Hundreds of students and supporters made their way down to downtown Courtenay, B.C. in May to protest climate change inaction. (Black Press Media files)

Environment groups warned saying climate change is real could be seen as partisan

Talk of climate change could be viewed as advocating against Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada

A pre-election chill has descended over some environment charities after Elections Canada warned them that discussing the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

An Elections Canada official warned groups in a training session earlier this summer that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan, said Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

Any partisan activity — including advertising, surveys, or any kind of campaign costing at least $500 — would require a charity to register as a third party for the election, an onerous requirement that could jeopardize a group’s charitable tax status, Gray said.

It is “discouraging” that Environmental Defence and other charities may have to zip their lips about climate change being real during the campaign period “because one party has chosen to deny the existence of this basic fact,” he added.

“Obviously climate change is real,” said Gray. “Almost every credible institution on the planet is telling us to get our act together and do something about it.”

Last fall, the United Nations climate change panel, made up of hundreds of scientists from around the world, said if the world doesn’t act faster to cut global emissions the planet will face irreversible and catastrophic consequences.

Five of the six political parties expected to have any chance of winning a seat in the upcoming campaign agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. Bernier, however, is the one outlier: he believes that if climate change is real, it is a natural cycle of the earth and not an emergency.

“There is no climate change urgency in this country,” Bernier said in a speech in June speech. He also disagrees that carbon dioxide, which experts say is responsible for three-quarters of greenhouse emissions globally, is bad.

“CO2 is not ‘pollution,’” he tweeted. “It’s what comes out of your mouth when you breathe and what nourishes plants.”

Because of that, Elections Canada is warning that any third party that promotes information about carbon dioxide as a pollutant or climate change as an emergency could be considered to be indirectly advocating against Bernier and his party. Activities can be considered partisan by Elections Canada even if they don’t mention a candidate or party by name, the agency’s rules say.

An Elections Canada spokesman confirmed “such a recommendation would be something we would give.”

Gray says the impact is stifling the conversation about climate change at a critical time.

“At this point, unless I can get greater clarification, after the writ is dropped we would stop doing anything online that talks about climate change, which is our entire mandate,” he said. ”You feel you’re being drawn into this space where you’re being characterized as being a partisan entity for putting up Facebook ads that say climate change is real, which seems ridiculous to me.”

Environment groups in Canada are still on edge after spending much of the last five years fighting against the Canada Revenue Agency accusations and worry that if Elections Canada accuses them of being partisan, it will attract another round of audits for partisan activity. Gray said the two may have different definitions of partisan, but the fear is still having a chilling effect.

“We need to ensure that we’re not saying things that are going to be considered to be illegal by Elections Canada.”

It doesn’t mean Gray is forbidden from giving interviews about climate change during the campaign, he said. Rather, it would affect any kind of activity the group undertakes that costs more than $500, such as a Facebook ad campaign.

In 2012, the former Conservative government unveiled a $13-million audit program to seek out charities the Conservatives alleged were abusing their tax status with partisan activities. The probes went after two dozen environment, human rights, anti-poverty and religious groups — none of them considered partisan — for going beyond a rule that limited their spending to no more than 10 per cent of their funding on political advocacy work.

The program was launched as the Conservatives called many environment groups “radical” and a “threat” to Canada.

The Liberals promised to end what they called a “witch hunt” against any civil society groups that opposed the government’s policies. It took more than three years, but eventually legislation was changed last year to lift the 10 per cent limitation. The non-partisan rule, however, remains.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, called the Elections Canada warning “shocking.”

“Climate change is a scientific fact,” she said. “It’s not an opinion.”

The situation is “contributing to ongoing confusion” about what environment charities can and cannot do, and will give fuel to pro-oil groups that want to silence their opponents, Abreu added.

WATCH: Hundreds of students protest climate change in Courtenay

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Electric car-share company to bring 2,000 vehicles to Surrey/White Rock

SUMO is to launch next year with 150 vehicles, and increase to 2,000 by 2022

Health minister hints that location for new Surrey hospital has been found

Minister Adrian Dix says an announcement can be expected before the end of the year

B.C. cabinet minister denies that Surrey mayor’s friend attended government meeting

Surrey councillor questions Vancouver businessman Bob Cheema’s involvement in official meeting

Surrey’s new doc-film series launches with ‘Because We Are Girls’ story of sexual abuse

‘If it goes as well as we hope, we plan to hold a film series every year,’ curator Neil Scott says

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP say Daniel Froehlich has been found and ‘is safe’

Surrey RCMP say 15-year-old boy had been missing since 10 p.m. on Sept. 10

VIDEO: Drone footage documents work to free salmon at Big Bar landslide

Video shows crews working to remove rocks and wood, and transporting salmon by helicopter

Rick Mercer calls out Conservative candidate in B.C. for fake meme

‘Not true. All fake. Please Stop,’ tweeted Rick Mercer in response

Bear killed in Kimberley after chasing girl, wreaking havoc on town

This particular brown-coloured bear has been the subject of many calls this summer; very food habituated, CO says

Powder the muskets, zombies are coming!

Fort Langley National Historic Site offers up A Survivalist’s Guide to a Zombie Apocalypse, Sept. 28

Petition to rename park after teen overdose victim to get hearing

With 3,500 signatures so far, organizer is thinking of closing down online campaign

Police investigate after intoxicated teens clash with security at B.C. fair

18-year-old woman arrested and RCMP looking at possible assault in Victoria-area fall fair incident

BC SPCA investigating after three dogs found shot dead in Prince George ditch

The three adult dogs appeared to be well cared for before being found with gunshot wounds, BC SPCA says

Psychiatric assessment ordered for man accused in Salmon Arm church shooting

Lawyer tells court accused was diagnosed with psychosis hours after his arrest

Boy overdosed on illicit anti-anxiety drug found on Kelowna classroom floor, RCMP say

Noah Mills, 8, ingested a pink powdery substance off his Kelowna classroom floor

Most Read