is “discouraging” that groups like his are forced to be silent about climate change during the election campaign “because a party has chosen to deny the existence of this fundamental fact”.
“Clearly, climate change is real,” says Gray. Almost every credible institution on the planet tells us to do something about it. ”
Last fall, the UN panel of experts on climate change, made up of hundreds of scientists from around the world, said that if we do not act faster to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the consequences for the planet would be irreversible and catastrophic.
Five of the six political parties with a chance to win at least one seat in the next election agree that climate change is real and is caused by humans. Only Mr. Bernier claims that climate change is part of a natural cycle of the Earth and that there is no urgency in this area.
“Indirect Adversaries” of Bernier
As a result, Elections Canada says that any third party giving information on the harmful nature of carbon dioxide or the time to act against global warming could be seen as indirect opponents of Maxime Bernier and his party. Activities may be considered partisan by Elections Canada, even if they do not specifically mention a party or candidate.
Mr. Gray blames Elections Canada for stifling the climate change discussion at a crucial time.
“At this point, unless further clarification, we will stop referring to climate change on the internet as soon as the election is called. We feel we are being sucked into a space where we will be considered a partisan entity because we have said on Facebook that climate change is real. It seems ridiculous to me. ”
That does not mean that Mr. Gray will stop giving interviews on the subject during the campaign, he announces. Elections Canada’s warning will have an impact on other activities of the group that would cost more than $ 500, such as a Facebook advertising campaign.
In 2012, the previous Conservative government launched a $ 13 million program to test whether charities were abusing their tax status by organizing partisan activities. The audits concerned about twenty environmental, social and religious groups that would have exceeded a rule limiting the amounts devoted to political activities to 10% of their funding.
The Liberals promised to end what they called a “witch hunt” against any civil society group opposing government policies. While a new law passed last year lifted the 10% limit, the non-partisan activity rule remained in place.
According to Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of the Action-Climat Network, Elections Canada’s warning is “shocking”.
“Climate change is a scientific fact,” she said. This is not an opinion. ”
The warning “contributes to the current confusion” about what charities can and can not do to protect the environment, and will help pro-oil groups that want to silence their opponents, said Abreu.